In their first performance at the Woolfe Street Playhouse, Annex Dance Company premiered seven works to a full house Sunday evening.
Artistic Director Kristin Alexander has revealed herself as a highly flexible and versatile choreographer as she takes her audiences on an emotional journey through her past. Drawing inspiration from moments of introspection, she has created a body of work that speaks to an honesty of self-perception and youthful innocence.
Alexander’s collaborative work with local artists is a testament to her willingness to explore beyond the traditional bounds of modern dance performance. As with any work of art, choreography is not created in a vacuum, and with new works Ode and Full Circle, Alexander has invited Charleston artist Mary Walker and local composer Andrew Walker to join her in the act of creation.
Full Circle, the piece from which the even took its namesake, is a playful, energetic work filled with optimism. Composer Andrew Walker approached Alexander two years ago with the idea of inspiring a work of modern dance, the project offering a respite for Kristin from more serious thematic pieces she was choreographing at the time. With an air of humor, the music itself evokes conversation between individual instruments, and the five dancers mirror the narrative swings of the composition with energy and virtuosity.
“I can see my piece in their movements,” says Mary Walker of Ode, which was created in response to three pochoir prints done by the artist. This is the first time a choreographer has based a work on one of Walker’s pieces. Reminiscent of Pablo Picasso’s work with Serge Diaghilev’s Ballet Russes and composer Igor Stravinsky in 1920s Paris, Walker, who attends dance class with Annex Dance Company, “will often stay after class to sketch,” says Kristin.
The evening opened with a solo piece entitled Beloved featuring dancer Heather Bybee. Giving the impression that the audience has been invited to share in an intimate moment in a young woman’s life, the piece is fresh and simple, uncluttered by false virtuosity. Bybee’s movements are crisp and confident, and she exudes a fresh-faced innocence in her interpretation of Alexander’s choreography.
Julie DeLizza, in a piece entitled Un/Stuck, explores movement as if for the first time. She commands attention with a delicacy of motion, a controlled slowness that draws heat into itself. Her hands move imperceptibly in the halo of a spotlight, gathering an invisible substance into their palms. It was as if she was holding onto a ball of highly volatile energy barely under her control, until it escapes explosively in a moment of exuberant surprise. She is joined on stage by Heather Bybee whose presence acts as a catalyst, pulling DeLizza out of contact with the magnetic force that seems to be controlling her movements.
Delving into the complex relationships between women, the pieces Moving Forward and Lead.Break.Defeat. mirror the course of many friendships. The pairs of women simultaneously antagonize one another while learning, growing, and building on each other’s movements. Moving Forward pits the soft grace of Bybee against the quiet strength of DeLizza like two halves of the same coin. And in Lead.Break.Defeat. we are treated to a performance in which Kristin Alexander and Cathy Maschek explore the darker themes of competition and defeat.
But where Alexander is able to really show her emotional depth is in the final piece of the evening, Longing. Longing, the complex emotion lost somewhere between love and emptiness, is found in the recesses of the quietly dissonant music, building in layers of strings. Three dancers weave tension between them as if it were an invisible thread extending outward from their hearts, achieving a level of subtle intensity that is rarely seen on stage.
The most exciting moments in dance performance are the breaths between movements — the moments just before the dancers move. It is the anticipation of energy being thrown outward from a body that keeps the audience tethered to the stage. It is in this spirit that we await the next series of work from Kristin Alexander and the women of Annex Dance Company.