Review: These Events are Fortunate by Kathy Dunn Hamrick Dance Company
by David Glen Robinson
These Events Are Fortunate is a rather vague title for a time of life at the entryway to summer filled with hope and excitement just one week after Memorial Day. But the title raises a question—what events? —that the audience tries to answer while watching the performances of the highly skilled, trained, athletic, and attractive dancers of the Kathy Dunn Hamrick Dance Company (KDHDC). As the website program notes: “Hamrick has created a world where people are endearing, awkward, vulnerable, strong, funny, and confident. Get to know them, and along the way, watch for bold, athletic, exuberant dancing, rapid-fire micro-movements, and quiet moments of humanity…”
The dancers on the Rollins stage show you, but don’t tell you, all these moments. Because they break the events away from language (with a few exceptions), the audience’s thinking is not restricted to the demands of grammar and syntax, and the memories and impressions that bubble to the surface of the mind become, clearly, the meanings of the dance. They are valid, and they are yours. Kathy Dunn Hamrick’s choreography is adept at liberating the audience from the restrictions of conventional, language-bound art. These Events Are Fortunate presents no exception to this quality.
The show nevertheless has structure and is anything but loose, arm-flapping improvisation. The dance is a whole, not divided into discrete pieces, although the stage is empty briefly from time to time. The dance starts with three brief solos, termed “starts”. Thereafter, and throughout the dance, the combinations are solos, duets, trios, quartets and full unison work of the seven-member ensemble.
Intriguingly, at times the combinations interacted asymmetrically with each other, duets with quartets, trios with duets, quartets with trios, etc. There is a lot of choreography here, and the dancers worked strenuously to master it. The personal moments, sometimes called pedestrian movement to categorize them, included obvious eye-contact with intent, and embracing with heads on shoulders. This style of choreography was elevated to a high level by German choreographer Pina Bausch, who created passages of ballroom dancing, everyday sets of small apartments on stage, scenes of spoken or sung text, stages filled with carnations (Nelken), lordly redwood trunks rising out of sight, and full-scale models of whales lowered to the stage (Nur Du).
But these KDHDC dancers, with only a few spoken lines for humorous effect, were luscious to watch. They all have mastered modern dance technique and the quick-firing energy of movement that created surprising moments throughout the show. Alyson Dolan, Jairus Carr, and Ana Bauer were especially surprising this way. Carr is also notable for double kicks while leaping, that also change his balance and position. The rest of the cast also succeeded in this difficult movement task.
Carissa Topham exudes confidence in her execution of floor patterns, and the smile never leaves her face. Matthew Sommers is a newcomer to KDHDC, but he has all the split-second timing required by the company. Lisa Schreck and Taryn Lavery are also relative newcomers to the company, and they may be guest artists with other obligations currently. The multi-talented Lavery also receives credit for the program card and website which features a skillful line drawing. Schreck is a powerful dance talent who put in a flawless performance and is still rising to higher levels of mastery.
Schreck and Lavery were off-stage for several minutes of the performance, giving rise to the impression that they were last-minute fill-in performers. This may be accurate in that, as a matter of public knowledge, the company laid off a company dancer within the last few weeks before the show. This only heightens the appreciation for Schreck and Lavery in boldly stepping in on short notice and learning and performing essential passages of the dance.
Kathy Dunn Hamrick has for several years and performances incorporated micro-movements in her shows. Micro-movements are slight bodily movements of the body and limbs that are hard to detect in large theatres and may seem accidental, or miscues. But they are perfectly intentional, continuing in development by Dunn-Hamrick. A dueting couple comes to rest in contact in a shape; a hand slowly emerges into view from between the bodies. The dancers found other opportunities for such small movements as well. At several points dancers took hold of the extended arm of another dancer. Then they tapped up and down the arm with their fingertips, like playing piano on the arm or finger-dancing along it. These bits were for humorous effect, and they worked. The choreographic innovation of micro-movements allows the show to cross and blend scale, from large to small and back again.
Spoken words are an ongoing fascination in Kathy Dunn Hamrick’s choreography. In These Events are Fortunate words spoken over the sound system by Dunn-Hamrick herself added to the overall dance. Sometimes the words were randomly descriptive, at other times they offered guidance for the audience’s expectations, guiding us into a surprise. The section of “our arms are tired,” spoken by the performers and voiceover, offered multiple surprises, and, in the words of comedian Bruce Bruce, “had funny.”
These Events are Fortunate offered one clue to an everyday theme. Walking into the Rollins house, the audience saw myriad pool floats suspended fifteen to twenty feet above the marleyed stage floor. Ring floats, mattress floats, all colors and designs, the innovative design concept screamed pool party! With the floats above the stage and the dancers under them, it was easy to imagine the dance as taking place underwater. This was assisted at times by blue scrim lighting with a wavy pattern upstage.
The costumes were eclectic, to say the least. Apparently, the one rule of the costume design was that no matching was allowed. The rule was faithfully obeyed. Nothing matched in color, cut, and fabric. It was as though an alpha host and pool owner declared a pool party, y’all come. And everyone showed up in what-have-you garb. The concept was clear, but dang, the discordance was distracting all through the show. Costume design credits were lacking, giving rise to the suspicion that the dancers costumed out of their own closets.
Music makes almost all events fortunate. In this reviewer’s memory of years of KDHDC shows, there has never been a soundtrack of popular music. This show broke that particular barrier with a spectacular musical program. The soundtrack included greats of the Motown sound, older blues, rhythm and blues, and Top 40 classics. Kathy Dunn Hamrick brought them out of rehearsal to Drew Silverman for crafting into a performance sequence, with interstitial sequences of bubbling liquids. That led to more suspicions of a pool party running amuck with good taste in music. Stephen Pruitt provided technical direction and expertise in preparing the soundtrack for transmission through the Rollins theatre sound system. Pruitt was also responsible for overall technical direction and the complexly colorful lighting design, but again no matching with the costumes. He achieved an exceptionally smooth and unflawed performance run.
June 03 - June 04, 2023
701 Riverside at South First,
Austin, TX, 78704
June 3 and 4, 2023