CAPITAL FRINGE DISPATCH: Donna Has a Boyfriend
Dance—like many other things—is growing in DC; the influx of our city’s young companies and this year’s healthy selection of dance offerings at Fringe is exciting. There doesn’t seem to be a ton of postmodern dance being made and performed around town, though, so I was particularly excited to check out darlingdance company’s Donna Has a Boyfriend, showing at GALA Hispanic Theatre. Choreographer Hayley Cutler was only 24 years old when she founded darlingdance in 2010, but don’t let that fool you. She’s making work that’s mature beyond her years, and I look forward to seeing what this company does next.
I didn’t see much dance when I was growing up, but I was lucky enough to go to the symphony pretty often. It was never boring—I loved the way I could let my mind wander into the complexity of the music and just be alone with my own thoughts and imagination. Since much of what’s available to audiences is ballet, a form with structure and story already in place, dance felt more akin to theater (which of course has its own merits). But then I saw Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker’s Fase, four movements to the music of Steve Reich, and my cranium split into two. It was so raw and mesmerizing and beautifully measured; as I watched it, I realized it was pulling me into its dimension the same way orchestral music did.
There’s a special freedom in storyless dance. It allows for a performance completely devoted to the exploration of movement and the celebration of the human body. As a postmodern choreographer, Cutler seems particularly interested in gesture, space and repetition, and much like De Keersmaeker’s contemporary work, using numbers and geometry to build her pieces. Donna Has a Boyfriend is divided into three movements. The first, danced by Barbara Caldwell, Jennifer Caulk, April Gruber, Felicia Stevens and Cara Zimbalist, was my personal favorite. The dancers all wore simple black dresses and performed the piece “(The Censoring of) Approximate Location” with calm and control. Everywhere I looked, one shape after the other formed and then flowed into something new. The second movement was a duet between dancers Felicia Stevens and Rick Westerkamp. Titled “And Every Year is Zero,” this was the only piece with something of an abstract storyline and dancers in street clothing. It was much more emotionally charged than the others, and was a good pick for the odd-man-out middle piece. Cutler’s final work, “Good Riddance Donna,” featured a trio of Jennifer Caulk, Megan Whittemore and Rick Westerkamp. This piece somehow felt more dainty—the female dancers wore airy white dresses, and there seemed to be a certain lightness to the movement. I loved when this (perceived) lightness was punctuated with a farthest-possible-downstage accumulation sequence to end the program.
Donna gets high marks for its staging, too. The show’s technical elements were never intrusive, in keeping with its total focus on the body. Throughout the show, pop songs fade in and out for the dances, but none of them distracted or trumped what was happening onstage, and Brian S. Allard’s lighting design was clean, smart and uncomplicated. Cutler has a talented company of dancers as well, each with a unique style and stage presence. My only complaint: this is a show I wanted another 30 minutes of.
I love to watch dance, and I’m stoked that this new company is making postmodern work at such a sophisticated level already.
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