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      Sarah Carlson: Spider Dance
      Photo by Quinn Batson
    Spiders as Dark Agents

    Sarah Carlson's Spider Dance uses all its pieces well


    The tarantella or "spider dance" was a medieval excuse to let loose. Whether or not an actual spider bite originally made people dance maniacally and ecstatically, the form became part of medieval culture in an otherwise repressive time. Sarah Carlson took this basic idea and made a fully multimedia evening of it, in an hourlong multipart piece with a good arc.

    Choreography by: Sarah Carlson.
    Dancers: Jeremy Arnold, Sarah Carlson, Nakia Gard, Kaitlin Reid, Scott Schneider and Ashley Taylor
    Video: Kiera Bianchini, Sarah Carlson, Zach Chiero, Samantha Johnson, Ashley Taylor
    Music by: Behind the Wall: Michael London.
    Costumes by: Constance Case and Sarah Carlson.
    Lighting design by: Benjiman Carlson.
    Production stage manager: Benjiman Carlson.
    Live percussion: Moe Jerant, Jill Schneider, Colleen Zajacik.
    Vocals: Pana Columbus.
    Video: Maggie Griffin, Erika Liljestrand.
    Ice House Theater
    Allentown, PA
    June 5 and 6, 2009

    Live musicians and effective videos complemented the movement onstage well, though in the opening solo, a prelude to the spider dance, uneven singing distracted from lovely classical guitar and softly sensual movement by Carlson, and words competed with visuals for attention and made it hard to find the focus of the piece, titled Behind the Wall.

    Much of the first sections of Spider Dance also have a slowly amorphous sensuality that feels like watching a spider slowly spinning its web and waiting for its prey. The opening segment, though, with prone dancers stirring and occasionally flipping quickly, is intriguing and darkly atmospheric, enhanced by deeply colorful lighting by Ben Carlson.

      Sarah Carlson and Kaitlyn Reid in Sarah Carlson: Spider Dance
      Photo by Quinn Batson
      Sarah Carlson and Kaitlyn Reid
    So many spider metaphors are woven into Spider Dance seamlessly and creatively. Early videos of human hands as spiders are both creepy and sexual, as disembodied hands interact and eventually travel over a possibly dreaming body. The videos, credited to many people but edited by Maggie Griffin and Erika Liljestrand, take turns with the dancing in a nice flow, to set up the next section or to enhance the current one; they are shot from odd angles and often tight closeup but also do really well later at conveying the manic yet sexy quality of unfettered dancing, with a blur of tangling bodies.

    The "black widow" side of spiders is also a large compenent of this piece, with the idea of black being transformative and releasing, especially lacy black dresses; spiders in this sense stand in for evil, predation and dark sexuality as allowed in the natural world. Though it is repeated often, the transforming black clothing idea stays fresh, each time returning on a different body or in a slightly different context.

    Ashley Taylor, prone, and Sarah Carlson in Sarah Carlson: Spider Dance
    Photo by Quinn Batson
    Ashley Taylor, prone, and Sarah Carlson

    The dancers — Jeremy Arnold, Nakia Gard, Kaitlin Reid, Scott Schneider and Ashley Taylor, with Carlson — are diverse but talented and make a good platform for exploring ideas of spiders as the scary "other", representing forbidden worlds or activities or social groups. Each is easy to watch, and when they all get moving together in the increasingly frantic later stages of the piece, their energy generates a lot of heat.

    Spider Dance ends so well, with live percussion and singing driving things onstage and building energy all the way to the quiet conclusion, a reprise of the initial prone, slow flipping spiders.

    JUNE 9, 2009

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