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Flash Review 3, 10-16:
Between the Lines...
And in the 'Back Alley' with Harris
By Kelly Hargraves
Copyright 2000 Kelly Hargraves
"It would be truly surprising
if sound were not capable of suggesting color, if colors could not
give the idea of the melody, if sound and color were not adequate
to express ideas." -- Art Of Noise.
LOS ANGELES -- The above
words are part of "Back Alley Conversations," the newest piece from
Winifred R. Harris's Between Lines, shown at Highways Performance
Space this weekend. Although the quote is used only as part of a
sound collage that accompanies the work, it could be the motto for
Harris's work. Her dancers' bodies incorporate colors, sounds and
melodies to bring about pure, evocative modern dance that is richly
textured. Graham and Humphrey would be proud!
When I read the promo
for the show, accompanied with a photo of Harris's claw-like outstretched
arm -- and remembered Highway's penchant for socially critical work
-- I was prepared for a heavy, info-laden night of dance. But Harris's
work finds no need for anger. She doesn't desire to be post-anything
or go against the grain of history. Instead, she presented five
pieces that were lyrical, gentle and downright pretty! Her work
is lines, phrases and emotions carefully orchestrated to communicate.
It's a relief, really! Now, don't mistake this to mean they were
simple and vapid. On the contrary, Harris uses every detail of a
moving body -- down to the articulate finger tips -- to make sure
the choreography resonates with a vitality and expresses emotion.
Harris's musical choices are also more than background -- they too
are part of the details. She doesn't shy away from using songs with
lyrics but rather interacts with the words -- sometimes directly,
sometimes more abstractly -- to make sure her message is communicated.
The piece "Sonnets" is
a set of two love stories danced as solos to the music of Holly
Cole and Cassandra Wilson, respectively. The first, a dance of young
love accompanied by the voice of Cole, the second, one of an older,
more mature love danced to Wilson's more mature voice. The costumes
are billowing, soft dresses that convey a sense of ease and the
open air. Again, their colors and textures are important details
in the reading of these pieces.
In "And Through Their
Eyes I See," Harris treads into the territory of religion. Her dancers
come out in virginal white robes. Their hands shuffle through the
pages of a book -- the Good One, we presume-- and move through stages
of agony and ecstasy. At times they are kneeling in prayer, at times
they even smile! These pedestrian movements become a base for a
group piece that changes levels, emotions and scenes in a smooth
continuous glide of dance.
The title piece for the
evening, "Back Alley Conversations," grew out of a workshop Harris
is conducting during her Highways run. The tone and energy of this
piece is a little heavier; the three dancers in red, slim dresses
go to a darker place than do the other works. They still retain
a sensuous beauty however, as they move with almost a desperate
need for connection with some unknown force, with each other. As
they come to a place where they find themselves panting and gasping
for air, I found myself holding my breath right along with them.
This again is an example of Harris's ability to orchestrate. She
has taken the written words of her workshop participants and transferred
them to the technically strong and graceful bodies of her dancers.
Harris gives us an up
front look at this process in her solo "Untitled" in which she takes
words written by the audience before the show and turns them into
a short improvisation that takes us from the topics of money to
sushi. Throughout it she shows her wit and all the colors, sounds
and movements that make Winifred Harris's work a pleasure to watch.
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