Moving Poets Charlotte received a warm welcome home at the premiere of RE[LOADED], their first full production in Charlotte since Co-Founder Till Schmidt-Rimpler moved the company to Berlin, Germany in 2006.
Known for their multi-disciplinary performances that bring together dancers, actors, musicians, visual artists, and other creative professionals to collaborate on original works, Moving Poets Charlotte provides an alternative to both professional ballet companies and academic approaches to dance. That’s not to say that Moving Poets lacks rigor; indeed, they present work with a clarity of intention and refined simplicity of movement that’s refreshing.
Also refreshing is the maturity and variety of the Moving Poets’ dancers, many of whom come from professional ballet careers. They exhibit an ease on stage and in their skin that lets the audience watch, rather than be schooled.
RE[LOADED] incorporates three original works — “Contact,” which originally premiered at Charlotte’s Carolina Theatre in 1998, and the world premieres of “The Left Foot Smile” and “Three.”
Featuring actor Robert Lee Simmons played the role of intellectual as he recited passages from Oscar Wilde’s “The Critic as Artist” and “The Decay Of Lying” with perfect comic timing, “Contact” incorporated six dancers and Charlotte-based artist Duy Huynh. Huynh painted dancers, a backdrop, and a canvas, participating as a fellow maker on stage. Choreography by Till Schmidt-Rimpler took the dancers through graceful arcs and dynamic leaps. A particularly striking moment came when the dancers curved in a line across the stage, their bodies assuming a series of perfectly formed, fluid shapes that evoked the figures on the Grecian urns of antiquity.
“The Left Foot Smile” is a study in moods conveyed through dance and music. The piece began with a kinetic art work in the form of a metal disk. The curtain opened to the disk spinning at the corner of stage, a spotlight created a colorful, staccato play of light across its surface and the seven performers who sat in stillness at center stage. Once the disk clattered to a stop — a process that took remarkably longer and built much more tension than you’d expect (an audible sigh of relief went up from the audience on opening night) — the piece moved into a series of dances as varied in hue as the performers’ costumes. The first section could be pitched as a Target commercial — bright, peppy, hip. The dancers set a groove, then moved in reel-like patterns around a circle of chairs at center. Middle sections of the work ran the gamut of emotional extremes, from blowing kisses to exchanging blows. The piece ended with a standoff that transitioned into a slow, sultry march as dancers came together again, hips rolling, lighting red.
The choreography of “The Left Foot Smile” seemed loose, even freeform at times; however, the work revealed itself to be a structured whole. There was little to no randomness in the dancers’ actions, but contrived movement, much like the kisses and wallops exchanged earlier, each its own human social construct.
“Three” played on the uncertainties of memory and language. The work’s narrator, actor Billy Ensley, struggled to find the right words, repeatedly asking the theatre “Is this the right story?” A cinematic storyline threaded its way underneath— the lost starlet of a now abandoned cabaret. Dancer Sarah Emery played that star, the only one in red amongst her fellow dancers, six female and three male, wearing various shades of black. “Three” had some technically remarkable highlights, such as Emery’s precise, Latin-flecked duet with Javier Gonzales and stage-altering lighting design by Eric Winkenwerder; however, it lacked the cohesive, uncomplicated qualities displayed by works like “Contact.” Of course, given that “Contact” has been maturing with the company for the past 15 years, “Three” might be considered in the early stages of its evolution.
The performers in the revived Moving Poets Charlotte are unique, and each brought their own strength and character to the performance. Musicians Blake Barnes and Brenda Gambill in “Three” enhanced the work’s depth of feeling, as only live music played well can do, and brought dimension to the space of the stage.
As for the dancers, Courtney Stewart was a revelation. She danced with nymph-like lightness in “Contact,” partnered by Shane Lucas, before transitioning into a darker role for “Three” that may be best described as an alluring fairy, perhaps the kind associated with Oscar Wilde and other Romanticists’ anise-flavored drink of choice.
Male dancer Trey Mauldwin is a beautifully trained performer and an absolute pleasure to watch. His movement was athletic without being cavalier. Shane Lucas also gave strong performances and continues to grow as a dancer every time I see him on stage, his lines controlled but fluent.
Sarah Emery, who is also Moving Poets Charlotte's artistic director, may very well be the surest mover in this city. From her port de bras to her partnering, she dances with a well-edited elegance that simultaneously captivates and reassures.
With plans to sustain collaborations between Berlin and Charlotte and include additional national and international artists in future endeavors, Moving Poets Charlotte hopes to serve as a “cultural arts incubator” in the city. After witnessing works that have been incubating with the company for many years now, Charlotte should look forward to seeing what this company and their exceptional team of artist-collaborators will bring to the stage next.