Review: The Magnificent Conjuring of You and Me by Kathy Dunn Hamrick Dance Company
by David Glen Robinson
Kathy Dunn Hamrick speaks the language of movement better than most. This was stated about her in regard to last December’s In Situ dance performance, also at Café Dance. In that performance, stemming from the title, the movement addressed place and places—all familiar places—transformed by the pandemic. They were recognized anew in a process of metamorphosis, dancers hatching literally from bubble-wrap cocoons and finding new life after the dark restrictions of our collective confinement.
In The Magnificent Conjuring of You and Me, the dancers are flying high, feeding on air and sunlight, and holding up to us mirrors of our own potential. Kathy Dunn Hamrick has carved out a niche for herself of high-energy, high skill, athletic contemporary dance. The company shows no signs of moving out of that niche, and her audiences appreciate every new and surprising turn the company takes within it.
But what about the movement? The Magnificent Conjuring of You and Me is comprised of linked sections of movement in contemporary technique, the shoes-off dance pioneered by Martha Graham and elaborated further by Twyla Tharp and others in the 1970s, with many branchings since then. It hit the marley floor of Café Dance with rapid running, specific rhythms and patterns of the feet, and movements of bodies off their feet and on the floor. In fact, The Magnificent Conjuring of You and Me began and ended with the five performers reclining on the floor. The only direct thematic statement, to this reviewer, emerged in these static tableaux. At the beginning, the bodies were relaxed as in sleep. They awoke and rose slowly to enact the diverse energies of the day, our new reality. At the end, as the lighting faded, they lay in direct body alignment, their heads lying on their folded brocade jackets as pillows. They gazed straight up in the manner of cloud-gazing in sunny springtime. They seemed relaxed and satisfied with the accomplishments and joys of the day.
The action lay in sections between these ends, developed in several months of rehearsals. The sections had names, mnemonics for the dancers. The show program lacked reportage of these titles, a good editorial choice to avoid channelizing the audience's impressions. The sections underwent considerable evolution in rehearsal, a process well discussed by Hamrick in her detailed choreographer’s notes: “Rehearsals moved faster and became louder and more rambunctious, the way I like them. The regeneration was unexpected and magical, prompting me to recalibrate the entire work and call it ‘The Magnificent Conjuring of You and Me.’”
The interior sections featured combinations of the dancers in powerful movement phrases and alignments. Meanings suggested by choreographer and performers went only so far as meta stories, following another audience-friendly philosophy. Impressions flow from one section to another, givingthe audience intellectual and emotional space to form their own narratives and meanings. Such dance connects deeply with the audience.
Duets were heavily featured, all exhibiting great skill while lasting from a few seconds to a full minute or two. Cara Cook and Jairus Carr danced a particularly nuanced, well-matched, and sensitive duet. Micromovements seemed to have left the menu of movement choices, although after the show a dancer disputed the point with this reviewer. It depends on one’s definition of “micro,” I suppose. Overt gestural movements stood clear and up-front., At various points any dancer might reach out and place a palm on the head of another. Another gestural instruction seemed to be “grab your own armpit.”
This wack gesture introduced a not so subtle element of humor. A favorite sequence was a back-and-forth race in animated cartoon gaits and lurches, the dancers maintaining perfectly serious facial expressions. Another race focused strictly on herky-jerky foot rhythms, all off-time, none matching. These things came out of nowhere and seemed designed to tickle the otherwise seriously concentrating audience. Otherwise, the dancers used a variety of facial expressions to cue and comment on each other during the performances.
The more deliberate phrases and sequences highlighted the dancers' virtuosic skills and included flying leaps and spins into and out of contact with other dancers and floor shapes. Stephen Pruitt’s lighting design, with much side lighting, highlit flying arms and digits, showing extremities clearly in persistence of vision. The view was not unlike the blurred disk of whirring helicopter blades. All such high-speed turnings (one in a duet through 720 degrees, two complete turns in the air) required perfect balance, perfected by all.
Cara Cook was especially skilled, making it look easy, although of course it is not, ever. Jairus Carr performed powerfully and grows exponentially with every performance. He is a powerhouse of strength without losing flexibility and balance. His head and face have a look of Greek portrait sculpture, well-carved but certainly not of stonelike rigidity. His potential with the Kathy Dunn Hamrick Dance Company is still growing.
Alyson Dolan is a master of fluid movement and a confident performer of Hamrick’s choreography. Clearly a leader, she still blends with the dynamic ensemble to form impressive group shapes and movements. Carissa Topham drives the action forward, sharing Dolan’s confidence, sure-footedness, and ability to fly (figuratively speaking).
The relative newcomer, the spectacular Anna Bauer, shares with Cook the ability to make it look easy. She showed no hesitation while executing the most complicated ensemble sequences. All the performers’ accomplishments in the demanding and uplifting movements of the show were successful, showing great balance and enviable flexibility.
Each of the company dancers could be a soloist headliner in any other contemporary company. Together, they form a collegial, rare, and possibly unique, ensemble. K\ Hamrick’s choreography and direction of the ensemble evidence insight into each dancer’s native gifts. She has the rare ability to draw them out, with respect, into the integrated wholes audiences see in each of her shows.
Michael Wall provided the musical score, which built slowly through the forty-seven-minuteperformance. Hamrick commissioned the soundtrack, a first with Wall, although she has used his available music in the past.
As with the music, the costuming built slowly through the show. Their three fashion looks grew harmoniously in layers to culminate in blue jackets with gold brocade. Alyson Dolan’s costume progression seemed particularly well-combined. Hamrick and Laura Noose put a huge amount of work into crafting three looks on five dancers, an impressive accomplishment.
The Magnificent Conjuring of You and Me elevated all of us to greater heights of inspiration and accomplishments. The audience was walking on air afterward. The show will be gone when you read this, but the Kathy Dunn Hamrick Dance Company will be produce other shows in the coming year, including the Austin Dance Festival, July 14-17, 2022, at Austin Ventures Studio. That festival will include the well-regarded Dance on Film series, 2022 edition. Follow on your favored media outlets.
May 27 - May 29, 2022
3307 Hancock Drive
Austin, TX, 78731
May 27 - 29, 2022
Cafe Dance Studio