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IMPRESSIONS: Michelle Thompson Ulerich at Arts on Site

IMPRESSIONS: Michelle Thompson Ulerich at Arts on Site

Published on November 9, 2021
Caleb Patterson; Photo by Steven Pisano

October 28, 2021 at 6:30 p.m.

Choreography: Michelle Thompson Ulerich

Text and Choreography of Winner Winner: Michelle Thompson Ulerich in collaboration with the dancers

Performance: Jenna Beardsley, Nikki d’Arnault, Madison Elliott, Matilda Mackey, Faith Mondesire, Mikaela Papasodero, Caleb Patterson, Lucia Tozzi

Music: Johnny Butler, Elsa Nilsson, Sevana Tchakerian and JINJ the Band, Grace Villamil

Musicians: Johnny Butler, Dan Loomis, Elsa Nilsson

Michelle Thompson Ulerich spent years of her life immersed in ballet, training at San Francisco Ballet and performing with Ballet Austin for fourteen seasons. Yet, as a choreographer, save the occasional languid enveloppé or airy attitude, her aesthetic lives in the realm of weight, breath, and collaboration—hallmarks of modern dance.

Her sensibility flows through the evening at Arts on Site, gathering momentum as one piece segues into the next. Performers ripple through their spines, succumb to gravity in parallel-position pliés, and use one another to catch and bear weight. Occasionally, a leg will slice through the air, or a balance will hang in time, punctuating the fluid tempo.

Caleb Patterson dips Mikaela Papasodero, who wears a gauzy orange dress. One leg is raised with a flexed foot.
Mikaela Papasodero and Caleb Patterson; Photo  by Steven Pisano

Small groups comprise the five works—four duets and one trio. I do include saxophonist Johnny Butler as a movement performer. His presence is too integral to the choreography to be denoted as simply a musician.

Although the movement remains consistent throughout, the program’s tone traces an arc from third-person to first-person, from the external to the internal.

Armenian Voices, an excerpt from a larger work, honors Thompson Ulerich’s roots. To folky, cadenced music by Sevana Tchakerian and JINJ the Band, Mikaela Papasodero and Caleb Patterson execute low lifts and tender dips. Besides the music, the piece doesn’t conjure up much of Armenia. Maybe when the work is presented in its entirety, that influence will become clearer.

Nikki d’Arnault and Faith Mondesire hug each other tightly.
Nikki d’Arnault and Faith Mondesire; Photo by Michelle Thompson Ulerich

Messy human emotions begin to poke through during Trees. To live music by flutist Elsa Nilsson (also the composer) and upright bassist Dan Loomis, Nikki d’Arnault and Faith Mondesire counteract each other’s weight, hold hands, and throw off a grand rond de jambe or two. Mondesire, in particular, articulates the gestures with eye-catching aplomb.

During Mariposa, the program segues into interiority. To Butler’s impassioned wails, Patterson bares his soul by negotiating level changes. He kneels and slides across the floor and spins cyclonically.

The emotive physicality deepens in Love letter to myself/Hate letter to myself, featuring Madison Elliott and Lucia Tozzi. Slashing gestures, cryptic rubbing, and fevered pacing suggest an internal, antagonistic divide.

Madison Elliott stands as Lucia Tozzi kneels, hugging Elliott's knees. Both wear bright orange pants.
Madison Elliott and Lucia Tozzi; Photo by Nikki d’Arnault 

Winner Winner, also to Butler’s eloquent accompaniment, stands as the sole work with text. Talented actor-dancers Matilda Mackey and Jenna Beardsley perch in chairs, facing opposite directions. As if looking into mirrors, they pump themselves with self-help jargon: “You are a winner!” But talk is cheap when confronted by a soul that recognizes bullsh*t when it hears it.

The two stumble and plunge to the earth before hugging and swaying. In one stunning image, an artist lies on the floor, her two legs and one arm akimbo, like a broken star. The other gracefully positions herself slightly on top in the same arrangement. At the end, they sit, facing each other, perhaps resolved and reconciled.

For those who like what they see (and have read here), they can catch more of Thompson Ulerich’s choreography on November 13 and 14. Tickets and more information HERE.

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