Higher calling

Fusionworks contemplates spirituality
By JOHNETTE RODRIGUEZ  |  November 12, 2008


Although the annual fall concert by Fusionworks Dance Company (November 14 and 15 at Sapinsley Hall at Rhode Island College) has not been given a title that ties the dances together, artistic director/choreographer Deb Meunier has noticed a theme emerging from the repertory pieces and premiere works that will be presented.

"The whole program is contemplating spirituality," Meunier noted, in a recent conversation at the troupe's East Greenwich studio.

Whether it's Meunier's childhood in a Catholic church inspiring her to set a dance to Mozart's Vesperae Solennes de Confessore, or her earlier look at pre-Christian deities titled In Lieu of the Next Goddess, or more personal examinations of the ways in which human beings, particularly women, support and nurture each other, the pieces in this series are grounded in emotional and spiritual concerns.

The concert leads off with Fusionworks dancer-turned-choreographer Karen Swiatocha's Yoked, set to Barry Black and the Cowboy Junkies. The movement includes sequences of five women leaning, catching, and holding onto one another.

"I wanted to explore community," Swiatocha reflected. "It's about the burdens we carry as women. Do we give those burdens to other people? To God?"

Amy Burns, Melody Gamba, Anne Gehman, Donna McGuire, and Stephanie Stanford Shaw walk on, with Gehman carrying McGuire, who is curled up against her child-like. This lift is repeated in many combinations among the dancers, expressing so simply a universal need to be comforted. Another everyday gesture in this dance — a hand brushing hair back over one ear—might indicate a contemplative moment, as one listens to an inner voice, or it could be a prelude to asking to be listened to. In both senses, it's a meaningful nuance in an evocative piece.

Meunier's 1993 In Lieu of the Next Goddess grew out of her trips to Mexico, where she saw painted animal icons next to the Virgin of Guadalupe. At the same time that these images danced in her mind, she was reading about pre-Christian myths, which suggested other characters to her, including a Mother Earth goddess (Shauna Edson) and a "Messenger" (Gehman) who emerges from beneath the earth. In addition, four animal-like beings (Burns, Stanford Shaw, Amanda Del Prete, and Amy Bardenhagen) take part in this piece, in which their primal nature is expressed by digging paw-like in the ground, baring teeth, silent roars, walking on cloven-like tiptoes.

"In so many places in the world, one culture subsumed another," Meunier observed. "Christianity often took over part of the traditional rituals or stood side by side with them."

Meunier's new work, Double Stop: Longshore Drift, was prompted by a recent album by guitarist Pat Metheny and pianist Brad Mehldau, as well as by her beach walks: "It has a sense of breakers crashing and seaweed waving, the roll of the ocean in the body movement."

Indeed, seen in rehearsal, the flowing arms, the swaying torsos, the swiveling of limbs out of their joints, the undulation of shoulders and necks — all contribute to a sense of water rushing in and ebbing away. Just as noticeable, however, is the way the phrasing of the nine dancers (joined by Swiatocha and Sheramy Keegan-Turcotte, minus McGuire) matches that in Metheny's guitar solos: here an exuberant jump, legs tucked to knees, there a lingering leap, arms spread wide.

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Related: Southern Exposure, The human condition, Youth movement, More more >
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