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The talented choreographer Renay Aumiller, inspired by her pregnancy and the birth of twin boys, has been thinking about change. Good change, bad change, and how difficult change can be, even if you’ve courted it. And if you’ve resisted a certain change, how can you alter your thinking to fit new conditions not of your choosing? As a dancer, Aumiller came at the problem kinetically, asking herself: If I change how I move, and how I make dances, will it change how I think?
RAD premiered the resulting project, boneGlow, on June 2, at the Living Arts Collective, as part of the DIDA season. The first change for Aumiller from her “normal” method was to work collaboratively with the four dancers, rather than making all the choreography herself. This is also a chamber piece, rather spare, for a small space.
The work is interesting but not as dynamic or seamless as Aumiller’s previous works made for more dancers. The concept shone through eventually, but not during the (too) long opening section of dancing. We saw many of Aumiller’s familiar movements and phrases, weighted more heavily now in the hips and the wide stances, but in this first public performance of boneGlow, the dynamic energy was not high enough to be fully engaging. In it, the dancers gradually become aware of/curious about/frightened of/obsessed by the four objects hanging downstage like pendant jewels from steel cables looped over the steel roof trusses. The work of Raleigh artist Mary Catherine Floyd, the finely crafted folded and welded steel constructions were made to resemble large lead sinkers, or plumb bob weights, and their reference to such things made them appear even heavier than they are. They look very dangerous. You know that when they swing they must always pass under their points of suspension, but other than that, they could slice through any plane and knock you into next week. Oddly, the dance did not exploit this capability, instead keeping all the dancer/pendulum interaction in a narrow zone close to the audience. There was no sense of real threat; it was more like tetherball.
It was only in retrospect that I saw the importance of the single dancer, Allie Pfeffer, standing alone, twitching, mid-stage (under the excellent lighting by Daniel “Tebo” Thibault) when the house opened and for at least 20 minutes as the 65 seats filled and the audience chatted. It was hard to pay attention to her, but this feat went on long enough at the edge of your attention that it gradually became all you could think about. Was she stuck? Was she resisting with all her might? Was she hanging on for dear life? It became oppressive, and it came as a relief when she dropped to the floor and began writhing like she was wrassling with alligators. As the other dancers (Nicole Lawson, Rachel Mehaffey, and Lucas Melfi) joined in, many wrestling matches ensued, leading up to a three-against-one situation in which the one attempts repeatedly to scale the wall of others, who repulse her, setting up a pendulum-like swing.
But unlike a pendulum, the dancer couldn’t reverse instantaneously at the end of the swing. You saw her take a breath and prepare the next assault, and in that instant, the energy drained out. Conceptually, the section made an excellent transition to the dancing-with-pendulums part, but it just didn’t make it over the wall of inertia. The music ,by Dave Yarwood and Son Lux, while at times intriguing musically and lyrically, did not boost the energy level, either.
These several things indicate that boneGlow might be considered a work-in-progress. Its premises and images could be elaborated and refined and further energized into a substantial work as powerful as the final scene, which is, literally, brilliant. While one always lauds artistic experimentation, and while the idea and the act of collaboration are wonderful, sometimes the results are aesthetically unsatisfactory to a viewer who values unity and completed thoughts. I missed Aumiller’s purity of vision and control; I missed her assured handling of many bodies in complex intersecting trajectories; I missed the actual danger of her fine piece Blood Moon; I missed the marvelous mystery of choreography that can’t be explained with words. However, there is another aesthetic ascendant, one that finds the singular artist’s vision exclusionary and that values instead the inherent messiness of plural voices in one work. Whichever way these artists choose, they need to go deeper if they want to make boneGlow the wrenching, thrilling dance it could be.
The program repeats June 3 at 8 and June 4 at 4. Due to the very small size of the performance space, check for ticket availability before going.