Savoring every moment in life is the mantra of Charlene Baldridge, a writer and poet who shares unbearable personal loss with grace. Her cathartic and empowering play “Warriors’ duet” at the Fringe Festival may cause the most stoic viewer to weep.
Directed by Katherine Harroff and Anne Gehman, “Warriors’” is based on the poems of Baldridge and her daughter, Laura Morefield, who died too young of cancer. The play asks viewers to grieve and celebrate life en mass, and the experience is profound.
“Warriors’” would be gripping as a flat reading, but becomes visceral and multi-dimensional dance theater because of Geyman’s deft choregraphy. Subtle gestures and restrained interactions between actors and dancers complement and link the poetry. Dancers cradle and caress the actors, and they stand in as nurses or furniture. And they appear as memories of those no longer on the planet.
Watching it all unfold in the small Cabaret Theatre of the 10th Avenue Theatre makes the drama especially intense. You’re there in the living room with them. I sat next to a fireplace on Friday and struggled to stifle my whimpers.
Moments to savor include Kathi Copeland as Baldridge, describing the golden ear cuff that reminds her of her late husband and son. Two men become an easy chair and stroke the side of her head. Samantha Ginn immortalizes the daughter Laura, who played golf on one day, and had chemo the next. But she is a warrior with “strong wings,” and she shakes the rafters with the reminder that “death has kissed us all.” There was not a dry eye in the room on Friday. Still, the work is remarkably uplifting and can send viewers out into the sunlight with renewed appreciation for every stinking day.
There are some 50 shows in the first-ever San Diego Fringe Festival, local, and imported, including eclectic theater, comedy, weird puppets, and dance. After a good cry, I enjoyed my crisp apple, then three more acts, until my eyes could no longer focus.
The extraordinary Lux Boreal Dance Company from Tijuana performs two edgy works in tune with the Fringe aesthetic. The first involves black leather and tomatoes. A dominatrix in a corset with flower-petal lobes tortures two men, until they turn the tables on her. Think of spiked-heeled boots, leather shorts, and netted masks, and let your imagination run wild. Watching them apply lipstick (without a mirror) is creepy, yet fun in a twisted clown way, and the dance offers a dark commentary on trying to fit in, or breaking away from the norm.
The second work, “QRMOVE” involves dancers marching in complex grid patterns that crossover and weave into genius circles, and finally jaw-dropping rebounds, throws and slides. You have to wonder, how did choreographers Octavio Dagnino and Angel Arambula come up this it, and how did they teach it? A work that should be studied and dissected, one is inspired to watch it multiple times – you can’t fully appreciate all of the elements in one viewing.
Inspired by silent film and wonder cabinets, creator/performers Bridget Rountree and Iain Gunn, of Animal Cracker Conspiracy, make magic with cardboard, simple puppets, and multi-media. Their visual artistry is exceptional in “The Collector,” a grainy exploration of the human need for objects. The fascination is how they manipulate little objects such as tiny tea cups and secret notes, and manipulate viewers to care for inanimate objects. There’s that “oh, wait a minute” moment when you realize you’ve been tricked into seeing the Man puppet as an emotional being, even though you clearly see big nimble hands manipulating everything, and not hidden behind a curtain.
Michael Mizerany is a favorite local dancer and choreographer and in INFAMOUS, he and other artists tell hair-raising stories about infamous couples through dance, with mixed results. Mizerany’s reprised duet “Far From Eden” explores the relationship between Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb, but sexy brutality dances are similar to video games – more fun to play around with than they are to witness. Beyond the athletic stunts, performed full-out by Bradley R. Lundberg and Justin Viernes, the dance remains unresolved and unsettling.
Lundberg and Viernes both shine brighter in other duets. In “Fitzelda,” Lundberg becomes a romantic F. Scott Fitzgerald, romantic partner to Zelda Sayre, danced beautifully by Nikki Dunnan. While there are too many cartwheels, the dance has clean lines and lifts, and wonderful tension as when Dunnan smiles at her lover, yet turns him down.
Surely there are more dynamic duos to dance about than “Thelma and Louise.” From Daisy Dukes costuming to hip-hop injected cheerleader kicks, the work lacks inspiration and depth. At times, the two appear as ballerinas gone rogue, which may appeal to some.
Yet dancer Jessica Rabanzo-Flores sizzles in “Friendly Burdens,” choreographed by Khamla Somphanh. Ms. Flores joins Viernes to portray Antony and Cleopatra in exotic poses and exciting sequences in unison. Silk costuming is attractive, and the movement more so. Balletic forms expand and grow to warp speed yet the dancers never falter. They are partners I’d like to see again, and the work is so strong it could easily grow into a full-length production.
Blythe Barton’s ode to Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas is also solid and beautifully danced by Anne Gehman and Cecily Holcombe. “every one comes to be clear,” offers a poignant glimpse into the lives of two women who shaped the avant garde in Paris, with groovy friends like Matisse and Picasso. Dressed in sleep wear, they spin and grip fabric, loving each other, yet still separated. Shifts in music and sounds mark the passage of time. They hop left and right like happy cowgirls and slow into marvelous turns, and we watch them grow old together. Still, there is no loveseat, just one chair.
The San Diego Fringe is inspired by the giant Edinburgh Fringe Festival in Scotland, and by many networks worldwide. Fringe Central is the 10th Avenue Theatre downtown, and shows are also ongoing at other venues. We can thank contactArts (Kevin Charles Patterson), the San Diego Actors Alliance, and theater troupe Circle Circle Dot Dot for bringing it to San Diego. And thanks must go to hundreds of volunteers. Amazingly, all ticket sales go to the artists. That’s a beautiful thing.