Blank Slate Dances in Durham
by Kate Dobbs Ariail
May 8, 2010, Durham, NC: Making and performing work is even more difficult for local choreographers and small dance companies than it is for comparable theater artists. The dancers have so few suitable places to dance, so little support structure in the community, and such difficulty in promoting their infrequent, one or two-night events that it is a wonder that as many persevere as do. A couple of years ago, several dancers and choreographers from around the Triangle area formed Blank Slate Dance to support each other in creating and presenting new dances at venues around the state. Saturday night they presented their second annual concert, “All of the Above,” at Barriskill Dance Theatre School’s 150-seat Studio Theatre.
It was a decidedly low-tech event. The “stage” is a dance floor without wings, curtains, backdrops or any other visual apparatus. There is no lighting grid. The sound system is weak. The possibility of presenting anything approaching a total work of art is non-existent. Yet, these artists made the most of what they had, presenting a total of ten recent dances by seven choreographers.
By far the most complex and surprising, the most open to multiple intriguing interpretations, was Autumn Mist Belk’s Manifesto, for three female dancers and their squared-off bean bag cushions. Belk is artistic director of Code f.a.d Company (film-art-dance), and teaches in the dance program at NC State, and her experience showed in the dynamic use of the space, the movement vocabulary, and the crispness of the dancing. Music (sadly, not live) was by G. Todd Buker, who often works with theater groups.
In Leaf House, by Addison Reese, the only couple-dance (and only appearance by a male dancer) two gorgeous sleek creatures — Amy Wagoner and Matthew Jones — in red-striped olive Lycra frolic through some fairly simple choreography with an attentiveness and pleasure that made this dance the most enjoyable of the evening. Reese is a BFA student at State University of New York-Purchase, and she has worked with Doug Varone, among others. There is a hint of Varone in this work, which is not a bad thing, as he is a deeply humanistic artist.
Also notable were Natalie Maarrone’s (of The Dance Cure) two related dance skits. Debarkation showcased some of the evening’s best dancing, by Natalie Morton, in a sweet and wry meditation on the excitement and fear of going solo into a new life. I Nuovi Arrivati, which followed, was also charming, with snappy dancing.
While the other works were not as evolved as these mentioned it was pleasing to witness the seriousness and dedication of the artists. It was particularly interesting to see, in Heather Rose’s three works, a young artist seeking her way. She is still developing her movement vocabulary, and, oddly, these three dances reminded me of an artist’s sketchbook, in which all variations are tested until perseverance is rewarded, and the possibility of joy and wonder is hinted at on every page.