Regina Klenjoski is a choreographer who is not afraid to take on big themes. TRUTHS at the Armstrong Theatre turned out to be a potent mix of choreography fashioned from social themes and identity. With three shorter pieces and one long story ballet that comprised the second half of the evening's program, Klenjoski and her compact company showed they could navigate effectively in vignettes with specific intention and also create compelling narratives. All the choreography was by Klenjoski and unified by her ongoing collaborations with composer Mark Fitchett, costume designer Denise Lichter and lighting designer Eileen Cooley.

The longer work, Love Lies Waiting (2003), is superficially a story piece but an allegory as well, about the fear of finally accepting hopeful possibilities and abandoning fears. Klenjoski, dancing in her own work, is the central character in a drama of shifting attentions in which she seeks an emotional attachment which proves illusive. We see her first as she enters, with a suitcase, in a long introductory solo accompanied musically by a cello theme. And while the outward appearance is that of a woman alone, arriving to begin a life in the city, we realize that the suitcase contains not so much her belongings but her reluctance to seek out or believe in connection. Klenkoski is a deeply communicative dancer with a knack for distilling emotional content. Her portrayal is the big push which fires the action and makes you invest in the developing story.

Klenjoski Dance performer in an attitude surrounded by a yellow veil
Photo: Rose Eichenbaum

The story unfolds mainly through lyrical movement in a series of duos and ensemble sections which limns both flirtations and obsessions among the six characters. Particularly noteworthy were a dark duo with Danae McWatt and David Wornovitzky and a final duo with Wornovitzky and Klenjoski in which she is finally able to embrace connection. The suitcase sits abandoned as the entire ensemble, reprising the movement of an established exiting motif, depart together.

Love Lies Waiting has a ballet noir appeal. The ending, though hopeful, is muted. Fitchett has created an accessible inward looking score with percussion, violin, guitar, flute, and cello that hints at jazz and blues. It seemed a perfect fit. Handsome costumes by Denise Lichter, especially the women's dual purpose dresses and shorts which riffed on 40's fashion ( including a clever blue-green jumpsuit for Klenjoski's character) delivered style and clean lines. The lighting (mostly darkened), dressed a city skyline in silhouette. A lone tree stripped of leaves and a suspended full moon completed the urban setting. The sets were designed by Shanan Brown. Also in the cast were Anna DeVuyst, Samuel Propersi, Erin Butkivich, and Deven P. Brawley.

Revealing the darkest truths of the evening was Hey Lover, Why the Gun?, a dance theater piece about a relationship profoundly out of gas and gasping for oxygen. It focused on themes of sexual and physical violence only barely controlled and, as the double-edged title suggests, threatening to get worse. The characters, played with chilling bleakness by Deven P. Brawley and Keely Campbell, inhabit a room with a mattress covered by a red sheet. Suspended above them and pitched out toward the audience, a large mirror effectively fractures and provides distorting views of the dancing and acting on stage. A bare hanging light bulb illuminates the room. That this couple is lost is certain, what they plan do about it, less so. Spoken word coupled with the edgy clicks of a sound track by sound designer Drew Schnurr accompany most of the initial action which finally cuts loose with an emotional flailing solo by Campbell to a torch song, Shirley Horn's My Heart Stood Still and then a desperate faux dancehall encounter set to Paul Anka's You Are My Destiny. The bitter among us squeeze out some laughter but for most I suspect fear and old memories might run too deep. The piece closes in silence with a painfully long, slow curtain. The set was designed by Shanan Brown.

The one humorous diversion of the evening was The Pitch. in which the theatrical and mouthy Anna DeVuyst faces off with a hapless Samuel Prospersi as two people isolated through a sociopathic inability to listen. Mounted on actual soapboxes for much of the action they collide physically and verbally in a piece that uses a spoken text and additional music for strings and violin by Frichett. The costumes (Lichter) were a collage pieced together with DeVuyst as a waitress and Propersi as a deliveryman. The Pitch is one section from The Serpent and the Mirror which will premiere in its entirety in 2012.

Beginning the program was Emoticons, seen originally as a premiere in Celebrate Dance in March. It has a striking opening for five dancers arrayed along the back of the stage who jump continuously in place before individual dancers launch themselves one by one in extended solo passages before returning to the array. The stage, flooded with vivid lighting projections mimics a glowing circuit board. The set and costuming (Lichter) have a martial arts appeal with each of the dancers dressed androgynously in a floor length, dark sleeveless jacket stenciled with ciphers. Without a stated context you might find yourself caught up in the world of Emoticons for its powerful visual appeal and futuristic slant. The frantic interconnection and physical edginess of the partnering are sustained through a duo and then a trio which effectively sets the dancers into motion through pushes. The score, by David Karagianis, is a gritty mix of electronics and piano. Emoticons concludes with one of the dancers cut loose from the ensemble. Whether it is an escape from the digital world or a capitulation is unclear. The dancers were Erin Butkivich, Deven P. Brawley, Anna DeVuyst, Danae McWatt and Samuel Propersi. As book ends to the evening, Love Lies Waiting and Emoticons show a choreographer with a busy mind and a deft hand in traversing diverse worlds.

Friday May 6, 2011 at The Armstrong Theatre and the Torrance Cultural arts Foundation

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