Watching the Score


In the program for Ellen Cornfield’s Fault Lines, the choreographer reports a comment by collaborating composer Koven J. Smith when he first viewed a rehearsal: “You can’t hear the music because of the dancing.” Watching a performance, I experience the opposite sensation. Smith’s score seems to be telling me things that I don’t get from the dancing. I become distracted, and my ability to take in the choreography diminishes.

Fault Lines—created together with the six performers—combines visual clarity with an on
going springiness. People leap across the space. Women race toward men and are whirled off their feet. The beginning of the piece, in which the clustered dancers move through a sequence of slightly apprehensive gestures, is one of the few moments in which they seem anything but open-hearted and
athletic. A man’s voice soon penetrates the resonant tinkling and chiming of Smith’s music, saying, “All right, let me ask you one simple question. Answer yes or no.” Is this a trial? An interrogation? After a few seconds, another voice answers calmly, “The answer is yes.” So, not an interrogation. What then? During the handsome duet by Gena Mann and Daniel Puneky that ends the first section, the voices drop out of the music—which now has a snare drum crackling underneath; immediately, I can see better.

Caitlinb Scranton standing and Ellie Kusner hanging onto her,
with Daniel Puneky (facing front) and Beau Hancock behind him

photo: Julie Lemberger

The titles of Fault Line‘s four sections correspond to the spoken words and also suggest drastic events. In “You’ve Got to Shoot Straight,” a voice seems to be describing a huge blast, and we hear bits of a countdown. A few brief interludes bring the choreography closer to the score’s buried scenarios. Once, Ellie Kusner slowly falls, shaking. Twice Caitlin Scranton kneels beside Beau Hancock and gently takes his hand away from his face, forming her own hand into a mirror for him. Designer Carol Mullins’s beautiful, shifting environment—golden arrows of light on the floor, dancers’ shadows on the back wall, a huge traveling moon—hint at changes, but the dancing remains pretty much on one level of density and intensity.

The accomplished dancers (including Lindsay Fisher) wear fairly uniform outfits by Rabiah Troncelliti: stretchy, sleeveless charcoal tops and cut-off tights or pants. They often travel as a squad and tend to move in unison on strong, articulate legs. Cornfield skillfully varies their big, bold patterns—breaking out a trio here, a duet event there, a burst of individual steps.

Sitting in the Cunningham studio inevitably brings to mind Merce Cunningham’s works, with music, movement, and visual design as simultaneously occurring separate strands. The elements of
Fault Lines seem to be trying to rub sparks off one another, yet don’t fully ignite.

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