Review: Capsule by Alyson Dolan
by David Glen Robinson
This past weekend in Austin was loaded with fine arts dance concerts, two highly notable: Andrea Ariel Dance Theatre’s Reimagine at the downtown Long Center, and Alyson Dolan’s Capsule at the shoes-off Café Dance on Hancock Drive in northwest Austin. The settings showed great contrasts, but the two shows were well-matched in their high creativity and polished, professional performances.
Our delighted concern here is with Capsule, a short work choreographed and produced by independent choreographer Alyson Dolan, who also teaches dance and performs as a company member of the Kathy Dunn Hamrick Dance Company. Dolan and collaborators created a show of three distinctly different pieces. The Café Dance studio space was dressed in black to form a black box space for the production, its permanent Marley floor otherwise supporting the many classes taught there. Stage management for the show was conducted by Kate Warren, owner of Café Dance. Box office duties were performed by Jairus Carr, and the lighting operator was Anna Bauer.
“Plateau AKA” gave us an inside look at the processes and practices of professional dancers, while sharing their findings with the audience in the form of audience participation in a sort of guided improvisational class. The components were writing exercises, yoga-like breathing awareness and a facilitated movement exercise. The choreographers/facilitators of the exercise were Erica Patricia Saucedo, Ginnifer Joe, Oddalys Salcido, Rachel Nayer, and Bonnie Cox. Their success was measured by the near-total audience participation in the improvisational exercises on the stage. In answer to the skeptical who might ask the question: “So was this actually a dance?” the answer is an emphatic yes!
Philosophies of critical performance and literary theory ponder the question of the co-creation of any performance by the performers and audience. This may occur simply by an audience witnessing the acts and enactments by those on the stage, but many variations and degrees of that co-creation may exist. In “Plateau AKA,” the audience performed the lively and creative movements of the dance while the choreographers, producers, and technicians facilitated. This reviewer can report that it was a very satisfying and personally meaningful dance indeed.
In a brief reverse interview outside after the show, facilitator Erica Patricia Saucedo asked this reviewer about his state upon returning to his seat in the audience. He reported that he was very relaxed and very warm, flexible, and loosely comfortable versus typically stiff from sitting in a chair watching. He felt vulnerable, waiting to receive more sensory inputs, open to experience. This was excellent preparation for the rest of the show. The experience also answered the question for him, asked by many at live stage shows, what it felt like to be a performer in the show. This time, he knew.
“At the Table,” co-choreographed by Jahna Bobolia and Love Muwwakkil, gave a solid example of the results of the patterns and processes demonstrated in “Plateau AKA.” Muwwakkil danced the piece as a solo in a full length, rather loose, solid red garment, with a voiceover soundtrack written and spoken by Bobolia. The flexible performance showed the immense range of Muwwakkil’s movement repertoire. The voiceover, in the manner of all such, seemed to play the internal thoughts of the performer as she lives a life of movement. The vocal riff was on memory and about a meeting in childhood at a table at which the topic of the meeting was long forgotten, but the table, the table itself, stood clearly in memory. As human beings, we float in a liquid medium called memory.
The final piece, “Making Purple,” was a thoroughly choreographed work of contemporary dance. And it included sections of improvisation with complex patterns of cueing. In short, the audience never knew what was coming. And the longish piece had much content to show. The athletic dancers made a showcase of choreographer Alyson Dolan’s movement, much of it highly original, making much use of spiraling turns, some contact work, and much use of the floor. The several sections of the piece looked like a global story, one diverse and drawing on several movement styles and genres. The performers were Erica Patricia Saucedo, Erin Delperdang, Liliana Zapatero, Jahna Bobolia, Lisa del Rosario, and Lisa Schreck. Drew Silverman created a fascinating soundscape for the piece, one artistically rich, and enhancing the esthetic value and satisfaction with the dance. As the program notes stated, it was “the sound score of my DREAMS (!).”
The piece built up energy in its first several sections to peak in a kind of round-robin improvisation section, but one with deliberate combinations of dancers taking turns in the center of the circle. Here the cueing for change among the focal dancers was impossible to guess, with dancers around the edges throwing out shapes with their arms and bodies to suggest changes. But these were red-herring gestures, and the actual rules for changing the dancer combinations were impossible to guess. Of course, the audience, many of whom are members of the local dance community, were intrigued by this choreographic work as well as by the highly skilled movements of the dancers.
After this section, the energy cooled and duets, contact and non-contact, created more and more forms and shapes. The movers collected slowly into three couples on the floor in sinuous shapes, eventually moving into one mass as the stage lights went out. Here is new choreography and performance for the twenty-first century.
April 30 - May 01, 2022
3307 Hancock Drive
Austin, TX, 78731