Since Fusionworks Dance Company has maintained a studio in East Greenwich for almost five years, artistic director Deb Meunier decided it was time to bring dance to South County, at the Courthouse Center for the Arts in West Kingston on April 3 and 4. She has chosen six works from repertory that she considers representative of the company's growth in the past decade, with three pieces by Meunier and three by guest choreographers.
REJOICING: Making the leap in Fusionworks' Vesperae.
"We will be meeting a lot of new people," Meunier reflected, "and this program illustrates our motto of 'Different is Good' in a big way. I feel that it offers the best of my own work, especially because one of the pieces, Vesperae, was a finalist in a choreographer's competition in California."
Vesperae is set to Mozart's Solennes de Confessore, with a Latin text that speaks of rejoicing, mercy, and exultation. As the music loops and soars around the dancers, those emotions are beautifully portrayed in the movement: leaps and jumps, heads thrown heavenward, rounded arms swung up and over.
In 2002, Meunier began to explain a bit about the dances before they were performed, calling them "unwrapped concerts." All three performances at the Courthouse will be "unwrapped." The talks are aimed at helping people better understand the dances and at correcting two main misconceptions about modern dance: that it's hard to get and that it's somber and heavy. To explain its abstraction, Meunier points to music in its many forms. And she points out modern dance pioneers who always included elements of comedy and/or cross-cultural pollination.
Morning Song, by New York choreographer Andrea Woods, is viewed by Meunier as "modern dance meets Afro/Cuban movement." It begins with mesmerizing undulations of the neck, arms, hips, and shoulders, and a rippling of the fingers on each hand. But when the beat kicks in, it shifts to pull-out-the-stops party-time.
"It's not a story," Meunier explained. "It's ensemble work. The dance has a Harry Belafonte feel to it. It's Old World/New World, very lush. It's contemporary but with a '50s feel to it."
Another guest choreographer is Robert Battles, formerly with Parsons Dance Company. When he adapted The Hunt, originally set on four male dancers, for Fusionworks's female dancers, he did not scale down the steps or gestures. The piece is always a show-stopper, partly because audiences are, in Meunier's words, "astounded by women going to this level of physicality."
Indeed, working with the dancers on all of these pieces from repertory is "about the deep slice," according to Meunier. The dancers' bodies know the movement and the music so well that they are able to be more adventurous in expressing themselves.
"You're really beyond thinking," Meunier observed. "If something has to happen within four counts, you might hang on the end, pounce on the beginning, stretch out the middle. It's like thinking like Frank Sinatra, because he's always stretching the rhythm so much.
"Doing that with the movement is really fun," she continued. "It's like you're sitting on the roller coaster next to the person who dares to scream and flail their arms. The dancers are becoming very risky, in a great way."