Santa Barbara Dance Theater; Photo by Brandon Whited
Santa Barbara Dance Theater; Photo by Brandon Whited

Day in the Life of Dance: Circle Return at CPR

Day in the Life of Dance: Circle Return at CPR
Dot Armstrong

By Dot Armstrong
View Profile | More From This Author

Published on December 17, 2019
Soluq Dance; Photo by Effy Grey and Rebecca Oviatt

Thoughts on Works in Progress

November 23, 2019


Runaway by STRANGER

Performers: Audrey Rachelle, Alex Jenkins, Johnny Butler

Choreography: AnA Collaborations

Music and Sound Design: Johnny Butler


Two dancers and a saxophonist begin the evening with an abstract trio. Tight, specific gestures — two thumbs up, a wave hello, the middle finger — paired with zany facial expressions establish Audrey Rachelle and Alex Jenkins as cartoonish characters ready for mischief. Johnny Butler opposes their goofy pranks with steadfast, slow steps around the stage and persistent, atmospheric notes from his saxophone.

As the work goes on, the dancers become possessed by the music. It follows them, drives them to frenzied twirling and writhing. The lights drop and turn multicolored, and the stage transforms into a sinister sunset party. One dancer puts a sparkly skirt over her shoulders and dervishes like a human lampshade. The other teases her hair into a crazy lion’s mane and staggers into a muscular solo, limbs flailing at odd angles. Butler bends and sways, flooding the space with breathy harmonics and resonant low tones.

Headshots of Audrey Rachelle and Alex Jenkins
Audrey Rachelle (left) and Alex Jenkins (right); photos courtesy of the artists

After exploring the sensations of the music in their bodies, Rachelle and Jenkins drape themselves around each other as if in surrender. One drags a bucket on stage, and all three performers douse their heads with water. An inexplicable tension pervades the piece: is it an argument, a collaboration, a contest? Despite the technical prowess of the dancers, the musician holds his own and captures the eye with his simple tasks of sound creation.


These Tunnels Breathe by Depth Dance

Performers: Ellen Sickenberger, Kristalyn Gill, Sarah Kleinke, Graziella Murdocca, Madeline Robertson, Erke Roosen

Choreography: Ellen Sickenberger // Sound Design: Ellen Sickenberger and Mark McDonald

Music Credit: Gregory Haines, Against All Logic, Nils Frahm, Bibio, Gareth Hardwick


A group of black-clad women appears on a dimly-lit stage like a murder of crows in a cemetery. They move with honest heaviness, allowing their weight to carry them into woozy spirals and descending turns. They swoop and dive, pause to gaze searchingly into the middle distance, extend their hands. Their faces brighten, sag, and crumple. We aren’t sure what they’ve lost. But they are deep in the throes of grief and have become strangers to themselves.

Dancers in black pull on each other
DEPTH Dance; Photo by Dallon Fournier

Together and apart, the women of Depth Dance create a mournful atmosphere with help from a pulsing, spare sound score. Each dancer, though linked to the group through unison movement and costuming, adds her particular quality to the choreography. Madeline Robertson makes the smallest gestures into sumptuous events, smearing her focus over the room like a charcoal crayon; Erke Roosen approaches her partner sternum-first, vulnerable and energetic. Graziella Murdocca staggers into space, drunk with sadness, and catapults her body back towards the group to be borne aloft. Ellen Sickenberger wrings her long body into twisted shapes and throws her torso into rhythmic footwork patterns as if stomping out the ashes of a long-dead fire. This individuality brings a satisfying texture to the dense, hard-hitting choreography and allows for easy transitions from group moments into solos, duets, and trios.

Six women hold onto each other's faces
DEPTH Dance; Photo by Dallon Fournier

The partnering is stunning and economical: efficient weight shifts become flying catches, lofty hoists, and death-defying drags that transition seamlessly into independent phrases. The piece is overflowing with gnarly, well-designed movement. The dancers barely pause for breath as they careen from one sequence into the next. All of the complex, interwoven material — the lunging, swiping, diving, cascading movement — blurs into itself until it forms a dark, gritty swirl of furious action.


Shadowland by Soluq Dance Theater

Collaborators: Sarah Bauer, Tamara Leigh, Francesca Dominguez, Liana Kleinman

Director: Kevin Clark // Music: TOOL and Tsuneo Imahori // Lighting design: Lauren Libretti


Four restless bodies summon many tiny impulses from the ether. Dim greenish light bathes them in chlorophyll hues. Elbows jut out, chins dip and rise, hips sway, ankles buckle, and toes slip. Droning guitars galvanize the dancers into striding, circling motions. They orbit the space with wrists rotating upwards, necks bent low, and knees flexing in deep lunges; together, they are completing a ceremonial journey or marking off their territory. They signal to each other with pacing feet and sidelong glances. They clutch each other by the waist, grapple chest to chest, slam themselves against invisible walls.

In near darkness, dancers writhe
Soluq Dance; Photo by Effy Grey and Rebecca Oviatt

The movement is intuitive and visceral, riffing on Ohad Naharin’s sensation-based Gaga methodology. Lush backbends, vertiginous extensions, and wide fourth-position stances are familiar touchstones in a vocabulary that thrives on the outer limits of physical possibility. The dancers mobilize the contradictory sensations within themselves, allowing those shifting phenomena to overflow and instigate conflicts with other bodies. Tamara Leigh and Liana Kleinman run at each other like wrestlers, trying to dislodge pelvis from spine. Francesca Dominguez and Sarah Bauer lock chins over shoulders and fall into a precarious box step, neck-to-neck.

The piece is half cage fight, half harvest ritual: it is feral and violent and imagistic. The antagonism is unremitting; the enemy, it seems, comes from within and without.


The Dance Enthusiast Shares IMPRESSIONS/our brand of review, and creates conversation.
For more IMPRESSIONS, click here.
Share your #AudienceReview of performances. Write one today!


The Dance Enthusiast - News, Reviews, Interviews and an Open Invitation for YOU to join the Dance Conversation.

Related Features

More from this Author