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Flash Fringe Journal 3, 8-21: Falling
Freefall Falls Flat

By Colleen Teresa Bartley
Copyright 2001 Colleen Teresa Bartley

EDINBURGH, Scotland -- The Moving Company's Performance of Freefall at the Garage Chapeau Prince Garden West fell flat at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival this past rainy Saturday.

Directed and choreographed by Janet Taisey Craft, the performance consisted of four pieces of aerial dance theatre: "Marking the Absolute," "A Clean Water Act," I Am Already Who I Am" and "Attic Fugue."

Instead of the traditional trapeze and cord de lisse I expected to find, there were a number of looped rope contraptions rigged above the stage in the mini big-top tent. And instead of having a French or European origin, the troupe is from Boston, and is supported by Emerson College.

The first piece, Marking the Absolute, featured two females dressed in sky blue shiny unitards suspended from the ropes. They changed from outstretched position to position while two other women writhed and rolled on the floor below, giving the women on the ropes a push every once in a while, allowing them to rotate their poses. While some of the positions were beautiful, the piece was painfully slow and never developed past the pretty poses.

The second work, the male-female duet "A Clean Water Act," attempted to be poetic and poignant but turned into a lecture about the dangers of pollution. After spinning together on a set of ropes, the performers alternated shouting facts about pollution and the history of the Clean Water Act in the U.S.

The most beautiful image of the entire show, however, surfaced during this piece. A woman held herself suspended sideways while swinging in a circle in a pool of blue light about a foot off the ground, the way a fortune telling pendulum circles above the palm. It was mesmerizing to watch her trace full-body circles in the air.

A moment of innovation and interest appeared after a spoken section about mutation. Having each changed into a suit, (the man into a business suit and the woman into a wet suit), the performers crawled around on the ground like amphibians and rearranged themselves to appear like a two-headed, four-armed mutant.

"I Already Am Who I Am" saw three women in black leather biker jackets disrobe an 'ordinary' woman in a frumpy denim house dress and dress her in a similar jacket, thus transforming her into one of them, a rebel woman.

The movement was a mixture of mime, tough girl, hands-on-hips stances, butch poses and leaping rolling dance steps to a soundtrack of a recorded monologue about the suburbs, social norms, and the female body.

The climax of this piece had all four women entwined on a rope contraption center stage. It looked uncomfortable and difficult, like a bunch of tangled limbs rather than a smooth and impressive balanced unit. Two of the women made their way to the floor in the style of a magician's assistant, who fusses with props with exaggerated preparatory gestures, as they connected more ropes to the middle set. They then climbed up to stretch out on the extensions, attempting to produce a "ta-da" effect. But the moment failed to impress and seemed to have nothing to do with the text or the other dance steps.

The big finale, "Attic Fugue," featured all the performers except one, three rope contraptions, a flowered scarf, a red velvet covered love-seat and arm chair on wheels, with lots of running about onstage in all different directions. It was set to a score of music which included a mix of David Bowie/Eno, Jimi Hendrix, The Gypsy Kings, Bellini and text by Oscar Wilde. Need I say more?

This piece, like the entire show, was confused. The sections of "Attic Fugue" had nothing to do with each other. It began with a rope tableau: female soloist high on one set, a male soloist on another, and a male/female on yet another set. At one point two dancers waltzed across the stage, moving the piece on to the next section. This ballroom dance theme repeated intermittently with wild couch pushing and pulling and chaotic running about the stage.

The highlight was the male performer dressed in white who delivered the Wilde text, about beauty. He dexterously swung from the ropes with ease and freedom that offered a glimpse of what is possible with the ropes. Unfortunately he was featured a small amount and only provided a taste of the potential of the use of ropes.

The rhythm and pace of the evening's work revolved around the performers preparing for poses and tableaus, like the four women hand on hips or the two dancers leaning sideways on the couch using each other as a pillow, or many of the slow split extensions on the ropes. There were a few moments that suspended the belief of the audience and broke from the pattern, giving the impression that the performers were flying. And there were a few poses which allowed the body to hover, hang and be suspended. In one particular tucked position, performers could spin quickly. This changed the energy and did provide the illusion of flying, but in general, we were waiting for the free falling, the flying, and the aerial dancing. Even the curtain call had the whole cast perched on the loveseat the way people do when posing for a family portrait.

As a whole, the work of the Moving Company failed to integrate the dance steps (and they were steps), the aerial work and the text. Each individual element of performance was disjointed and underdeveloped. The performers were strong but the piece didn't highlight their abilities and talents. The ideas behind each piece read as naive and in-your-face instead of serious and respectful.

Freefall promised to be dynamically moving. The program states that the choreographer was inspired by a 'dream about flying,' but the performance was static, contrived and drawn out.

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