Kat Legault has this thing she does in “Poor Edward,” a piece that was part of last weekend’s portion of the Live Arts Dance Festival. Pitched on her back between her shoulder blades with her knees bent and her hips arched, she jumbles herself into a bridge. She does it a few times throughout the piece, which she choreographed and performs with Rob Petres. At different points in the action, Legault contorts herself into that position. Depending on what’s going on between her and Petres, who create an enraptured but agitated and maybe disappointed couple, she can seem in a violent ecstasy; other times she looks like an agonized, vulnerable figure from Egon Schiele’s imagination. That hip-jutting move all on its own serves as a reminder of how dance, when it works, tells us something—informs us about relationships and sensations. Just as two hands clapping can be rhythmic and joyful or insistent and angry, depending on the energy that flows behind the simple act of putting palm to palm, so can a woman bridging her pelvis and then crawling out of that position suggest a range of experience, depending on how she makes the move.
Bridging the gap: Rob Petres supports Kat Legault in Ground Zero Dance’s “Poor Edward” during the first week of the Live Arts Dance Festival.
I bring this up because some might wonder, after the first half of this weekend’s show, what the heck is the purpose behind modern dance. Charlottesville’s Zen Monkey Project kicked off the evening (their part of the program morphed a bit on Friday and Saturday) and some of the works were what might be called inward in their point of view. Maybe theoretical or experiential are equally useful terms. There was not always a lot for a viewer to relate to, viscerally speaking, though it’s clear that the dancers relish their bending and sashaying and rolling on the floor (of which there was a great deal).
But a couple of pieces presented welcome movement signatures. Katharine Birdsall, Julie Rothschild and Allison Waddell, a lovely trio, braided a side-step pattern into a gentle study of shifting alliances—duos and singles emerged and re-emerged. All three are credited with creating the dance, “TRIbeca,” and I, for one, would enjoy seeing more of their collaborations. Closing out the ZMP portion, Zap McConnell left a lasting imprint with her self-effacing, outright har-dee-har funny examination of a groundhog worship ceremony that also features, improbably, slices of bread toasted live on stage. I can hardly do credit to “ground hog form, the final return” except to say that McConnell’s performance makes the case for dancing with one’s face. Her expressions are inimitable.
Ultimately, though, a dance festival has to be about the totality of the human form and what its movements can impart to us on an intimate, non-verbal level. Which gets me back to Richmond’s Ground Zero Dance and “Poor Edward.” Legault and Petres put together a juicy portrait of an ambivalent couple that was saturated with flowing movement, including some of Ground Zero’s trademark acrobatic partnering. Using pacing, section breaks, and all the tools of editing that are as important to choreography as they are to journalism, music or film, they gave us some kind of story. I don’t know exactly what was getting under that couple’s skin, but somehow, whatever it was, I could feel it myself.