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Sinuous and rhythmic dances combine with soaring harmonies in 1918, a masterful work about a true historic event.  It’s all tied together with ear-pleasing narration in the Samoan language.

The title isn’t a grabber, but 1918 was a sleeper hit, one of the most compelling in the San Diego International Fringe Festival 2016. It’s proof that audiences talk and make a show a hit. Fringe folk turned out in droves for the final showing, June 28th at the Spreckels Theatre, and they hung around afterward, including many dressed in islander clothing.

"1918" chronicles a flu pandemic and the beauty of Samoa.

“1918” chronicles a flu pandemic and the beauty of Samoa.

If you missed the show, kick yourself now.

Rooted in Maori and Samoan cultures, performers from New Zealand chronicle the devastating Spanish flu pandemic of 1918 and Samoa’s brave resistance to colonialism. Their focus and physicality transports viewers to island life nearly 100 years ago. Dances are a balance of delicate hand gestures similar to hula; knife sharp syncopation in the realm of hip hop is visceral and pure artistry.

Also at Spreckels is Cocooned in Kazan, a silly smart comedy about a playboy who can’t get his mommy’s money until he marries.  Created by the wacky Royal Kung Foolery out of England, two women portray a parade of characters while the bachelor fights them off.  The humor spills over when they don fake moustaches  and  watching them churn out whip quick one-liners is a treat for anyone with a funnybone.  Runs through July 2.

History and fantasy collide in Mythos, Opening Pandora’s Box, the physically thrilling story ballet in the air above the Lyceum Stage.  It’s presented by Astraeus Aerial Dance Theatre, the best of Fringe award-winner from last year.  Ballet aficionados will recognize the lovely director Jennifer Curry Wingrove, a favorite ballerina with California Ballet based in San Diego.

A spidery-limbed Wingrove and four more lady dancers climb and contort into splits above the floor, telling the story of Goddesses creating the first human woman, Pandora.  As Pandora (Zoe Irvine) explores her new world, she and the gals encounter Orpheus (Armando Munoz), who is clearly a superhuman.  When he coils up the silks, your rotator cuffs ache for him.

There are more than a few moments when this cirque nouveau becomes cirque satire, as when fog machines blast and limbs contort into pretzel shapes. Still, there is beauty in Mythos, and there’s no better way to study mythology.  High school teachers take note.  Runs through July 3.Yolande

There’s more dance theatre in the visionary solo “Once I dreamed I was a Dinosaur Swimming Backwards.”  Don’t let a solo with a long title scare you.  Run to it.

Yolande Snaith creates a fantasy with pathos and humor, and the work is so intriguing it could become a short film.  Snaith is a conjurer.  One minute she’s a crazy gardener flipping her thick curly hair. The next, she becomes an Egyptologist or a dinosaur hunter and stares out with thick dark glasses. Props include a phonograph and shovel, and a blue cord that she pokes and stirs to create beautiful imagery.  A curious sound score and Snaith speaking about animals and inanimate objects make us consider spirits of all things. Mixing text with dance is always a risk, but Snaith’s English accent and spit-spot delivery is brilliant, channeling the legendary broadcaster David Attenborough.  Runs through July 3.

For more information about all things Fringe, visit SDFRING.ORG

Kris Eitland

Kris Eitland

Kris Eitland covers dance and theater for Sandiegostory.com and freelances for other publications, including the Union Tribune and Dance Teacher Magazine. She grew up performing many dance styles and continued intensive modern dance and choreography at the Univ. of Minnesota, Duluth, and San Diego State Univ. She also holds a journalism degree from SDSU. Her career includes stints in commercial and public radio news production. Eitland has won numerous Excellence in Journalism awards for criticism and reporting from the San Diego Press Club. She has served on the Press Club board since 2011 and is a past president. She is a co-founder of Sandiegostory.com. She has a passion for the arts, throwing parties with dancing and singing, and cruising the Pacific in her family's vintage trawler. She trains dogs, skis, and loves seasonal trips to her home state of Minnesota.

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