Barnes structures her works fastidiously. Every section of Another Parade queries, replays, and alters the themes introduced by Celia Rowlson-Hall in an opening solo. The stage has piles of confetti in the wings and a sprinkling on the backdrop (set and costumes by Kelly Hanson), and lighting designer Jane Cox has provided Rowlson-Hall with a follow spot for her opening solo. Rowlson-Hall is a tall, leggy beauty with a strong face, and she acts like a deer caught in the headlights. She lets us know she sees us before hunkering down to rabbit-punch an invisible opponent. Oops, she takes one on the chin, comes back, signals, “OK, it’s over,” and, throws up her arms in doubtful victory—trying the gesture on for size. That move and others (she runs, checks her pulse with a stopwatch, grabs the air above her as if to pull down bouquets, challengingly hikes up her sweater to show us her belly and edges the neck of her sweater down to reveal a shoulder), tell us more each time they reappear in the piece. She also mouths exchanges between someone on her right that she likes, and someone to her left that she despises.

The elegantly timed flashes of humor increase as Another Parade progresses. So does the pathos. Rowlson-Hall does her solo to a sarabande from one of J.S. Bach’s suites for unaccompanied cello. Barnes and Bass enter to the windup for James Brown’s “Get Up (I feel like being a Sex Machine).” Here they are, dressed—as is Rowlson-Hall—in good-girl skirts and sweaters in drab colors, trying to look powerfully self-confident and sexy. Their impeccable unison, along with their quite different facial expressions, makes their situation all the more entrancing. The other two performers enter and join in. This time, when they pull down their sweaters, they lick their shoulders enthusiastically, like misguided porn-star wannabees. By now you’re in love with all of them.

Burt Bacharach’s “I’ll Never Fall in Love Again” introduces some new elements to be reexamined and repeated. Cox cleverly turns the backdrop candy-pink, and the women sway bouncily from foot to foot. Arms akimbo, they wiggle their hips strenuously. Bach continues to vie with various good old tunes. Bass does a star turn to more James Brown; she’s a marvelous comedian, with the kind of collapsible face I associate with Carol Burnett. At some point, she runs up the aisle and watches for a while from the side balcony, while Barnes patiently, wearily, gives the other two a lesson in wiggling and other moves and points out good spots to stand in. It’s a very low-key scene, and a strangely sweet one.

Leslie Kraus and Douglas Gillespie in Kate Weare’s Bright Land.
Christopher Duggan
Leslie Kraus and Douglas Gillespie in Kate Weare’s Bright Land.
Celia Rowlson-Hall, Monica Bill Barnes, and Anna Bass in Monica Bill Barnes’s Another Parade.
Christopher Duggan
Celia Rowlson-Hall, Monica Bill Barnes, and Anna Bass in Monica Bill Barnes’s Another Parade.

Details

Kate Weare Company
Monica Bill Barnes & Company
Joyce Theater
August 10, 12, 14

Monica Bill Barnes & Company
Jacobís Pillow, Becket, Massachusetts
July 28 through August 1

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For a finale, each woman brings up a willing person from the audience and gently dances with her new partner. Then the performers step approvingly aside and the volunteers shyly, bravely wiggle their hips while confetti rains down. In the brief follow-up, Barnes and her accomplices dance radiantly, and in the steps we now know by heart, they finally look like the champions that they are.

At Jacob’s Pillow, less than two weeks before her group’s Joyce appearance, Barnes premiered a new piece, made in part during a Creative Development Residency at the Pillow. Mostly Fanfare, like Another Parade (which was also on the bill, along with Barnes’s wonderful solo Here We Are), mingles comedy with poignancy, expertise with ineptness. Seldom have “Ta-da!” moments been dissected so eccentrically. How could you not be entranced by the sight of Barnes, Bass, and Bydwell, dressed in demure dark skirts and white blouses, their heads topped by ostrich-plumes? You think “showgirls,” then “parade horses,” then, “not really.” Red beams of light strike them from behind, as they jog (more like trudge), posture erect, along a forward diagonal. Their tiny-steps gait brings to mind the paratrooper shuffle, except that they never break into a flat-out run. Sometimes they look up warily; sometimes a force buffets them back. Barnes’s choreographic style, always grounded, appears even more weighted, turbulent leaps notwithstanding. The accompaniment for this opening scene—Nina Simone singing “For All We Know”—seems utterly appropriate.

Simone sings all the songs in Mostly Fanfare, and all of them tie in smartly. Bass is dancing alone to “Let It be Me,” her hands out, when a carton is tossed into them from the wings. More cartons follow, and she manages to field them all; the on-tape applause for Simone becomes applause for her, although she’s not equipped to handle the storm of boxes from above that ends the number. To “12th of Never,” the women balance chairs in their mouths.

The unlikely accompaniment to the ending is a theme from Camille Saint-SaënsSamson and Delilah played on a piano.Again the three travel along that diagonal path—sometimes stepping perkily, sometimes shuffling like much older women, sometimes spinning. Glitter blows alluring in from their apparent destination. Several times, Bydwell outpaces the other two; she reaches the corner, but is repeatedly knocked back. The spotlight finds her. Eventually, the others pass her and exit. She sits—resigned and gallant—on a suitcase that has suddenly appeared at the edge of the downstage wing. Stars fill the backdrop, and applause rends the air. Is hers the success story, or theirs? You could weep.

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