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      Kate Digby in her solo Clementine. in Soaking Wet
      Photo by Julie Lemberger
      Kate Digby in her solo "Clementine."
    Women's Night

    Soaking Wet festival features 6


    I enter the West End Theater for Soaking WET, a dance series presented by David Parker and Jeffrey Kazin and wonder, what is this space? As audience, we sit facing a semi-circular stage; huge velvet-draped windows rise above. I feel like I'm at the Globe Theater, and those drapes hide balconies of ghostly audience-members — which would mean we're the ones being watched.

    In the first show of the double bill, I watch five gifted female choreographers dance solos or duets: a glimpse into each of their lives, perspectives, relationships. At the end I think, what is this show for? The answer seems to be, to give performers an opportunity to perform. What are the performers performing? They are doing what they are compelled to do, for which they need space and a show: the act that gets them to the other side of whatever gully they have encountered physically, mentally, or emotionally.

    Choreography by: Janet Charleston, Patricia Beaman, Barbara Mahler, Kate Digby, Molly Rabinowitz, Keely Garfield.
    Produced by: David Parker and Jeffrey Kazin.
    Dancers: Janet Charleston, Patricia Beaman, Barbara Mahler, Rachel Thorne Germonde, Kate Digby, Molly Rabinowitz, Erin Reck, Keely Garfield, Omagbitse Omagbemi, Brandin Steffensen, Jonathan Belcher.
    Lighting design by: Jonathan Belcher.
    Soaking WET Festival West End Theater March 6-9, 2008

    Rites of passage are what we as audience bear witness to. That's the thing: often we come to the performance thinking we should be given something — when really, we've been called to contribute presence and energy to complete the happening. We are needed. It's not a job for the unfocused or resistant. But like gods and fertile females, we must be courted. There must be sparkles — or something — to catch our eyes, hearts, groins.

    One more question: are the most necessary exchanges going to happen within theaters these days? My fantasy is that all such "opportunities" would vanish, disappear. Then I want to see where and how our necessary performances get done.

    This is how Janet Charleston begins her solo, "Next.": she spins in from the side of the stage and views us and the space. In her stillness, we see her face twisted, wiry arms hanging, neck muscles taut. Her body looks tested by endurance of muscle-and-bone. Her light play of action seems incongruous with this appearance; she moves bird-like, then still, twirls herself to dizziness and recovers in awkward balances. She smiles like a Joker, as if to acknowledge the non-sense of it all. I think about how we modern dancers make ourselves sensitive to too much for too long, and wish us healing. Her face looks to me like Martha Graham's, severe and deeply beautiful, and her belly, peaking between normal red shirt and pants, looks like a teenager's.

    Patricia Beaman in Soaking Wet
    Photo by Julie Lemberger
    Patricia Beaman

    "Armide Undone" is Patricia Beaman's solo as a conquering and conquered vixen, using several mythical sources that add up to a crystal-clear series of images. A tall figure covered in black tulle becomes a flapper-style seductress in an impassive mask. She sheds the black tulle like snake-scales, leaving soft creamy skin underneath, and pulls her discarded scales around like a man on a leash. I believe in the mask's civility, pleasantly belying the animal, ritualized activity of her lower parts. In the end she rolls on, stuffs her scaly skin in her crotch, and lies tangled, defeated or hiding. While these images court me strongly, Patricia's movements don't move me — they don't brush my nerve endings like I want them to.

    In "Wallflower" by Barbara Mahler, the choreographer starts against the back wall in jeans, glitter earrings in her ear. She's lean, mature, with a short salt-and-pepper haircut. She tries out shapes against the back wall efficiently. In walks Rachel Thorne Germonde, a tall soft dancer. She curves, Barbara angles; they move without creating meaning. Then Rachel hooks Barbara's elbows into a hold against her chest — they are chest to chest, face to face — and lowers Barbara to the floor, open and exposed, in a significant action. As they continue a duet, Barbara's role reminds me of a Balanchine ballerina: the story is about her as she is pretzeled and promenaded. As the piece ends, Barbara gains ground, and becomes both story and teller.

    "Clementine" by Kate Digby is just like the title, a sweet piece of fruit. In this solo, Kate possesses a softness of intent along with a self-pleasure that she shares generously with us. She somehow prompts me to realize by her actions that we are all here in this room together. I enjoy her facile strong body, her sensitivity to details funny and sad. She attracts us to her truthfulness and disciplined wildness. I recognize the rendition of the song "Clementine" late in the piece, which is like watching Kate: I remember her the more I watch her, like a face I knew long ago and hold dear.

