Choreographers are as vulnerable as any other artists to critiques of their work, particularly when they are just starting out. So, how to give them the feedback they need without crushing their creative spirits?
Leave it to Leymis Bolaños-Wilmott to find a way — and provide an illuminating experience for the audience at the same time.
The founder of Fuzión Dance Artists has a reputation for thinking outside the box and this weekend's "In the Round" concerts revealed yet another new model for breaking down the wall between performers and patrons.
This experimental performance showcased the work of eight young choreographers — some of them first-timers, some of them "in progress" — and solicited audience reaction based on the Critical Response Process developed by choreographer Liz Lerman. The system calls for viewers to watch a piece and immediately thereafter go through a three-step process led by the choreographer and a facilitator (in this case, Bolaños-Wilmott) who keeps the questioning on a track that is nurturing and free of opinion rather than harsh and subjective.
Question one: What did you see? (Simple visual observation without opinion.) The choreographers posed question two — anything from "What emotion did you have?" to "Did you detect a theme?" The third step allowed the choreographer to choose whether to solicit personal opinions and judgments.
There were no programs or notes and the names of the pieces were not announced until they were over, so as not offer prejudicial information. And with the audience seated "in the round" — on all four sides of the small black box stage space — everyone had a slightly different perspective.
What quickly became evident was that everyone also had slightly different interpretations. For example, in Mary Richardson's solo, "Learned Helplessness" — based, she said afterward, on a sex trafficking victim — it was clear the chain link laid on the floor felt like some sort of restriction. But one viewer saw it as "claustrophobic" another as a trapped animal. And the glass of water on the floor was simultaneously interpreted as reward by one person, addiction by another.
What I perceived as the strongest pieces were those that also evoked the most robust reactions and/or identifications.
Among them were Erin Fletcher's "Sigue Para Lante," a dreamscape about a man's relationships, with music that veered from Frank Sinatra to the theme from "The Simpsons"; a piece by Annamaria Diamant that focused on habitual movement (Diamant solicited opinions on whether it should be called "Habitual Reinforcement" or "Nor More The Things We Know"); and Molly Nichols' poignant "Toll," a spiritual journey that moved from the recorded music of church bells, to live music played on a flute and a violin to, at the end, a still silence.
The most universally heralded dance was a solo by Fuzión's Rolando Cabrera, whose break dance background influenced "Accents." The solo incorporated animation (fluid and controlled movement), mixed with break dance (spins, poses) and an almost cartoonish quivering that turned him into a human digital wonder.
Cabrera's question for the audience was whether they would welcome his concept of covering his body with powder, which would rise subtly off his body as he moved while also creating a pattern on the floor. Everyone thought this was a dandy idea.
Though the concert lasted a full two hours, the audience interaction kept everyone engaged and intellectually challenged throughout — probably to a degree that would not have happened without the interaction.
Fuzión is to be commended on several fronts for this multi-faceted experiment:
For breaking down the wall and allowing a respectful interchange between performers and audience members.
For encouraging observers to form and consider valid their own opinions and thoughts on an art form that is often considered mysterious and puzzling.
And for allowing emerging talents a "safe" place to test the waters.
IN THE ROUND, Fuzión Dance Artists. Reviewed at New College of Florida's Black Box Theatre, Pei (east) campus, on Aug. 2. Additional performances Aug. 3 at 7:30 p.m. and Aug. 4 at 2 p.m. $10. www.fuziondance.org