““Aria” opened on Sunday to a nearly full audience. This year’s iteration of what’s come to be an annual collaboration between BIODANCE choreographer Missy Pfohl Smith and digital media artist W. Michelle Harris, every bit of the performance was an absolute masterpiece. This year the collaborators were joined by soprano Kearstin Piper Brown and chamber ensemble fivebyfive, as well as several guest dancers.
As in previous Fringe performances, a subtle prelude was performed while the audience settled in, featuring dancers moving almost trance-like about the space. This time, one white-clad performer perched in each of the tall stained glass windows, while all along the front pews BIODANCE members in rosy crimson satin and linen shifted slowly between holding graceful poses.
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The first piece, “Constant,” combined gentle music with almost martial arts-like movements where limbs became arrows, with shimmeringly vibrant projections and shadow play from the dancers falling against the stage’s gorgeous back wall.
The co-conceivers of this performance brilliantly puzzled together some seemingly disparate elements: Traditional opera, freeform interpretive dance, and Harris’s appropriately gentle-yet-turbulent digital media projections (that, by the way, never failed in making impressively clever use of the space’s unique quirks like the columns that frame the stage’s back wall). And each of the several times that Brown released the siren from her depths I forgot that I haven’t really cared about opera and just sat there, jaw dropped, entirely enthralled.
My face started leaking during my favorite piece of the evening, “Parlour Games” — I have been waiting and waiting for something to crack me open during a particularly numb low I’ve been stuck in, and this did the trick. An absorbing red light fell on the dancers as they moved fluidly in time with urgent, flowing music. Their bodies became flames licking at the air, at once chaotic and restrained. All elegance, the work also seemed to convey a feeling of frustration in limitation, as though all of the wondrous world were set out for consuming, but just out of reach. As the music slowed and became both more deliberate and hesitant, each cautious piano note haltingly pounding and peeling out into the cavernous space, the dancers sped past one another in rapidly pivoting stops and starts. And then in resonant silence, they each made slow, sweeping, wonder-filled gestures skyward.
In “Phantom Waltz,” Rose Paquarello Beauchamp and Nanako Horikawa Mandrino navigated the small stage and one other, while connected by a long red train that was tied around each of their waists. By turns, the draping fabric billowed and was tugged, formed shelter and swaddling.
I sincerely hope there’s an opportunity for “Aria” to be presented in the coming year after Fringe closes…”