Hopping on the theme of local resources, Fusionworks Dance Company has spotlighted homegrown dancers and Rhode Island-based choreographers in recent spring concerts. This year, the program includes student groups that artistic director Deb Meunier and assistant director Stephanie Standford Shaw have taught at the Met School, Masters Regional Academy, and the Jacqueline M. Walsh School. Locally Grown: Next Generation will be presented April 28 (8 pm) and April 29 (1 pm) in the Forman Theater at Rhode Island College.
The three pieces by student dancers are interspersed with works from Fusionworks company dancers and a piece by Fusionworks II. The evening leads off with the largest group — 11 dancers — performing "Aviary Mountain," choreographed by Meunier and set to music by Craig Taborn, David Torn, Tim Berne, and Tom Rainey. Meunier's fascination with bird movements comes to the fore: cupped hands resemble beaks and wide-open arms lift wing-like; dancers line up diagonally, balancing with arms akimbo — like so many birds on a wire; and they stand on one leg with the other bent like a yoga bird pose.
Later the Met School's six young women present Take the Leap, set to the Postal Service and choreographed by the dancers and Shaw. The students were asked to picture their "wildest whims," which included driving race cars, being a spy, creating dances through psychology, being a celebrity TV host, performing in Broadway musicals, and skydiving. A bit of all of those are scattered through this upbeat piece that involves lots of shoulder and hip wriggling, hands clasped and turned out. It's filled with the push-pull energy of dreams, hopes, and goals.
But it's the third group, the four students from the Walsh School for the Performing Arts, telling Stories of Our Ancestors (text by the dancers, movement by Meunier, music by Zoe Keating) that's the show-stopper. The performers are skilled actors as well as dancers, looking anxiously up and down as they undertake their ancestors' journeys, from Haiti, Portugal, Ireland, or Germany. The swaying motion of the ships, the effort to sleep in steerage, the travelers' support for each other are beautifully conveyed, and the second sequence, which portrays the grinding, pounding, backbreaking routine of factory work, is vivid and captivating.
Centered between the latter two is Scene Study, a Fusionworks rep piece by Terry Creach to a score by Tom Farrell, which features Melody Gamba, Mary Hanlon, Betsy Miller, Shaw, and Mallory Walker. It's full of risky partnering: Will you be there to catch me? Lift me? Duck when my long leg swings over your head? The dancers' sense of balance and timing are challenged from second to second, as they tap a shoulder or touch a leg, spinning one dancer into another; leaping into another's arms to be held upside down; or leaning back against another's raised knee and torso. It's a fast-moving chess game, with a lone dancer whirling at the end.
The two other rep pieces are amusing and totally engaging (Commute) and heart-wrenching (Center) . The first is by former company member Karen Swiatocha, to a score by Yann Tiersen. The dancers (Walker, Gamba, and Shaw) give us three different train commuters: the dreamy, the fidgety, the desperately sad. As each enters her subconscious world, she gradually pulls the other two into it. Thus, they all dance to romantic, cheek-to-cheek music with Walker; they tap their toes and crawl fingers over shoulders with Gamba; and they watch, helplessly, as Shaw sinks into despair, before carrying her back to her seat.