    Molly Rabinowitz's "Match" is full of big luscious movement on hands and feet, and every dimension of space in between. Molly and Erin Reck, her longtime partner in dance, look delicious together — a harmony of angle and dynamic. They wear grey glittery dresses with cross-straps in back, and their skirts flow with their generous movement: they're blond and guileless sparkle-nymphs. I get whiffs of circus or prom excitement. As Match does not demand interpretation, I find it a strangely attractive vehicle for meditation; their action is ever-swirling. The movement I remember, though, is one of stillness: both thrust their torsos over, extend a leg in diagonal space, and pause.

    Keely Garfield's "Limerence", second in the double-bill, is a powerful doing — a ritual event for performers and witnesses in which things happen, full of risk, repercussions, wisdom, seasoned with pain and experience on both sides.

    Jonathan Belcher's astounding lighting-design-as-performance in "Limerence" is explicit — his machinations translate into meaning and poetry right in front of our eyes, and turn the space back into itself. He races around the stage in the hour before the performance setting up equipment, stacking light-crates as makeshift booms, setting out a stationary bicycle: a junkyard with magical potential. Keely, Omagbitse Omagbemi, Brandin Steffensen, and Jonathan gather themselves onstage, a moment of togetherness; they begin.

      Rites of passage are what we as audience bear witness to.
    Jonathan and Brandin focus huge three-foot-square spotlights on Keely and Omagbitse; they adjust to highlight the women, or throw them into relief, and their calm observance is soothing. I am moved by the sense of journey — journey that Keely has taken to India and Alaska to feed this work, and journey unfolding in time and space right here. Nothing and everything is happening. Men focus lights on women, wheeling and revolving. Keely and Omagbitse are prisoners or movie stars, searched and sought, as are we in the audience. The lighting revolves through the whole space, over the velvet windows — disorienting, dizzying.

    Keely slips and falls on a jacket inexplicably, onto the floor. She breathes through her ribs like gills, waves up above us, as if to a god whose attention she desires. She and Omagbitse spit, create a paste out of rubbing their hands together, and coat each other with the paste, readying themselves. Keely slips again and brings down Omagbitse with her — they fall repeatedly. It strikes me as the most significant act: this slip and fall on the inexplicable jacket, as the success or failure that triggers all the succeeding actions, good and bad; it makes me feel sick. They recover balance and dance powerfully. I realize I'm composing a love song of support in my notebook, semi-intelligibly translating actions which are utterly intelligible.

    Keely and Omagbitse crawl in tandem on their knees — soft, strong, rhythmic crawling, which says everything. There's nothing else to do in all the world of movement. This is it. We are on our knees. We're animals, children, people in desperate need, clinging to survival. I entrain to Keely and Omagbitse's movement, and the details of each: Keely and her deliberate, serious demands of psyche, tempered by pain, loss, joy. Omagbitse, with inner fire, secretive, divine, resilient, elastic. Both submit to this crawl.

    Jonathan pulls up a new palette, psychedelic mushroom patterns kaleidoscoping in circles. I giggle at this. Keely becomes funny without trying as the women perform a pas de deux. At this point, I want it to stop; there's so much information; I'm exhausted and losing the moment. Omagbitse crumples against the wall. Keely throws the coat against it. She walks dispiritedly over to the men, and engages Brandin in a duet. He rides a stationary bike as she pumps pom-poms, cheerleader-style, in a kind of ritual warm-up; he provides energy, she provides image.

    They get closer and entangle hips, ribs, gills; turn into cobras and rear at each other. Keely gets bossy. The mystical journey seems to be over, it's disappointing. The duet is full of little movements, slaps and thrusts: right from the start they have to deal with each other's innuendos and discordances. It's funny to see them struggle. Keely continues to struggle even after Brandin lets go of her. She is beautiful, he is heroically, comically useless.

    I finally realize right at the end of this second show what the space is, and where we all are — not quite the Globe Theater, but kind of: we are in a fish tank Keely would like to get out of. Brandin can't help her, though he'd like to, and time is passing. Inadvertently, he finds his chance. Pumping on the bicycle once again, Brandin becomes the horse, Keely the charioteer standing on the seat, pointing to the god up and over us. Her own shadow, highlighted by Jonathan, stretches to the far-up reaches of the room.

    MARCH 17, 2008

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