On the Fringe

De Facto Dance's 35-minute "structured improvisation," Into the Wild (FringeNYC/Ontological Theater at St. Mark's), was a refreshing success. As the audience entered, a man and woman, seated back to back, quietly scribbled in notebooks. Hard to say why, but just the sight of them told me we'd be in good hands. Two other dancers struck mannequin-like poses, then grew more rambunctious and playful. The scribblers traded comments on their turns, kicks, and shifts of weight, eventually bickering over details. Naturalists? Anthropologists? Dance critics? The little notebook on my lap suddenly seemed huge and glaring. Dancers watch back! In the lovely trio section, "Hypothesis," one performer commented, "Grace, lyricism, and balance did not come naturally to her," but there is a bit of all three in Kelly Donovan's troupe and quite a bit of wit and charm in Into the Wild.

Rise Theatre and Dance Company's multi-art performance (FringeNYC/University Settlement) was called Notice Me, a healing work with a haunting title. Notice the black women actors as they tell their own stories of struggle and self-discovery. Notice this troupe's pride, its delightful musicians, its exquisite dancers and their supple, bold movement. The piece balanced on a tightrope, featuring iconic songs and personal narratives—drugs, incest, domestic abuse, 9-to-5 desperation, the horrors of slavery—that many will feel they've heard once too often. Though long by Fringe standards at two hours, the piece moved at a good pace, thanks in part to choreography by Andre Ivory and Nicole DeWeever and the actors' skill, enthusiasm, and appeal.

Smruti Patel has a soft singing voice and a bulletproof dance technique. Her m.o.? The seamless combination of classical Indian and Western postmodern moves. Sebastian Weber, a German, is a human beatbox and tapper trained by Chuck Green and Buster Brown. Tall, gawky, and totally disarming, he towers over his uncommonly beautiful partner. Together, this odd couple works wonders. They showed the latest installment of their improvisatory, ever evolving piece, as we go: month 22, in August (FringeNYC/Ontological). It included Weber's witty musical, slapped-out popping sounds traveling up and down his long frame. His tap footwork started smooth and trilling, then got loose, ugly at times, but nimble, too. If you happened to be sitting in the front row, you could feel the bounce on your butt. (Talk about intimate theater!) The weft of her singing and the warp of his tapping showed how closely each listens to and learns from the other; their fresh dance encounters were always protean and surprising. As for Patel's extreme, manic isolations of her facial features, don't try it. Your mama says your face will freeze that way.

 
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