THE BOOKS ARE BACK, as is the sense of being steeped in another age. But alas, much of the magic is missing. Last year’s Fringe performance by RE|Dance Group, The Attic Room, was laced with the fantastical and the transmutation of one object into another, as six performers with an inquisitive hive mind interacted with books, maps and birds.
This year’s performance, The Mysterious Disappearance of the Second Youngest Sister, features a quartet with books, dressmaker’s mannequin and antique typewriter. Throughout the piece, a tone of quiet desperation never changes or is resolved, generating more questions than answers and leaving the mystery unsatisfyingly unsolved.
The R in RE|Dance is Lucy Vurusic Riner, a Chicago-based dance artist. The E, Michael Estanich (also the choreographer), is associate professor of dance at UW Stevens Point. The other dancers are Chicagoans Daiva Bhandari, and Lauren Bisio, who, because she frequently returns to the typewriter, we are to assume is a writer. They’re a skilled group, expressive, and all of them dance their hearts out. The women’s long 19th-century-style skirts swirl as the bodies beneath turn, fling and reach through the messy emotions roiling beneath their proper demeanors. But what is their relationship to each other?
A duet between Estanich and Bisio reflects much of the usual push-pull of relationships reflected in contemporary choreography, with perhaps more emphasis on movements of release, restraint, support and interruption. Which begs the question: Is this a father-daughter, husband-wife or other man-woman relationship? When he stops her from typing, is he thwarting her creative spirit? Is the piece an allegory about loss: of literature, letters, meaning, reading, and the heft and tactile qualities of books in a digital age? The dancers frequently walk with books on their heads, like posture-attentive sleepwalkers. They slide through piles of books or scatter them on stage; they toss them, fight over them, and slam them on the table and floor.
When they stand on books, are the performers communicating something about the past? About memory? history? fiction? fact? About poetry, interpretation or theory? As they slip off books, are we seeing something about the slipperiness of truth and untruth?
The writer, who wears a muslin skirt and chemise (i.e., underthings), is clearly the vulnerable character in this undefined ensemble, but she holds her own until the end, when she’s buried under a cascade of books. Perhaps this largely conceptual yet theatrical piece is allegorical after all.
Related links and performance details:
There’s one remaining performance of The Mysterious Disappearance of the Second Youngest Sister at the Southern Theater Wednesday night, 8/8, at 7 pm. Find more information on the Fringe Festival web page for the show: http://www.fringefestival.org/2012/show/?id=2228.
Find reviews, ticket info and more on the Fringe Festival website: www.fringefestival.org/
Check back on the homepage regularly throughout the Fringe Festival, August 2 – 12, for more short reviews on mnartists.org, sent in from our intrepid performance critics on the scene.
About the author: Camille LeFevre is a Twin Cities’ arts journalist and college professor