The human condition

Fusionworks’ probing fall concert
By JOHNETTE RODRIGUEZ  |  November 17, 2009

 Dance_Karen-side-Tilt_main
KICKIN’ IT Fusionworks’ Karen Swiatocha.

In the ambitious program they will perform this weekend (November 20 and 21 at Rhode Island College), members of Fusionworks Dance Company will premiere three pieces that look at the human condition from several perspectives. Contemplative moments about personal decisions play out in Freedom In the Box, by company member Stephanie Stanford Shaw; heartfelt recognition of an eco-disaster is the thrust of artistic director Deb Meunier's Finning; and the political nightmare of post-World War I Vienna is vividly portrayed in Wien (German for Vienna), by New York choreographer Pascal Rioult.

Balancing these solemn motifs is a reprise of Meunier's bright and lively Buenas Dias, set to the music of Carlos Santana. And rounding out the show is Pearl Primus's African-influenced Buschasche Etude, performed by the Fusionworks Company II.

Rioult has set several of his dances to Maurice Ravel's music, and La Valse is one of the most dramatic, as it jumps off from the rhythms of the Viennese waltz, inserting charged orchestral passages that Rioult has highlighted in disturbing, thought-provoking images. Meunier saw the piece danced with three couples from the Rioult company, and she asked the choreographer to set it on six of her female dancers. Seen in rehearsal, Wien is unforgettable and stunning, with strong partnering among the women and remarkable ensemble work.

Although that is evident throughout the dance, it is absolutely captivating as the dancers move quickly around the stage in a rotating circle, sometimes shifting places within that circle, sometimes leaping up and out for a moment, lifted by another dancer. Also interspersed throughout the piece are hair-trigger mood shifts: from lyrical waltz movements to goose-stepping marches, from marionette-like shuffles to tightly-spaced scurrying, from an embrace to a shove, from a false grin to a Munch-like screaming mouth.

As in Wien, the choreography in Meunier's Finning is intimately tied to the music, a sax concerto by Takashi Yoshimatsu. She has established three movements: "Entrapment," "Grief: without a witness, we just disappear," and "Play: in a perfect world without pain." In gestures Meunier terms "both human and piscine," she tells in dance about the practice of luring sharks close enough to slice off their fins and then leaving them to die.

Five women dancers begin with hands splayed fin-like behind them; then they bring palms together in front of their faces like fishy snouts. A beam of light from above ushers in the sixth dancer, an "evil force," whose arms ripple and wave in hypnotizing movements — the other fish-creatures watch intently while they sway in the ocean currents. One by one, they begin to imitate her until one "fish" (Shauna Edson) gets close enough to the "force" (Amanda DelPrete) to have her top fin lopped off.

The second movement is a trio, with Karen Swiatocha consoling and burying the "finless" Edson and Amy Bardenhagen. Swiatocha repeats a gesture of covering her mouth in a sob, chest heaving, as the saxophone gives out short cries. But that same sax emits happy trills in the third movement, as all six dancers become one leaping, smiling school together. Though a viewer could definitely pick up on the fishy images in this dance, the "finning" itself would need a program note.

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