From grocery shopping to "Peeping Toms" to savage hunting, former Ririe-Woodbury dancer Andrea Dispenziere presented her work-in-progress this weekendat the Sugar Space (616 E. Wilmington Ave, 888-300-7898). "Hunting the Hemo Goblin," a series of vignettes, explores hunting from the modern-day sense of grocery shopping to the mythological Artemis.
I've been to dance performances where I've been thrust onstage as an audience member, had a staring contest with a performer and watched as a ballerina in stilts strutted to the front of the stage and lip-synced like there was no tomorrow. You'd think that the more performances I watch, the less fazed I'd be each time something out-of-the-ordinary happened. Yet each show I attend, there is always something that doesn't cease to surprise me, and Dispenziere's choreography is no exception.
The Sugar Space is an intimate performing arts studio. A few rows of chairs inched right up to the front of the stage, which was set up with tables of food and wires shaped into large cylindrical cages, some dangling from the ceiling. I didn't hesitate to sit in the front row, though it was nearly empty - perhaps because it seemed almost dangerous to be so close to the dancers you had to scoot back to avoid being hit by a flying body here, a kicking foot there.
The small space served Dispenziere's choreography well - though the movement was big and featured the dancers' athleticism, the closeness of dancer to spectator allowed the audience not only to watch the show, but to experience it as well. The performance began as audience members were still getting seated, opening with dancers milling casually on stage as if grocery shopping. Dizpenziere spoke into a microphone, reminding "all shoppers to please turn off all cell phones," which helped the audience settle into their roles as people both watching and participating in the show, a unique experience.
During transitions between vignettes, the dancers did not step away from their roles; to keep up with the characters, Dispenziere had her dancers, for example, sweep the floor like after-hours grocery store employees in order to move props around rather than having backstage crew do the work, so that there was never a pause that allowed one's mind to wander. Each piece of the show was tied to the next in a seamless manner.
Throughout the show, I was impressed by the dancers' uninhibited ability to move with such largess even in such a tight space (even if it meant unintentionally whacking the photographer with a prop every now and then) and Dispenziere's incorporation of technical dance as well as comic relief, such as when her dancers began rapping a story about "old-school Greece." What I found most inspiring, however, was Dispenziere's choreography. As a dancer and choreographer myself, my teachers have always emphasized the importance of new movement - we never stop exploring and asking ourselves, what morecan we do with our body? I'll be the first to admit that I more often exhaust myself of new ideas before I can come up with anything that's never been done before, but throughout the performance, it seemed as if Dispenziere was presenting new movement after new movement. The partnering, though intricate and choreographed, surprised me every time - I've never thought of the ways one (or more, in Dispenziere's case) could jump onto another to bring both crashing to the floor, or the different ways to counterbalance dancer against dancer.
The show ended with an educational-like showing of the "Hemo Goblin," which Dispenziere's choreography suggested was an elusive, violent and uncontrollable creature. A voice similar to that of someone narrating on the Discovery Channel discussed the Hemo Goblin, its cannibalistic eating habits and methods of studying it while the dancers portrayed the message through their movement. As the show ended, the dancers retreated to the wire cages and Dispenziere remained committed to giving the audience the opportunity to participate in the performance by inviting everybody to the stage to peruse the "exhibits" as if walking through a museum.
Of all the performances I've watched in the past decade, I could easily say that Dispenziere's choreography is one of the most inspiring. As I walked through her "museum," I was itching to join the "hemo goblins" in their cages as they writhed, posed and snapped at each other, and it was everything I could do to get back into my seat.