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AUDIENCE REVIEW: The Francesca Harper Project

The Francesca Harper Project

The Francesca Harper Project

Performance Date:
at East River Park Bandshell 8/16/2013

Reflections on watching The Francesca Harper Project at East River Park Bandshell 8/16/13

by Jessica Danser

I see Fran wander out in a black strapless. I look at her back. I swoon a little.
I don't even realize the piece has started until a girl in all white starts stealthily treading on the stage to an electronic track which hurts my ears like metal on metal.

Eriko dances like she's in her bedroom, which is why she's Fran's favorite.

I've tasted these girls' sweat.

Enter Jazz. And Boys. Kinda. They're refreshingly femme. No idiotic binaries here. Resolved into the quintessential Harper double parallel line. The flexed wrist, the promenade. Beauty pageant mockery. I think the boys walk heel toe and the girls on releve until I look closer and realize it's arbitrary.

When Fran comes out I realize she could actually have lived this life. Could have been an adjudicated on SYTYCD and/ or Miss Whatever, except, she actually has a soul. She could have crossed that bridge, so she crossed a different bridge, in the opposite direction. Not to mention her roots, which obviously rooted her in concert dance and art.

The girl who, when asked her name, does a Fran inverted toe touch and says NOTHING.

The best part about the national anthem isn't the bombs dropping or Eriko's mesmerizing improv or the dead look in the fact of the girl who wouldn't say her name but the fact that it isn't, in fact, the National Anthem at first. It's America the Beautiful. A double entendre on the piece's subject?

One then realizes that Fran has chosen the entire structure of the Miss America pageant to structure the piece, and one nods approvingly.

It bothers me a little that they make Mary's answers dumb, because she strikes me in her initial response as being the beacon of intelligence, and I think this piece needs that. But then a few moments later she performs an acapella solo, singing AND dancing, a motif in this piece. She sound like Fiona Apple and my breath stops. The crowd gasps approvingly. Sing, girl.

Not sure if the solos are choreographed or improv, but they have Fran's much needed palette for stillness in a dance world rapidly becoming so dense it is illegible. She let's our vision blur with images for a very brief moment, then ret and observe. The seated figure. The slowly moving limb. I recognize one girl's sickle-foot emoting to Nina's crooning from a workshop last summer. It's drunker, weirder now. Beauty is obligatorily ugly here. She makes a ponytail onstage and flips her head. Gangsta.

The next soloist is painfully cute, yet her voice stabs through your center. She is apologetic while being fabulous. One hopes she doesn't really feel like that in life. Then, as if we all forgot where we came from, Eriko en pointe to some sort of neoclassical atonalism. Into a duet I think I've seen which is so sexily complicated I refuse to believe it isn't improv, except it's the same every time. Now a trio, the original dancer lost to Hubbard Street. Her original partner makes me weep. A port de bras dissolves into a pointing gesture at a crucial moment. The crowd applauds. Eriko is indefatigable but I crave a thicker, rowdier girl in this role.

The vertical line is back, with the trademark breakout solos and duets. A deep, bassy cello comes in and we are about to witness the power. The shy seeming girl from the solos becomes a beast to fear in a partners arms, her face frank and determined. It's a little like contemporary ballet, but mostly it isn't. A flexed jazz hand over Mary's shoulders makes me grunt in empathy. She breaks out in a visceral solo involving her weird hair as the group does 12 arm circles. A club beat drops as she rips off her and a neighbor's jacket. Shit gets sexy.

Of course, sexy here doesn't mean inane posing and pelvic thrusting, more like leaps that read you and improvs that read you the riot act. Disclaimer: they might not be improvs, if they aren't, Jesus, Fran. 5 arms circles, then a 6th.

When they come out and invite the audience up onstage it gets a little Hunger Games. I start envisioning Fran in the weird eye makeup. I'm a little afraid, but the audience starts teeming up on the stage. Skipping ensues, a little inexplicably. A random dude break dances. This seems a nonsequitor I don't follow. The audience mills back off the stage.

Intense drumming and Graham-like, all-female hysteria ensues. Group against solo, into some small group unison, counterpoint, partnering. Following the pageant structure, a cut is made, fakely, brutally, and accurately. The true Fran veterans remain. It starts getting REALLY Forsythe up in here. A church bell closes the number as the shy soloist from earlier gyrates facing upstage. She looks over her shoulder as her pelvis circles. Her profile speaks volumes.

Suddenly Fran's voice comes on a loudspeaker, and Fran is dancing, and it's about history, and then Ms. J's voice comes on the loudspeaker, and it's about Ms. J, without it explicitly being about Ms. J, and Fran is dancing, and I'm sobbing. Because I miss Ms. J and I miss my dad and it's all about being a woman and of color and imperfect and trying to dance and dancing, but still being a human, still being you, and honoring, honoring all the history.

The end a recapitulation. Eriko walks out, veiled, train-ed. Lines about a lost mother. It fades as everyone moves and moves back, in a circle, in a wave, subtle.

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