Theater archives

Fringe Elements Blend Styles, Strengths, and Sensibilities


Don’t ask why they called it “They Ask Me Why.” Refractions Dance Collective batched several works together, including brand new ones by co-directors Sarah Donnelly and Charmian Wells. The sharpest, Donnelly’s The Culpability and Casualties of Citizenship, displayed the tensile strength and acrobatic buoyancy of their handsome company of women. (How does its monumental abstract dancing square with the straight-shooting political critique delivered by voices dropped into its sound collage? Another uncertainty.) All six dances on the program seemed to hit similar notes, images frequently suggesting roving Amazons or winged victories, with one vibrant number literally named Furia. Except for Wells’s so-so duet, Sensation of Light, and Donnelly’s tedious Nervous Conditions, where an explosive sextet is strafed by music, the troupe offered bracing visual moments.

Mexico’s Mujeres en Ritual presented El Sueño de Sor Juana, a dance-theater fantasia on the 17th-century nun and intellectual rebel some call the first feminist of the Americas. In true Fringe fashion, director-choreographer Dora Arreola managed to cram a lot into an hour and a space scarcely bigger than your average East Village living room—a caricature of girlie-show dancing in wigs, glitter, and treacherous high heels; a classical guitarist; text completely in Spanish. This mélange made as much sense as any fever dream but, even within the forced intimacy of Greenwich Street Theatre, it felt perfectly calibrated. Leading an all-women cast of exceptional energy and presence, Mara Maciel’s Sor Juana simmered and flared even when just standing still.

The six talented women of Gärung, based in Los Angeles, are Sor Juana’s 20th-century sisters in spirit. Their collective name means disquiet and their eponymous production trotted out some retro conceptions of the feminine archetype only to twist or crush them right before our eyes. Even more over-the-top than Arreola’s dream play, Gärung unwrapped its ample package of movement, surrealistic poetry, nostalgic ditties, and lush, multilingual text (French, German, Gaelic, Spanish, and English) with a mixture of wry amusement and seething irritation. Director-choreographer Madeleine Dahm’s approaches sometimes looked familiar; I flashed back to Pina Bausch and, at one funny moment, to Zvi Gotheiner. However, each of Gärung‘s seasoned performers made absorbing drama out of a mere inclination of the head or the dance of eyes.