There’s a cool page of stats about the debut San Diego International Fringe Festival in 2013, for instance, that the total attendance was 38,000 and the economic impact was estimated at over a million dollars. Last year, 52 companies gave a total of 183 performances. This time around, there are more than 80 shows to chose from and 400 performances. Troupes from around the world are making their San Diego premieres via the Fringe–and what a thrill when the troupes are as strong as Cleveland Dance Exchange and the Los Angeles-based Contemporary Arte in Movement.
Cleveland Dance Exchange: In their show, “Burning on the River,” this collective of Cleveland-based artists offers inventive choreography with a range of moods and styles, performed by topnotch movers. Shannon Sterne, who grew up here and trained with San Diego Ballet, is an enchanting, rubber-limbed comic in a solo by Sarah Morrison, “A Tribute to Sissy Hankshaw” (the big-thumbed heroine of Tom Robbins’ “Even Cowgirls Get the Blues”). Sterne is so goofy, a Lucille Ball of dance, you can forget how precisely, with how much control, she’s flinging herself into the air and wrapping her body around the bashful object of her affection (Amanda Clark) in Annika Sheaff’s duet “L.O.V.E.”
In a thoughtful mode, Kelli Sanford’s “Skins” features jerky, torqued moves as four women–two pairs of dancers facing each other through door-sized frames–confront their bodies in mirrors. They may be facets of a fifth woman (Sanford) who opens the piece with a riveting solo, her limbs quickly curling inward and flashing out, her angularity of a piece with her high-spiked red hair. There are plenty of dances full of struggle, but not as many where you believe the struggle matters; here, you do. Sterne’s duet, “66/146,” is titled for the number of days of sunlight in Cleveland and San Diego, respectively, and contrasts sunny Clark against the moodier Andrea Alvarez. The symbolism–and Clark’s flirty manner–are sometimes heavy-handed, but unison sections of balletic pirouettes and extensions are a pleasure as pure dance. (Thanks to Sue Brenner for the Cleveland Dance Exchange photos.)
Contemporary Arte in Movement: The day I saw “Cuentos” happened to be Frida Kahlo’s birthday, and this visually ravishing piece, steeped in Mexican Day of the Dead imagery, is so Kahlo. The eight dancers have their faces made up like calaveras (skeleton dolls) and wear folklorico-style dresses (and there are several costume changes, so you get to see some dozen of the bright full-skirted dresses). Beautifully conceived by company director Laurie Muniz-Jaimez (a former San Diegan now based in Los Angeles), the evening-length “Cuentos” weaves in poetry–spoken by Jessica Cornejo onstage–about yearning for and sometimes connecting with loved ones who’ve gone to the other side. The strongest poems, including one about a dead saxophone-playing brother and a beloved grandmother, are by Cornejo herself, a 22-year-old poet who looks like a teen in her white blouse and cut-offs.
[php snippet=1] In terms of choreography, early sections are a touch sparse, with a lot of just walking and reaching, along with some folklorico vocabulary of sweeping skirts. And overall, I would have liked less graceful waltzing and more variety, along the line of a jerky, limb-flinging “crazy dance” to a bouncy ranchero tune. But partnering sections, featuring the two tall, powerful male dancers, Shannon Snyder and David Wornovitzky, are complex and juicy. And when Cornejo joins the dancers at the end, there’s a sense that she–and we–have made a meaningful journey.