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Spoleto 2010 » Dance

Word Dance Theater's better with the dance than the words

Doing Duncan's Dance Justice

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Isadora Duncan once said, "True dance is the expression of serenity." That is exactly what her choreography attempted to exhibit and what the dancers in Word Dance Theater's Revolutionary! Isadora Duncan achieved. However, I did not experience tranquility at Tuesday afternoon's show. In fact, there were moments when my inner monologue was shouting a Seinfieldian, "Serenity now!"

Perhaps that was their point.

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Somewhere between the whirling of the women in frothy gowns and the dialogue performed exclusively by actress Sarah Pleydell playing Duncan, a common thread was lost. Blame it on the acoustics and the difficulty I had hearing Pleydell annunciate, or the hiccups in a script developed from Duncan's autobiography and dance books, but something was amiss.

Revolutionary! is being performed in the tiny out building, Lance Hall, at the Circular Congregational Church on Meeting Street. I point this out because if rushing to make a performance, it's easy to miss. When you turn into the Churchyard, bypass the main sanctuary doors, cut through the cemetery, and there you'll be at what looks like a Roman temple in miniature.

Inside, Word Dance Theater opted to keep the set at a minimum; a tiny bench serves as Pleydell's perch as she tells the story of her life. Ms. Pleydell makes for a compelling Duncan, but her voice, with a semi British accent (although Duncan was born in San Francisco) didn't carry. Duncan lived a remarkable life, growing up in California, dropping out of school to teach dance, moving to London, then Paris, and becoming a darling of modern dance. It's a fascinating story, but one I knew because of research prior to seeing the show, not because of enlightenment from the script. It was all a little hard to follow.

However, what Revolutionary! lacks in a plot it more than makes up for in exquisite dance. Word, Zimmer, and Jeanne Bresciani perform 11 of Duncan's most famous works, effectively telling the tale of her artistic life and demonstrating Duncan's quest to display, through movement, "an inner impulse in accordance with nature." Dressed in Duncan's signature Grecian gowns, the dancers express what their script cannot, a revolution. The rebellion Duncan forged against the strict design of ballet. A departure from all the structure and stiff movement into a new era in dance.

The climax of the play arrives when Duncan shares the story of discovering that her two small children have died. Here Playdell and the dancers are at their best. Describing the pain of such loss, Playdell says the cry of the mother at birth and at death are the same, breaking into a gut-wrenching sob. Tears spilled down faces in the audience as Jeanne Bresciani took the stage to dance Mother Etude followed by the even more powerful dance, Ave Maria — a piece where she has such limited movement, that she barely escapes a two-foot square. And if for those moments alone, the show is worth seeing — where, like the company's name, word and dance become theater.

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