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Coriolis Pushes the Envelope with Virtuosity and Artistry

Written by Kaitlin McCarthy
 Marissa Quimby and Philip Borunda in Co-LAB 5
Photo by 
Bret Doss Photography 
Celebrating five years as a company, Coriolis Dance opened Co-LAB 5 on May 3, 2013, at the Erickson Theater. Co-founders and directors Natascha Greenwalt Murphy and Christin Call present a line up of works including past repertoire and world premieres. While all were firmly based in athletic classical technique, each piece could not have been more different.

Real Gone, a quintet choreographed by Lauren Edson, shifted between solo, duet, and group work, blending snappy ballet with quirky and gesturally-influenced movement that hinted at narrative. Mid-century American costumes were lovely aesthetically, but wanted for a political layer that seemed undefined. Smooth partnering delighted in its effortlessness and whimsy, with the choreography defining the relationships rather than performance. The three women were each featured in solo moments that alternated between romantic and stern, making it was hard to tell if they were swooning co-eds or bitter housewives. The facial expressions seemed unreconciled with the movement, and the conflicting points of view muddled the emotional resonance of the piece; it was as if it could not decide if it was playful or serious.

Christin Call in The gentle abduction of Esther WilliamsPhoto by Bret Doss Photography 
As a conceptual performance piece by Call and Jackie An, The gentle abduction of Esther Williams was an artistically courageous combination of dance, projection, sound, and text. An began on stage with a table of sound equipment and violin, which she only barely used, spending most of her time engaged in a relentless monologue detailing her memories as a swimming movie star reincarnated into a 90s Mouseketeer, wistfully recalling her troublesome youth and consecutive DUIs. Though fascinating and delightfully non sequitur, the story felt like a stand-up set where the jokes fell flat. Meanwhile, Call, in old-timey swim cap and fluffy pink coat, danced a solo of childlike exploration, precarious balances, and balletic ticks that communicated a state of seriously altered reality. Images of 1960s vacations by the pool were projected behind, each accompanied by a fake quote from a Golden Era Hollywood celebrity that was often comically depressing. Each element had a lot of potential for brilliance, but overall felt like it was trying too hard. Their world was clear, but the story and solo could have used dynamics both performatively and emotionally, along with some strategic editing.

Next was an excerpt from Tethered Apparitions, choreographed by Greenwalt Murphy. A contemporary ballet duet between herself and Danny Boulet, the piece showcased their physical prowess with seemingly effortless partnering and excellent use of momentum. A blip of an excerpt, it was over before it started, and the jaunty classical music by Matt Holmes seemed conflicting with the ethereal costuming and beautiful lighting, which was not acknowledged in the choreography.

Another quintet, when we were young II, was choreographed by Zoe Scofield. The piece opened with the striking image of Marissa Quimby rolling beneath a walking Greenwalt Murphy who almost crushes Quimby’s windpipe with each step. The women wore black and white damask-patterned tops with matching intricate black designs printed directly on their skin. Combining sharp ballet technique with strange puppet-like movement, Scofield’s choreography highlighted the talent of these dancers, who all seemed equally capable of releasing to the floor as producing an ogle-worthy extension. Even while in perfect unison, each dancer seemed alone, carving her own path through the space. An entwined duet between Murphy and Quimby had a fascinating twin quality; the blondes’ lean bodies seemed almost indistinguishable. The technique itself would have been compelling enough, but the otherworldly gestures and use of music (ranging from Glenn Gould to FUCK BUTTONS) truly transported the audience.

Andrea Larreta in Depicting VerbsPhoto by Bret Doss Photography 
Depicting Verbs, a solo performed and choreographed by fifth season company member, Andrea Larreta, was inspired by her interest in deaf culture. With vocabulary firmly grounded in both American Sign Language and ballet, it flowed seamlessly between signing, arabesques, and penchées. In this impassioned piece, Larreta seemed frustrated at her inability to communicate: she signed, looked at the audience expectantly, and then tossed her hands away in exasperation. Her overwrought emotionality could have been a reference to the exaggerated facial expressions used in sign language translation to communicate tonality, but here they seemed obvious and melodramatic. Her struggle was apparent, but she left little space for the audience to enter.

Finishing the show was the large group number Deciduous Urge, choreographed by the dance/burlesque crossover artist Rainbow Fletcher. Opening with the eight dancers in black undergarments and balaclavas, it hinted at fetishism right from the beginning. The accompanying music mixed heavy breathing and electronic beats with the repeated word “reindeer,” which seemed to be a theme. The vocabulary did feel strangely reminiscent of a reindeer in a straight jacket, and at one point the cast donned stretchy fabric reins that made for a perfectly unified large-scale cat’s cradle. Sexy, abstract, jazzy, and intensely interesting, Fletcher combined many influences to end the evening on an energetic and artistic note.

Coriolis Dance is impressive in its scope and has produced a highly professional show. The pieces show incredible range, and each dancer is so accomplished they would certainly stand out individually if not surrounded by other extreme talent. While some of the works are works-in-progress, it is clear that after its five-year existence, Coriolis has arrived fully formed. It is rare to see such virtuosic ballet technique used so aggressively to push the artistic envelope, but it is exactly this kind of art that is needed to keep ballet from falling into obscurity. While there are men in this show (and highly talented ones at that) the powerhouses behind Coriolis, and all the choreographers featured in Co-LAB 5, are women. Whether intentional or not, it is so refreshing to see classically rooted work that isn’t tinged with stale patriarchal subtext.

Co-LAB continues May 10 and 11, 2013 at the Erickson Theater. Tickets are available HERE. For more information about the company, visit: