Under the Sky: Outdoor dance at the lake reviewed by Caroline Palmer

Dances at the Lake
Lake Harriet Rose Garden, July 11
Review by Caroline Palmer
Photos by James Tran

Friday evening in the Rose Garden by Lake Harriet was a study in contrasts. About 50 or so people sat on the lawn in front of a marked off area by the stump of a recently removed shade tree. As children tumbled in the grass, dancers warmed up in preparation for the seventh annual “Dances at the Lake 2008” presented by the Christopher Watson Dance Company (CWDC).

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If I had the chance I'd ask the world to dance. And I'd for damn sure check out the slideshow with photos by James Tran.

Over this idyllic scene, however, a wall of spectacular, and rather ominous, storm clouds marched purposefully through the sky. The wind tossed the trees and flung water from the fountain. The conditions were challenging for a show (although better than the day’s earlier heat and humidity) but those who stayed until the lightning threatened were treated to a poetic display of art and nature.

Megan Bridges, Bryan Gerber, and Sarah LaRose-Holland, their costumes billowing in the stiff breeze, stepped onto the grass and gamboled through Watson’s “Pursuit,” a trio marked by a lighthearted dynamic and arced leaps recalling Isadora Duncan. Young Dance followed with “House Jump” choreographed by Sarah Jacobs and Gretchen Pick. The young girls, tweens and teens in sundresses hopped and skipped in unison, dug in for some African dance-inspired grooves and partnered one another with strength and confidence.

Meanwhile, the sky was growing darker and the twilight took on a greenish tinge. Bridges and Gerber emerged in bright yellow costumes to perform a duet from “Rapture!” created by Watson with Diane Aldis and Gerry Girouard. The work, set to a composition by Philip Glass, generated a ritualistic feeling and the wind seemed to respond, ebbing and flowing with the dancers as they reached toward the sky, almost daring the heavens to open up. Ray Terrill Dance Group followed with “Magnificat,” dressed in colors to match the roses, and they swooped in unison to a Bach score. When the music ended and the dancers performed in silence, the gust-whipped trees provided the soundtrack, generating an intimate energy and earthiness that replaced the more formal earlier mood.

The need to finish the concert took on some urgency as the sky turned a bizarre Halloween-orange, streaked with black. Kinetic Evolutions and CWDC romped through the playful love story behind Sarah LaRose-Holland’s “Cutie Pie” and then Dawn Karlovsky and Doris Ressl, hidden behind stick-sculptures, gamely performed “Deeply Woven” while the audience drifted away, anticipating the coming downpour. The spare music by Tory Z. Starbuck and Karlovsky, combined with the dancer’s deliberate and primal movement, generated a sense of calm before the storm. The performers laughed as they bowed to enthusiastic clapping from the few hearty souls who remained.

It was a fitting prelude to the dramatic performance to come from Mother Nature. She had, after all, graciously provided stunning lighting, scenic, and sound design for the evening’s concert – and almost allowed it to finish (unfortunately two works were cancelled) before unleashing a refreshing torrent of rain. -- Caroline Palmer

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