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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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