Review: In Situ by Kathy Dunn-Hamrick Dance Company
by David Glen Robinson
Kathy Dunn-Hamrick speaks the language of movement. That’s not a huge statement; all choreographers speak it. But with In Situ at Café Dance this past weekend the movement was vastly more communicative than the usual athletic and abstract contemporary dance--typically, make of it what you will, have a good time, go home. In this presentation one sensed a certain insistence on conveying exact meanings and feelings at this time of being freed (almost) from the pandemic and the disease which Dunn-Hamrick in her artist’s statement could refer to only with euphemism, bowdlerization, and redaction in ink blocks. She was happy to give the dance away in her writing, feeling with her dancers “a mixture of joy, fear, loss, sadness, hope, and determination, but mostly joy.” And of the title, In Situ? That’s Café Dance, “where we teach, take class, choreograph, and rehearse. It’s our natural habitat, so to speak. It’s where we belong.”
Dunn-Hamrick also wrote about teaching Zoom classes from her garage, which also serves as a laundry room. And so the show began with her removing from the barre sheets of plastic symbolic of drying clothes, sweeping up, and then a little dusting. This gave us a mimed introduction to the more formally choreographed dance movements that slowly emerged.
The dancers came out one by one, tiptoeing, wrapped neck-to-toes in blue bubble wrap. Once they stood on-stage looking like random plastic pillars, Dunn-Hamrick entered again and unwrapped each of them. Once released from their storage confinement, the dancers collapsed sprawling onto the marley dance flooring. The song “At Last” by Etta James played, and its meaning could not have been clearer. The dancers stayed on the floor wiggling slowly like caterpillar larvae, gradually moving toward the barre along the far wall. At this point they wore multi-colored tops cut vaguely like T-shirts along with dark sweatpants or similar studio gear. As if by magic, they rose together and began a barre routine in unison.
The complexities of Kathy Dunn-Hamrick’s choreography became quickly evident, as dance combinations broke out from the barre line-up. Brief duets, trios, and quartets in varying dancer combinations succeeded one other in confident, flexible, and extended movement phrases, the kind for which the company is known. The movements did not progress downstage past approximately center stage, in consideration of our still-confining C****d protocols. The audience wore masks; the dancers did not. Single dancers would occasional ly exit only to make entrances that, interestingly, were usually retrograde. The entering dancer would back onto the stage to her position to start a sequence. This was done in perfect timing, usually on a 4-count. After a while the dancers exited one by one, first pausing at the upstage corner window, removing dark sweatpants, and dropping the garments out the open window. (“I wanted to burn all my clothes.”) This choreography revealed another level of the costume design and its progression, bright floral tights with floral strips on gray/violet tops.
The dancers handled the choreography with skill. Alyson Dolan, Cara Cook, Carissa Topham, and Lisa Anne Kobdish mastered the extended, leaping movement phrases that signal their skill and Dunn-Hamrick's noted athleticism, which has sustained the company’s reputation. Newcomer Anna Bauer was right there with them, and she offered a sensitive and confident solo late in the dance. Bauer is a welcome addition to the company. Her own choreography was showcased in October in Blipswitch Movement’s Offbeat X.
Unlike previous seasons, there was little floor work other than the larval transition sequence. Further, Dunn-Hamrick alerted her audience in her newsletter to small scale movements added to typically more expansive movements and phrases. These could be seen, usually starting in the hands, and progressing upward through the body and outward into the space. In this way, Dunn-Hamrick united the scales and dynamics from minute to monumental. Her previous exploration of micro-movements, starting to emerge in pre-C***d performances such as Be Still My Heart, Everything! Everything! Everything!, and Parade, and applied as ornaments or highlights, seem to have been transcended in favor of small movements more organic to the phrase. Also in the rear-view mirror are text lines uttered by the dancers, often with hilarious results, although these look to be revisited someday.
The costume design and its progression conveyed a strong through-line for the whole performance. Costumes were by Dunn-Hamrick herself with advice and stitching assistance from Laura Noose. Costumes by themselves created four chapters in an expressive, clear story of the show, right down to the details of the bits of bubble wrap adhering to the later generations of cloth. These were persistent reminders of the hard times and contingency we must remember as we move into a time of greater freedom and hope.
This show was immensely complex. Each theatrical medium formed its own level of meaning, and meaningful gestures came at all levels through the performance. Each level told its own story, though the meanings may not have been easy to sort out. French anthropologist Claude Levi-Strauss taught the structural study of myth and totemism, the effort to find meanings across diverse cultures. Levi-Strauss, maintained that the method works across all expressive sequences because all myth and art proceed from the human mind. Analysts are taught to separate the elements of a story and isolate each level’s oppositions, dualities, and mediators; then they run each line of elements across a page like a line of music. All the separate, individual levels could be listed and treated in the same way. And what does this give us?
Correct, it gives us a musical score. Then, when all the levels are read or performed simultaneously, the artwork can take its place before sensitive receptors and co-creators, the audience.
One of the meaning levels of In Situ was what Dunn-Hamrick wrote about the show. She enumerated what she took to be her choreographic levels, listing them down the page with an accompanying short paragraph. Her list includes sound, space, time, and costumes. All the elements involved or addressed in some way her responses to the pandemic lockdown we have endured for almost two years now. The individual sounds of her teaching garage playing on the soundtrack, the feel of the barre at Café Dance, the retrograde timing and movement to symbolize the disruptions of everyday life, the bits of adhering bubble wrap on the later costumes—all blended to tell the autobiographical story in dance of Kathy Dunn-Hamrick in this difficult time. All we survivors of our shared monumental history have such autobiographies to write, tell, perform, paint, or otherwise enact, but few of us have the innate high talent to drive us to do so. It’s OK, Kathy Dunn-Hamrick has done much of it for us. She dances for us.
The show is gone as you read this but stay on the lookout for more performances by the Kathy Dunn-Hamrick Dance Company, freed from the bubble wrap of artistic stasis.
December 03 - December 05, 2021
3307 Hancock Drive
Austin, TX, 78731
Because our concert is right after the Thanksgiving Holidays, we’re going to be extra vigilant with our Covid protocols. All guests must show either proof of vaccination or a negative Covid test taken within 72 hours of attending our event. Masking will be required of all attendees. Our dancers might not be masked, however, they will be tested.
The lobby is small, so we’ll ask guests to wait outside in the fresh air on the covered sidewalk until 10 minutes before showtime. To protect the dance floor, we’ll ask everyone to remove their shoes and leave them in the lobby. Wear your favorite socks!
THERE IS NO LATE SEATING. Late seating poses a risk to the dancers (and latecomers) in this particular studio setting.
Advance ticket sales only. No need to print or bring tickets, we'll have your name at the door.