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Flash Review 3, 11-7: Swim
Beller, Kingsley, Reid Deliver Dance-Theater

By Corinne Imberski
Copyright 2003 Corinne Imberski

ANN ARBOR, Michigan -- A woman's identity, as seen through her career, her desires, her marriage, and her position in a male-dominated world was the theme explored in the stunning evening-length work, "We Sink as We Run," seen October 21 at the Betty Pease Theater.

Created and performed by Alexandra Beller, Mira Kingsley, and Brian Reid, "We Sink as We Run" was one of the strongest dance-theater performances seen here in quite a while; there were many startlingly powerful moments found in both mediums, as well as truly synergetic instances where I couldn't imagine not having either dance or theater present. I am often wary of dances that include vocalization, since it usually offers no additional meaning, and/or the dancer does not perform the vocalizations as convincingly as the movement and therefore diminishes the power of the moment. Mira Kingsley and Brian Reid have extensive backgrounds in theater, so it seems reasonable to expect more than competent theatrical performances from them. Alexandra Beller, according to her resume, does not have the same acting experience, but her exquisite, constantly morphing facial expressions, strong voice, and presence elevate her to the same level as Kingsley and Reid.

Even with the awesome performance capabilities of the trio, the work as a whole could still have been unsatisfying had it not been constructed with such compassion towards the subject matter (as well as rigorous research, as evidenced by the long list of works cited in the program). "We Sink as We Run" offers vignettes inspired by the lives and with words taken from the works of of several literary and historical personages: two of Chekhov's Mashas (from "The Three Sisters" and " The Sea Gull") square off and then comfort each other, Agatha Christie and Amelia Earhart discover what it means to be lost, and Virginia Woolf and Sylvia Plath share thoughts on writing and suicide. The text from the plays and the writings of the women was manipulated well, allowing key passages to be highlighted without getting overburdened with entire plots. The simple, repeated lines "I'm lost," "I'm married," and "Not now" offered coherence within the sections as well as global, humanistic themes that spanned the entire work.

Beller, a Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane alum, filled the space with sumptuous waves of motion that brought her to the floor and back up again with enviable ease, and the pauses that peppered her dancing were equally as absorbing. Kingsley cut through space with sharper, more linear paths, and with a vulnerable expansion of the limbs that coincided with her characters' open hearts and minds. Unison and partnering phrases offered eloquent moments of fusion and equality. The performers' differing attacks towards the movement did not confuse the eye, but actually added depth in interpretation. A lift of the arm could show both reaching towards something and keeping something or someone at bay; juxtaposed, they created the sense of conflict that all these women shared. Swirling lifts, frequent eye contact, and gentle touches to the arms and face showed the real need and want for the companionship that these women strived for.

Not to be overlooked was Reid's performance and role in this work. As the sole male in a universe dominated by female icons, his position was unique. He appeared, and slipped easily into, several different guises -- possible love interest, train conductor, radio announcer, or as a more nebulous presence in the life Plath or Earhart. Even though he was not a participant in the sections that required extensive dance training, Reid defined his characters through movement. He adopted a brusque walk as the lover; a cheerful swinging lope as the train conductor, in a comical section that had him compulsively aligning the station chairs in time with a Beethoven string quartet; and, as the radio announcer, he pulled news bulletins out of pockets, sleeves, and thin air with great flourish.

The moments when the three came together were arguably the most powerful. My favorite came in the section illuminating the lives of Sylvia Plath and Virginia Woolf. Starting from the upstage right diagonal, Kingsley and Beller made their way downstage in a slow, steady "walk," each sliding forward with one foot on a book and the other shaking hesitantly aloft. Just before the free foot hit the ground, Reid (on hands and knees behind them) placed the book under their waiting foot. This simple, repetitive process was incredibly expressive in its execution and was one of those rare times when you were quite sure what was going to happen next and you were so glad when it did. The suggestion that these women found their identity in their work and would literally not be able to stand up without it became clear.

The simple changes in lighting, designed by Rick Martin, created the setting of each section and the costumes, designed by Maiko Matsushima, were effective in distinguishing characters and time periods.

My only disappointment with this work was the title; "We Sink as We Run" does not quite capture the essence of the work. In stark contrast to sinking, this piece levitated with wit, compassion, and strength.

"We Sink as We Run" was commissioned by Dixon Place with funds from the Jerome Foundation, the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs Cultural Challenge program, the New York State Council on the Arts, and the National Foundation for the Arts. Additional funding for "We Sink as We Run" was provided by a generous grant from the Center for Eating Disorders and Body Acceptance.

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