Sarah Bradley & Amber Wickey in Anne Jung’s #fourwithsix. Photo: Sam English.
Choreography by Robert Barry Fleming, Adam Hougland, Anne Jung, & Brandon Ragland
A review by Keith Waits
Entire contents are copyright © 2022 by Keith Waits. All rights reserved.
I often wish that I did not have to write about an evening of dance such as this, especially something as transcendent as Anne Jung’s #fourwithsix.
The recipient of the first Dysart Award from the Louisville Ballet, which resulted partly in this commission, Jung’s piece was so mercurial and unsettling, with a soundtrack (by Charlie Hayden & Pat Metheny) balancing acoustic guitar and feedback loops. That note of discord is reinforced from the first moment the lights come up (lighting design by Jesse Alford) and we see the dancers’ costumes include a blocky, deliberately ill-fitting jacket that is in continual conflict with the line of the dancer’s movement. That movement felt so fresh and original but also contrary to conventional notions of grace and form. Figures look as if they are being pulled in one direction against their will while they grasp towards in the opposite direction. Jung asks the human body to deny its structure in ways that astonish and grip our heart and stop our breathing. In one extended moment a bass line echoes a heartbeat, yet the pulse is disconcerting rather than comforting, an insistent pulse that underscores the existential dread.
Eventually that tension is relieved in the final stages, where the forms that were searching desperately for connection evolve into recognizable grace and contemplation.
The evening opened with singer-songwriter Carly Johnson and a nine-piece playing live upstage as dancers occupied the downstage area to perform Adam Hougland’s Burn Your Fears. The energy was more party-like and the choreography was festive and communal, reminiscent of every high school dance, sick hop, or barn dance you ever imagined. The male dancers wore white shirts and black stovepipe trousers and the female dancers wore white blouses and black & white skirts that suggested mid-20th century rock and roll viewed through a starh classical lens, and the movement followed suite, the ensemble keeping beat with Johnson’s music in loose, joyous abandon while incorporating touches of popular dance styles (was that the windshield wiper?) so that discipline of Hougland’s work is covered with a veneer of casual insouciance. Hougland crafted the dancing to match the five songs from Johnson’s eponymously titled first album and the result seems to me far less abstract than he cites in his program notes, but he also declares that Burn Your Fears speaks to “where we are right now” after the difficulty of the last two years, and that his work was arguably the most accessible and welcoming dance of the evening, and therefore perfectly placed at the top of the program.
I am hard pressed to find much fault here, so I feel honor bound to mention that Hougland includes some lifts where, for at least one couple in this work these skirts caused a problem. I am not sure where the fault lies, but one dancer seemed unable to see for a moment when they had a fellow dancer balanced on their shoulders.
And the rich, full throated quality of Carly Johnson’s singing had a balanced relationship with the dance and never overwhelmed it. The effect was that the ensemble was just having a ball with the rest of the crowd.
Hydra, with choreography by Robert Barry Fleming was urgent, edgy, and abstract, qualities I wasn’t expecting from the head of Actors Theatre of Louisville. But this is Fleming as an artist, not an administrator, and perhaps he is reveling in the freedom from the more traditional narrative forms he exercises in his theatre life. The specific movements were most striking during the portion of the piece set to the Bjork song, “Earth Intruders”, which, even if you don’t know the title, carries otherworldly tones and allusions that are echoed in the kinetic geometry of the figures.
Finally, Brandon Ragland’s I AM revisits the ideas that the choreographer was exploring in a previous iteration using this title in last spring’s filmed ChorShow. Working again wit the spoken word poetry of Hannah Drake and Isiah Fish, Ragland is again occupied with Black identity in the contemporary United States but this time has focused his attention more on the struggle to not just find and maintain individual identity but to survive in a society that has targeted Black citizens for destruction. Drake’s words establish important context but are most impactful when she strikes a confrontational stance and declares herself all of the things a powerful Black woman can be: “I am that woman who is knocked down seven times but gets up again eight!”, while Fish’s voice is an equally personal expression of a young gay Black man. Most indelibly, he walks us step-by-step through a traffic step with clarity and colorful metaphors that is haunting and beautiful.
Ragland must struggle with his work being overshadowed by his forceful collaborators, and unsual for contemoprary dance, his movement can at times look pedantic when it most directly illustrates the intention in the poet’s language, but his work here has more focus than the first draft from last year, and there is a sense that I Am is perhaps meant to be an unfinished work, one that the artists could revisit over time as the ideas continue to develop in changing times.
The piece also has a cinematic aspect in how Ragland breaks down the space with mirrors and chairs, and how he uses Ezio Bosso’s dramatic music. That it sounds like a film score is surely intentional, and however poetical the tone of the piece, it connects very directly with the audience in the way that movies will, with straightforward indentification and empathy.
Thursday, February 17 @ 7:30 PM
Friday, February 18 @ 7:30 PM
Sunday, February 20 @ 3:00 PM
Kentucky Performing Arts
515 West Main Street
Louisville, Kentucky 40202
Keith Waits is a native of Louisville who works at Louisville Visual Art during the days, including being the host of LVA’s Artebella On The Radio on WXOX 97.1 FM / ARTxFM.com, but spends most of his evenings indulging his taste for theatre, music and visual arts. His work has appeared in LEO Weekly, Pure Uncut Candy, TheatreLouisville, and Louisville Mojo. He is now Managing Editor for Arts-Louisville.com.