Review: SMORG by Emily Rushing, Carissa Topham
by David Glen Robinson
SMORG is the name of Austin’s newest dance company. Its co-artistic directors are Carissa Topham and Emily Rushing. SMORG An Evening of Dance, their premiere outing, played through the intimate space of Café Dance on Hancock Drive in west Austin.
The superior group performance by many of Austin’s top rank performers created a very auspicious beginning for a new company with a very bright future. A few notes can be offered on the pieces, each of which was preceded by virtuoso and humorous entre acte dances by the co-artistic directors, collectively titled “Stories of She, Stories of We.” All the dances were choreographed by the performing dancers themselves.
“Atoll” by Rosalyn Nasky gave us some of the most distinctive choreography in the region today. She choreographs deeply and abstractly, often resulting in movements and gestures seemingly only she can perform. The title “Atoll” is an apt clue to her meanings, as was her self-produced soundtrack. Atolls are small islands, coral or otherwise, thrown up by living things from the ocean. They crowd with life from the reefs below to beaches, forests, and the tops of palm trees above. Nasky’s piece was about this incomprehensible beauty born of the love affair of ocean, atmosphere, and life. Her long, slender limbs, notably her fingers, created images of much of this. Especially compelling were her backwards, feetfirst movements as she pushed herself across the floor. They evoked for this reviewer images of reef creatures moving in and out of crevices in coral heads. This is just a part of the imagery in “Atoll” by Rosalyn Nasky.
Spencer Jensen’s piece “Good Boy” was a demonstration piece of contemporary technique by a strong male dancer clad in black, tight stage gear. The dance was structured in several sections, each guided by one of two pieces, one each by Ruth Etting and Billie Holiday, or silence. The dance seemed to progress through stronger and more athletic phrases and finely honed balances in cleverly achieved shapes. Here was the core of Jensen’s work, well-achieved. A note to Mr. Jensen: knee pads are cheating.
“Bedroom” was a duet by Anna Bauer and Jairus Carr. And the dance was also two things. It was a story dance, part of a larger sequence about the rooms of houses and how they may be viewed through the art of dance. The second thing was a laugh riot of humorous movements and situations, the style ranging from physical, almost slap-stick humor to wry tongue-in-cheek choreography. In sleeping gear, the dancers brought out blankets to portray bed and bedroom and with a fully functioning standing lamp. The dance proceeded initially with a lot of floorwork in pedestrian movements to portray people with sleep disorders flopping around trying to get some sleep! But then the piece changed tone a bit, the dancers got some sleep and the dance moved into the realm of dreams, where the dancers performed their highly skilled contemporary technique dance as may be seen in their work with the Kathy Dunn Hamrick Dance Co. Their unison work was timed exquisitely by mental telepathy apparently, their bodies exploding like uncoiling steel springs to carve the space of bedrooms and time and push the envelope of their own skills and the envelope of contemporary dance. And don’t forget that these are early-career young professional dancers. But that wasn’t the end. They went back to a set of sequences punctuated by turning on and off the standing lamp. The choreographic challenge was to end each vignetted scenario within reach of the lamp switch. Sometimes that reach was the point of the segment. The lit sections of movement became shorter and shorter but no less clever. Then the dark between the light took longer in time, the audience wondering. Suddenly there was a flop and a bump. Someone fell in darkness. Then the light came back on. The darkness was the performance segment, a sound piece if you will because no one could see it. What was that about tongue-in-cheek? “Bedroom” could be mined for many more such nuggets. And there may be more. Bauer has created several works around themes of domestic architecture and life, going back to her student work at Sam Houston State University.
“In Favor of Spontaneity” was a piece by Lisa Del Rosario. She slowly, carefully, inexorably took us to the deep end of the Lisa pool. The piece began outwardly as an effort of ritual theatre, with Del Rosario conducting several meditative exercises from Yoga and other traditions. They included vocalizing and roaring, her soundtrack as she fell quite literally into deeper and deeper meditative states, peeling back the layers of the onion of self. Her confidence and commitment took us along on her journey without worries. Then authenticity and meta warred but achieved a peace treaty. Knowing that she and we were performing on a stage in a studio, Del Rosario moved in her meditation to perform skillfully an outward, energetic journey addressing all corners of the outward space from her deep inner space. Our well-prepared understanding of it was clear. Our noisy appreciation of Del Rosario as she left the stage was far less than the profound gratitude we felt for her.
“Doubts and Dreams” was produced by Early Era Collective and directed by Stephanie Patrick and the dancers, who were Cara Cook, Rachel Culver, Bradi Nelson, Sanchita Sharma, and Matthew Sommers. The piece combined pedestrian everyday movement, vocalization, and high-energy unison dance. The dance was precise, well-timed, and never missed a beat. Early Era Collective is another newish dance company already putting together a worthy track record.
“Kairos” was a piece with two choreographers, Jordan Fuchs and Melissa Sanderson, and one dancer, Melissa Sanderson. This hardly seems fair, but then the text notes suggested that the dance was originally created for two, but one pulled out. One feels that the title was selected on this situation, a moment of change where proper choices may lead to higher values and insight. Certainly, performer Melissa Sanderson made excellent choices whatever they were, as her performance showed. She moved in a costume credited to Kelsey Oliver, rather like L.L. Bean field gear attacked by shears, with an open back and fluorescent green accents in collar and belt. The connections between costume and dance were obscure, but Sanderson’s skills alone were sufficient to create a satisfying dance experience.
“Tequila Tendu,” as the name suggests, was a paean to the Mexican national spirit, and what it can do for one and against one. The piece was an anthology of such things, choreographed and performed by two powerful and lyrical dancers, Bonnie Cox and Erica Saucedo. They performed drinking rituals and games on stage with a glass of clear liquid, and around the glass and games performed breathtakingly strong, gymnastic duets and alternating solos. They kept this up awhile. As with progressive drinking, the voice of the spirit (or addiction) asks “Do you want more?” Their movements speaking in the voice of that spirit, the dancers gave us more. Finally, under the voiceover of celebrations in an East Austin bar, the dancers ended the dance tastefully, but we were smashed nonetheless.
The text notes quoted Joy Harjo in part: “There’s a reason they’re called spirits. You must use then carefully. They open you up. If you abuse them, they can tear holes in your protective, spiritual covering.” We had already gained that lesson on an experiential, visceral level. Aside from the sensual, perceptual experience Cox and Saucedo gave us, they are lauded for taking a theme and exploring it fully wherever it led.
Thanks and a very positive credit must go to Kate Warren of Café Dance, who produces the technical aspects of every show in the small studio space with its great marley floor. Warren ensures that the place is spotless, shoes-free, and smooth functioning. Café Dance and SMORG are a combination that can move readily into the future.
3307 Hancock Drive
Austin, TX, 78731