Review: Bluegrass Junction by Performa/Dance
by David Glen Robinson
Joy and Brilliance. This could have been the subtitle of the show. As it is, Bluegrass Junction, simple and evocative, modestly concealed its joy and brilliance until the audience was in place and saw it for itself. Then the introductory dance with the full ensemble exploded with the handclapping, foot-stomping, live music-playing joy of an Appalachian hoedown. The flying imagery channeled any number of paintings by Thomas Hart Benton, all of it under the open cribwork ceiling of the Wessels Hall, the showpiece of Pioneer Farms.
The performa/dance company develops and performs works of contemporary ballet. Their choices of bluegrass music in Bluegrass Junction form a creative blend of slightly more traditional music with forward looking modern ballet. The music and dance together create a hybrid of art, highly appealing to all audiences.
The brilliance came shining through in an early dance, a duet between a male and a female. They danced to a deeply mournful song about a mountain romance, from the perspective of the male partner. Courtship and passion played out clearly in movement, but the deeper theme was not signaled until the couple walked side-by-side downstage as they might have at their wedding ceremony. She walked naturally, head up, eyes looking forward to a future of bliss. He strode head down, swinging it side to side in a catching movement as if looking for an escape route as he entered a commitment and condemnation to a life of poverty and toil, enslaved by his passion. There it was, the enslavement of passion, brilliantly expressed in a ballet-structured dance choreographed by Jennifer Hart, artistic director of performa/dance.
There was no let-up in the darker themes contrasted with the joyous ensemble dances. The ancient and venerable mountain song “O Death” framed a male solo, in a dance pleading with death not to take him now and expressing his uncertainty and fear about what lies beyond, the Judgment, and meeting his Maker. The dancer ended moving far upstage on the floor, dropping focus to the level of invisibility as the ensemble moved downstage past him, readying the following dance.
And we needed a lot of joy after “O Death.” The group had plenty of it, in excess, to the end of the program. The ensemble expressed their talent almost to perfection in every dance. Choreographer Hart said her work required a high level of technical expertise, and her group in Bluegrass Junction delivered that for her, delighting the audience. The well matched and highly skilled cast of dancers is copied here from the digital program, which did not relate the dancers to their individual dances:
Isabella Phillips Lynch
The live music ensemble was composed of Kyle Klein, Jon Lundbom, CHris Murdock, and Celebrindal Roberts.
Emily Cawood designed the period costumes that fit well and flexibly on dancers who moved strenuously within them. Steven Myers performed yeoman duty designing and operating both the sound and lighting design fields. Bios of the artists and staff can be found on their digital program (click HERE).
One hopes performa/dance keeps this collection of artists together for more performances of joy and brilliance in the future.
EXTRA: Promo video by Edward Carr with videography by Matt Bradford, done to "Elzic's Farewell" by Reeltime Travelers
October 23, 2021
10621 Pioneer Farms Dr
Austin, TX, 78754