I started to write that Erica Buechner and Lara Segura show thrilling promise in their San Diego Fringe Festival show, which opened today at the 10th Avenue Theatre. But Buecher and Segura are beyond the promising stage. In “The Red Shoes Revamped and other works,” they deliver as mature choreographers with smart, assured voices. Both women are also savvy directors who get terrific performances out of a talented cast. “The Red Shoes” etc. goes on my must-see list for this year’s Fringe, which runs through July 13. Times for all shows are on the Fringe Festival website.
Buechner shows two major pieces here. In “A Subtle Descent,” seven white-clad dancers form fluid groupings, placed with a spot-on sense of composition. They spin through space with wide-flung arms. They support one another or pull against another’s weight like parts of a single organism or figures in a dream. In a lovely section, dancers lie on the floor, moving their chests in beautifully isolated rib circles. Later, they do more rib circles as they stand and advance toward us.
What has been abstract shifts into story as they line up on one side of the stage, facing the opposite side as if seeing something just beyond our view–something awe-inspiring, as the music changes from an instrumental to the ominous opening of Tori Amos’s version of the Slayer song “Raining Blood.” Slowly, slowly, Segura begins to walk across the stage. One by one, the others follow, shedding clothes, most of them down to their underwear, and coming to the floor. When they ended, their gazes still fixed on that something beyond, I realized I’d been so caught in the drama that I was leaning forward in my seat. I’d be curious to see this powerful piece with an instrumental score rather than the in-your-face lyrics about “raining blood from a lacerated sky.” Buechner’s choreography and cast were so strong, they didn’t need any help from the words.
In a lighter vein, Buechner’s “Red Shoes Revamped” spoofs traditional femininity. Five dancers in cocktail dresses do gliding ballroom-style steps – plus touches of soft-shoe and Broadway – to a score that ranges from Marilyn Monroe singing “I Want to Be Loved By You,” to Leslie Gore’s “You Don’t Own Me,” to poet Shira Erlichman’s raunchy, V-word-mentioning “Six Tips on How to Be a Straight Girl.” It’s hilarious, especially since one of the ladies is played (with a mostly straight face and graceful arms) by David Wornovitzky in a red frock and blond wig. But this piece is more than funny; it’s sharp and political … and it’s a sign of Buechner’s artistic chops that she can convey those complex ideas in dance. Even brief between-dance interludes where she and Nikki Dunnan play with the concept of “catch me” are inventive.
I’ve seen Segura mainly as a performer with Malashock Dance, and she’s a queen of emotion, able to convey nuanced feelings through her movement and expressive face. Turns out she brings the same emotional intelligence to her choreography. Her “Two Choose 1” on this program is an utterly convincing journey, in which two men (Angel Acuña and Jaime Nixon) start out on separate air mattresses but gradually find each other. There are playful moments, when one teasingly grabs the skin of the other’s elbow (the wattly bit just over the bone), or when one man lies down and the other holds his leg and uses it to pull the mattress over the floor. And Segura nicely balances individual and unison movement. I didn’t write down–nor do I remember–much about the movement vocabulary, but I think it’s because I was so wrapped up in the story she told.
Quickies on two other dance shows: Tamara Saari’s New York-based company is a delight in “Ask a Busy Woman,” with the dancers moving and mugging to convey the craziness of being young artists trying to support themselves. The five dancers, all strong movers, crouch as if at starting blocks, and then take off … but in slo-mo, as if they’re trying to run through glue. They strike waitress poses, one hand held out as if balancing a tray and fake smiles plastered on their faces. If one woman drags, the others prop her up. And there’s a wonderful bit with the big men’s shirts the dancers are wearing, when they get strung together like a clothesline. The accessibility of this piece doesn’t, however, carry over to “Tangled Memory” or the solo “Dead Dad”–in both pieces, the dancers are struggling, but there’s not the kind of internal coherence that made me believe it. “__ed By You” joins two of Saari’s dancers with five excellent locals, and it’s a treat to see them.
“Earth: Genesis & Les Enfants Jouer” by Irvine-based Juxtaposition Dance Theatre is a 40-minute (or so) dance with sections titled “Earth,” “Air,” “Fire,” etc., and a tribal score, mostly from Cirque du Soleil productions. It might perhaps be seen to help you appreciate the strong technique of other dance companies. These dancers make anxious eye contact before even fairly simple lifts, and you can see why.