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Review 3, 6-19: Impressions
From the World of Degas to the 45th Parallel with Peter Sparling
By Corinne Imberski
Copyright 2003 Corinne Imberski
ANN ARBOR, Michigan
-- Degas's impressions of the dance students of the Paris Opera
Ballet School, as well as images of the 45th parallel in Michigan
were on display at the May 31 performance of the Peter Sparling
Dance Company at Performance Network. Dancing for a full house,
the company gave a captivating performance of two very different
works by former Martha Graham dancer Sparling.
For "Les Parisiennes,"
with six of Chopin's "Nocturnes" as a backdrop, Sparling created
six distinct solos, each capturing a different essence of Degas's
paintings. While the first solo (with a group of background dancers)
was performed on pointe, the heart of "Les Parisiennes" happened
after the dancers discarded their pointe shoes; only then were the
imagined lives of the young women behind Degas's paintings exposed.
In the last three solos presented, Sparling was most successful
in scratching beyond Degas's canvases to reveal a rich and sometimes
In the fourth solo,
Lisa Johnson performed the role of dancer/mistress in what proved
to be the strongest solo conceptually. Sparling, as the married
lover, periodically enters and exits, offering intermittent support
but no promises. Johnson's solo revolves around an unopened letter
that her lover has left for her. While her character is clearly
pained by the feelings generated by a secret romance, she also comes
across as a strong, independent woman who ultimately does what she
knows is best and exits without opening the letter. The eloquence
of Johnson's performance was a highlight of the evening -- every
glance towards the envelope was a believable dichotomy of feelings,
and the patterns and shapes she etched with her supple torso and
gorgeous legs carried us with her through this journey of realization.
The fifth solo captures
Julianne O'Brien Pedersen at her most radiant. Pedersen is a founding
member of PSDC and she excels at embodying and transcending Sparling's
choreography. In contrast to the preceding solo, Pedersen's solo
evokes calm and contentment. When she picks up a flower to smell,
she becomes transfixed by its intoxication. Her inner warmth and
full engagement of self made her dancing appear effortless, utterly
natural, and exquisitely musical.
The final solo of "Les
Parisiennes" offered yet another layer of Degas's impressions of
the ballet world. Lisa Catrett-Belrose danced the role of the wife
of the mistress's lover. Cloaked in a heavy black dress and carrying
a black umbrella, and in stark contrast to the vibrant pastels of
the ballerinas' tutus, Catrett-Belrose enters slowly and walks upstage-center.
With her back to the audience, she slithers out of her constraining,
bustled dress (which remains standing upright to great effect) and
reveals a form-fitting black and dark red dress that hints at passion.
Similar to the discarding of the pointe shoes in the earlier solos,
the dancer is then able to express herself more fully. The wife
finds and opens a letter from her husband to his mistress. She becomes
understandably distressed, her fury showing in deep contractions
and urgent reaches. She pulls herself together quickly (too quickly?)
and once again imprisons herself in her dress. Seemingly resigned,
she walks downstage, eyes lowered, with no emotions betrayed on
her face, and opens her umbrella overhead. Red ribbons falling from
inside the umbrella gave a startling final impression.
"Peninsula Part II:
Crossing the 45th Parallel" articulates a very different landscape.
Incorporating video and live dance, Sparling presents us with images
and reflections on his home state of Michigan. This work is part
of a trilogy that celebrates different areas of Michigan. Part II
explores the landscape around the 45th Parallel (in the upper portion
of Michigan's lower peninsula, and halfway between the equator and
the North Pole). Set to a score by Frank Pahl, Sparling's video
took us on a virtual tour of a forest, a lighthouse, a schoolhouse,
an airport, and the dunes of Lake Michigan.
The first stop, Hartwick
Pines State Park, is the most powerful segment of the dance. The
dancers on video are first seen trudging through the forest in pioneer-like,
drab, brown clothes. Onstage, the live performers, in simple, white
costumes designed by Angela Youells, begin to mirror their video
counterparts. At times, it was difficult to decide which group of
dancers to focus on, but the multitude of bodies and shapes also
added a pleasing layering effect. The multi-talented Youells also
offered the most riveting performance in this dance work. On screen,
Youells is seen dancing in a clearing in the middle of the pine
forest. Her exuberant jumps, quick directional changes, and start-stop
runs evoke both ecstasy and confusion. Meanwhile, on the stage,
Youells watches herself on screen and repeats portions of the dance
-- but only as a faint echo. Sparling's video editing is most effective
in this segment as well. A segment of Youell's dancing in slow motion
is particularly magical; her jumps appear as agile and organic as
those of a cat jumping off a high counter in slow motion.
The rest of the segments
In "Peninsula Part II" are not as engaging, but there are still
some fine moments. Especially captivating are the segments in the
schoolhouse (playful renditions of childhood games) and the final
segment at the dunes, in which the dancers skip stones and look
out across the lake to where the water meets the sky.
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