Rich creative concepts defined two performances this weekend. "Slippery Fish and Other Offerings of New Music and Dance" from choreographer Penelope Freeh and composer Jocelyn Hagen delved into relationships between movement and music. "Here & After" by Time Track Productions explored personality and perception.
Freeh, a dancer formerly with James Sewell Ballet, has choreographed for several years, but she hadn't paired up with a composer until meeting Hagen, similarly new to dance collaborations. On Friday night at the Southern Theater their meeting of the minds proved inspired.
As the title suggests, "Slippery Fish" has an elusive quality. It follows a dream logic that an ocean-going Salvador Dali might appreciate. Freeh and guest dancer Patrick Corbin, each wearing vintage bathing suit costumes, moved as if underwater at times -- gasping for air or swept along by an invisible current.
But they also posed like pin-ups, aware of the eyes upon them. Hagen's score required soprano Carrie Henneman Shaw to vocalize in ways that evoked whale or dolphin calls while Minnesota Orchestra violist Sam Bergman used his strings to create a mysterious watery ambience. The piece had a sort of abiding oddness about it, completely original in all respects.
The program also featured "Prelude" (another premiere) with Hagen (on piano) and Freeh engaged in a sophisticated call-and-response. In "Miniatures," Freeh and Corbin reacted to various Hagen compositions, echoing tone and mood, countering with whimsy.
Each artist also presented her own work: Hagen's haunting "Elegy" (2009) was ably performed by the Murasaki Duo (pianist Miko Kominami and cellist Eric Kutz), while Freeh's emotionally lush "Paper Nautilus" (2012) transported dramatically versatile dancer Nic Lincoln into a shadowy realm of musical-theater tradition.
On Thursday night, Time Track Productions unveiled "Here & After" at the James Sewell Ballet TEK BOX. The work drew inspiration from the lives of suffragette Mary Church Terrell, Pentecostal minister Lucy Farrow, writer Gertrude Stein and poet Djuna Barnes, but it was not overtly biographical.
Instead, choreographer Paula Mann sought to capture the essence of these strong women through movement. The sections referring to Stein (a focus on wordplay seen through a kinetic lens) and Farrow (the deliberate ritual of cleansing and salvation) were particularly successful.
Steve Paul complemented the dancing well with visual imagery through computer animation and lighting design using shifting thatches of light, saturated colors and ghostly contrails.
Angharad Davies, Heather Klopchin, Leslie O'Neill, Roxane Wallace-Peterson and Kayla Schiltgen all performed with resonant power and focus, fully inhabiting the indomitable female spirits stirred up by the work.
Caroline Palmer writes regularly about dance.