Body language 

Seven degrees of Mo-Trans

Mo-Trans, the professional touring dance company that resides at the University of Montana, pauses between tour stops to come home. This week, the company presents seven pieces on the Montana stage, some new, some choreographed by visiting faculty or graduated students, some long in the repertory of the 12-year-old company.

The evening begins with I Like to Eat Pork Rinds, a duet choreographed by Nicole Bradley Browning and Kristi Topham Petty. This is a fiery start to the performance, a bright, howling, urgent sort of piece that follows its two dancers across the realm of the vast stage as they touch and come apart, tighten together and loosen again with exaggerated gestures of humor that sometimes call to mind old-fashioned slapstick. Against lighting designer Katie Manion’s brilliant red wall and dressed in complementary red, Kara Olsen and Sara Pfeifle spit out bits of dance, accentuating the fun in the body’s movement. The following piece, Stephen Koester’s Work in Progress, seems like a natural extension of the first, each wondering at the legacy of dance’s history. Four black-clad dancers take up ragged bits of familiar movement from a variety of dance styles and knit them into a larger, cohesive work.

Brooke Davila dances the only solo of the evening in the haunting A Woman Has Disappeared, a beloved piece in the repertory choreographed 15 years ago by Jill Harrison. In a world of dark and muted hues, Davila swirls in mourning as Holly Near’s song recounts the names of those who disappeared under Pinochet’s regime. Spanish gives way to English and back again, and the dancer shifts from wide, yearning movements to lonelier phrases. Her arms come up to clasp her head as she tucks herself into her body, small, invisible, disappeared.

At the Moment—An Improvisation creates dance before your eyes in a piece that doesn’t exist at all until the moment the music sounds. The dancers emerge gradually onto the stage, making up a dance to a song they have never heard before, under lighting they don’t expect. Every aspect of the piece is spontaneous, an organic revelation of how a tightly knit company makes its way together, and the result is a wonderful, brief education in how dance is made. While the dancers have certain rules they must follow and certain structures to guide them, they also must feel each other acutely on the stage, balancing the movements of the individual against the needs of pairs and trios. The dancers face a challenge of a different sort in presenting choreographer Llory Wilson’s Swimming Through Space, an excerpt from a larger piece that concentrates on pairs. Three pairs take the stage one at a time, each practicing a unique sequence of complex moves while staying out of the way of the other pairs. The eye can follow one pair at a time, but the piece also works beautifully as tableau, complex and sophisticated.

Tsigane, choreographed by the Seattle dance team 33 Fainting Spells, begins with a crude light bulb dropped from the ceiling, swinging back and forth and inviting a dancer, who stands on a table, to follow, which she does, in a burst. The light goes out, and you concentrate on the sound of exaggerated dripping, the far side of the stage visible for a moment with a large tin tub to receive the slow-falling drips. Another burst of light, of movement, more drips. This has the tantalizing effect of whetting your appetite for something bigger, something comprehensive, and that soon comes. Two dancers, a table, a chair and a black stage make up the unusual dance that concentrates on a tight collaboration of limbs and forms, the energy gathered into a small space almost until the end of the piece when the portents of high-up light bulb and low-down water tub are realized and the dancers move out into the rest of the empty space.

The final piece of the show (although these pieces are mixed and reordered from venue to venue) features faculty member Nicole Bradley Browning’s Together Tide, Wading Away, a rapturous ode to the body’s inherent fluidity. Five dancers sheathed in gauzy whites undulate to Bach’s irresistible cello until the music fades to silence and the dancers gradually use their breath to beat out new rhythms and melodies. When the music resumes, you continue to hear the deep, human sounds of breath and effort tying everything together. Mo-Trans was founded as a touring company that could educate through dance, and the schools and communities that host the company benefit from discussions and workshops provided by the dancers. But even without the seminars, you come away able to articulate something you didn’t quite know how to articulate before—that the body speaks another language, and the sound is beautiful.

arts@missoulanews.com

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