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On October 3, dancer/choreographer Cornelia Kip Lee, along with several friends, presented a program - much more a program than a performance - in the auditorium of the North Carolina Museum of Art. Co-sponsored by the museum and by Arts Access, Out of Bounds: Limitation as a Doorway to Invention honored, according to the program notes, National Arts and Humanities Month and Disabilities Employment Month. It was, in the disabilities arena, very much like the awkward programming one used to see every February during Black History Month.
Lee, who formerly was a member of Cleveland troupe The Dancing Wheels, generally uses a wheelchair when she dances, as childhood polio left her with one non-weight-bearing leg and reduced stamina. Unfortunately, the small stage size at NCMA prohibited her use of the chair ("it goes too fast: I don't want to end up in your laps," she said), and therefore of necessity her dances were very short. That she can dance at all without the chair is evidence of her strength of will (a compelling element in all of dance), and that she dances with grace and precision is testament to her strength of body. However, under these circumstances we got only a glimpse of her imaginative and movement capabilities, while getting rather more talking and "educating" at a grade-school level than was at all desirable.
Lee's first work, "Parting," choreographed by Laura Thomasson in collaboration with Lee, had some wonderful moments, and Lee's extraordinarily erect carriage and magnificent back were used to great effect. But the piece descended into an unfortunate literalness (with recorded spoken words) that rather detracted from the strong images.
"July, July," choreographed by Laura Schandelmeier and danced by her and Stephen Clapp (both of Washington, DC) was an interesting short movement piece performed atop a box. It explored ideas of closeness, trust, balance, rejection and reconciliation, but visually was not particularly satisfying. Following that were several improvisational segments. I'm not much on improv - I tend to want to see a fully prepared artwork - but when the improv is mixed with exhortations to the audience to do this or that, and "input" from the audience, I really cringe. However, two of these segments, "70% Stillness" and "Finding the Stillness," were quite nice.
I almost didn't make it to the end of the program. What with the lousy production values (if the dancers were lit, the projected slides on the backdrop were bleached out, thus degrading images of wonderful paintings); the fact that throughout the program someone was going in and out, up and down the aisles taking photographs with a beeping digital camera; and the aggravation of another person describing the program in a very audible whisper for his companion (instead of using the Arts Access headset!), I was thoroughly out of patience even before the Q&A period that preceded the final dance. Luckily, I stayed, because the last dance was the best.
Titled "Artworks: Improvisation Duet," it was clearly not a spur-of-the-moment thing, however improvisatory it may have been in its details. Danced by Lee and Clapp, it derived some of its imagery from one of the paintings from the Cone Collection that will be on view in Picasso, Matisse and the School of Paris, opening at the NCMA on October 10. The painting shows an embracing couple, the woman on the man's lap. The dance begins with the man on the woman's lap and continues through a flow of embraces and entwinings to end with her on his. It was tender and delicate and lovely in the arrangement of bodies. This piece, even more than the first one, makes me hope that Lee will skip the lessons next time and present a full performance in a real theater very soon.