In many ways the dancers in Rip in the Atmosphere (by Psophonia Dance Company from Houston) put on a good show. They are fit and committed to the movement they perform. Unfortunately, the whole endeavor seems more a display of those qualities than a solid presentation of choreographic merit, with a few exceptions.
The show is being staged in the Hanke 1 space (1128 Main St.). Mostly folding chairs were set up in front of an elevated stage with what looked like a masonite surface floor. The performers were in bare feet, wearing color-coordinated costumes — some in pants, tights or skirts with mostly leotard-type tops.
The descriptive blurb for this piece encouraged me to think that I would be experiencing some pretty powerful stuff — the experience would allow me to “descend into the depths of Psophonia’s rabbit hole where weightlessness ensues and everyday reality ends,” and invited me to imagine what might happen if my sensory flow suddenly disappeared, namely that I would “experience every atmospheric level.” This company dared “to split” my mind and “upset” my “equilibrium.”
Well, not quite. The first piece, “Body Blind” did give an Alice-in-Wonderland impression. One dancer in a white skirt and loose hair was surrounded by others dressed in red. They began on the floor facing the back wall, and let their heads fall back to look upside down at the audience.
A lead dancer with long, loose hair seemed disoriented and upset as six others danced around her holding lights which she repeatedly reached for, but which were kept out of her reach. She was obviously in an alien setting.
The dancers tumbled and rolled around her on the floor, often pausing in shoulder stands with legs split above them. They twirled and jumped. Finally, they grabbed the dancer in white and took off with her.
Another dance featured an onstage door as a prop, through which a lead dancer finally “escaped” the rest, with whom she shared an adversarial relationship. At one point, a dancer on hands and knees “became” a chair with others impersonating the arms and back. A soloist sat on this human furniture, which collapsed several times, throwing her to the ground on purpose.
Throughout, the dancers’ movement vocabulary remained pretty much the same, no matter the music or the title of the piece. Lots of reaching, energetic falls into the floor and out again. There was a disconcerting sense that linking movements were intervals between stunts, as in floor gymnastics, but in this case the jumps were mostly modest springs and grand jeté-type swirls.
The most intriguing piece was the last, “The cranes are flying,” in which one dancer soloed with a folding table, around which she wove her body, crawling. Many other playful interactions occurred with this prop. Above her hung suspended red origami cranes, and a downstage prop displayed more folded birds. Then, three dancers who had posed motionless behind her during the table dance began to move. This was genuinely intriguing, for they were wearing huge paper skirts that looked like white icing on a decorated cake. One move had them shielding their face with a bent arm as they locomoted regally around the stage in various configurations. One carried an umbrella with no fabric, just spokes, from which were suspended more of the paper cranes. There was lots of trademark reaching and slow promenades on one foot.
Afterwards, Psophonia Dance Company co-artistic directors Sonia Noriega and Sophia L. Torres came onstage with their charges to take questions. They were happy and earnestm and one described choreographing from personal experience. Several segments were inspired by depicting a virus and recovery, and a decision to let go and embrace “what you can be.”
It might have been better if I had not known all this, because it gave me even more sympathy for this athletically inclined troupe, who obviously gave their all to a performance that was less Fringe-like and more a dance school recital. Not that that’s a bad thing!
The troupe appeared at the 2010 Fringe, and a few fans from a year ago were in attendance in the smallish audience. Several others, perhaps accompanying family members or friends, stood and yelled “Bravo” during the applause. Who can argue with that?