nytheatre.com review by Josh Sherman
August 22, 2007
"Expect the unexpected" could have been an appropriate motto for this year's edition of FringeNYC, had the slogan not already been swiped for use by ubiquitous Mercedes Benz advertisements. To that end, the choice to add Unrest, the New York premiere of a theatrical dance piece from Los Angeles-based company Ledges and Bones (LABdp) was a strong one. With stunningly unique choreography by founding director Holly Johnston, Unrest takes its audience on a movement-based quest to explore the natural push-and-pull of the human condition. This physically gifted company of eight speak universal truths through their evocative and fluid movements, and express both internal and external struggles that any theatergoer can recognize.
The piece begins with an improvisationally-based solo effort from Johnston that clearly is the jumping-off point for the remainder of Unrest. Entitled "falling, and other quirks" it is a study in minimalist movement at first, with violent physical outbursts counterbalanced by subtle, smoother gestures. It appeared that Johnston was wrestling with inner demons while often being violently thrown to the stage floor by sudden external forces.
The larger portion of Unrest is subtitled "departures from common" and is an often engaging piece that demonstrates the company's physical gifts. Not being a traditional dance reviewer, I found myself nonetheless enthralled by the ebb and flow of the dancers being knocked down by the modern world's external forces, and always having the strength to rise up again, unbowed. The official press release describes the "departures from common" movement as a physical expression of how men and women react differently to internal and external struggles. I confess I did not really get a sense of that, but I also did not feel that detracted from my enjoyment of the piece, as it seemed to me that the dancers were on equal footing and reacted somewhat androgynously. The physical strength of both genders cannot be understated either.
In terms of design, the costume work from Sheena Solis is excellent, with an intentionally bland color scheme and each dancer wearing their formalwear (thin grey dresses for the women, tuxedo shirts and pant-skirts for the men) backwards. In keeping with the backwards theme, I noticed quite a bit of retreating movements that often made me feel like I was watching a jumpy video loop in slow reverse, then moving forward at double speed. There's also nice complimentary lighting design from Adam Greene. The original music by David Karagianis did feel a bit underwhelming and somewhat repetitive throughout most of the piece, until the propulsive Act IV finale took the piece off and let the shackles loose from the LABdp company simultaneously.
This is a physically gifted company that expresses both themselves and Johnston's view of the world well. The only real letdown is that at a mere 30 minutes of running time, I could see an audience member feeling a bit shortchanged at the box office. But certainly the talent on display is definitely worth checking out.