A combination of exquisite ballet technique and science fiction makes Coriolis Dance’s Unfixed Arias a not-to-be-missed show for fans of either. Directors Christin Call and Natascha Greenwalt brought back this well-received show from a short run last year at Belltown Collective (read the 2014 review here), and this more condensed version plays for two weekends at Open Flight Studio, April 10-12 and 16-19. Full of creativity and abstract world building, Coriolis delivers a show accessible enough for new audiences and strange enough to still be interesting to the veteran dance watcher.
Most remarkable was perhaps the breadth of the evening, composed of seven vignettes plus a pre-show installation (itself containing four distinct elements). Each vignette was grounded in a particular costume, light environment, and movement vocabulary. While the same seven dancers returned again and again, it was clear that the space babes tottering around in colorful heels were not the same as the black hooded figures oscillating in intricate patterns. What was consistent throughout was Coriolis’ signature integration of ballet technique. This technique was sometimes used to portray elegance and beauty and other times taken to extremes that characterized the alien quality of the characters; the talent and athleticism of the dancers was certainly on display.
Despite the fact that there were many different sections, each took enough time to develop. In insofaras the landscopic field report, Call and Greenwalt play a pair of science-minded aliens isolated together for millions of days (passage of time hilariously indicated with cue cards). Their relationship traversed kooky professionalism, boredom, irritation, and heartbreak before a wistful goodbye. For other sections, it’s harder to assign a narrative, but it’s clear that transformation is happening. Call’s group work Supermassive gravitational collapse started with an accumulation phrase of both movement and spoken word, followed by V formation of dancers on the floor completing precise choreography in intricate patterns, then running back and forth—weaving in and out of each other, individuals lost in the devolution.
Details completed the specific vision of each section. Many of these were design related; each costume told a story, like the long flowing robes of a golden queen, or the silver and red vinyl fem-bot suit. This thought extended to hair and makeup, props and set pieces. Transitions between sections were choreographed so that even though the shift was apparent, there was never a clear break between pieces, which made for an engrossing experience. Some missed details, however, distracted from Coriolis’ vision. A crooked, off-center projection, a wardrobe malfunction, and some moments of shoddy unison require a simple fix. There were choreographic questions, too: in Greenwalt and Marissa Quimby’s otherwise twin-like duet, each dancer wore a strikingly different expression, and sometimes the arm positions felt like the default choice for the ballet step rather than an intentional choreographic choice. It was these kinds of little things that easily disrupted the delicate painting of the work’s otherworldly environments. Perhaps this is the risk of having so many elements.
While compositionally Unfixed may have been tightened up a bit since last year, it certainly lost something too. The sprawling, abandoned feeling of the Belltown Collective made each audience member into an explorer—discovering these new worlds, physically moving from space to space. And while the current version certainly made valiant efforts to transform Open Flight Studio (rearranging the seating several times during the show) it was never easy to forget you were in a dance studio. Limited space, volunteers moving seats, poor sight lines, set pieces coming and going: seeing how the sausage gets made takes a bit of the mystery away. Lighting design was notable, especially the glittering star-lit staircase, but certainly didn’t hold a candle to the intensive lighting installations last year by Amiya Brown. While newcomers to the show may not even notice, it does appear as though resources were more of a limitation than in last year’s production. There was one new addition to the show: animations by Stefan Gruber, which ranged from kaleidoscopic geometric backgrounds, to quirky space character illustrations.
Coriolis masterfully explores sci-fi tropes without crossing the line into caricature and cliché. Each act felt familiar and yet unpredictable, introducing the audience to worlds but not revealing all their secrets, and successfully creating fertile ground for the imagination. The scene was also set with the fantastic live music of Jackie An and other music by Taylor Merisko and Daniel Brigman, which helped define each environment without ever being obtrusive. A heart wrenching performance of O Mio Babbino Caro by Sarah Davis cleared the air perfectly before Greenwalt’s group number, Estranged Incandescence. A Funeral. This ensemble piece made a moving finale to the evening, a strange formal ritual tinged with personal experience.
Unfixed Arias continues to run April 16-19 at 7 PM at Open Flight Studio. Seating is limited, and advance tickets are recommended. Tickets can be purchased HERE. To learn more about Coriolis Dance visit the company’s website.