Sunday, August 2, 2009

Review- Bebe Miller Company

Evoking images of family, growing pains and finding ones way in the world, Bebe Miller's new dance "Necessary Beauty" is a complex and fascinating piece of abstract art. Miller creates work using what she calls "cross-disciplinary explorations…to expand the language of dance." Miller joined her five powerful dancers along with video, animation, text and live music to offer a dense palette for the Bates Dance Festival audience on Saturday night.

The staging managed by Elisha Clark Halpin was rich with all those layers. The dancing comes first and foremost but is complimented by the other art elements that strengthen the overall impact of Miller's piece. Two large video screens with images on the rear stage frame the dancers as the story unfolds. Designed by Maya Ciarrocchi and Vita Berezina-Blackburn: first seen is a rocking ocean with dark clouds that change to mountains within a forest. But next, the video closes in to become a frame on the wall and the set portrays the inside of a house. Next, a door on the screen reveals daily lifescapes, standing in a crowded room, a day at the beach, and cars at as intersection of traffic.

The dance depicted the many ways we develop a sense of self and confidence within our family as we age. There are scenes of childhood awkwardness as the dancers shift and gesture to each other in ways that are distorted. The arms scoop outward and end in a shape of hunched-over shyness. A leg extends outward but then stops as if unsure how to proceed. It's a subtle sense of testing out how to interact with your friends and learning the etiquette of socializing. Miller's movement vocabulary combines flowing loose full body moves, with quirky gestures filled with unhurriedness. There are relationships showing mother and daughter, best friends, and what it means to strike out on your own.

Near the middle of the evening-length dance text is introduced as another element. We hear many random thoughts- "because I'm the first born….I called my father….I was fifteen on a sunny street" and then questions-"what was the first time you felt shame...did your mother and father hold hands…do you secretly like canned vegetables?" We enter into their inner thoughts while seeing how relationships grow. The dancers take turns doing a solo while the other five dancers with backs to the audience scrutinize the solo. They stand for a family portrait. They all focus forward looking downward at something and strike poses. Is it a mirror? Are we beautiful enough? Am I necessary? "Necessary Beauty" re-lives memories of how we develop our tastes and learn to accept ourselves.

The music by Albert Mathias and Henry Purcell was performed live. At one point, while all the six dancers move with increasing momentum shared the focus with Mathias who appeared downstage in front of the audience playing an electronic instrument. Together their movement and sound crescendo and slowly the musician moved away from sight. The electronic score provided a mesmerizing, dream-like quality at times with multi layered sounds. Also to great effect were costumes by Mary Yaw McMullen.

Dancers Angie Hauser, Kathleen Hermesdorf, Kristina Isabelle, Cynthia Oliver and Yen-Fang Yu shone as the choreography capitalized on each of their individual qualities. It was very satisfying to see six very different women dancing together yet with what Miller describes as "a singular voice."

Heard on exiting the theater by an audience member "this is high art."

Saturday August 1, 2009 Schaeffer Theater at the Bates Dance Festival


  1. Here's a great interview with Bebe Miller talking about Necessary Beauty filmed during the work's premiere at Dance Theater Workshop

  2. Such a great video interview with Bebe. She really describes her process of working. Thanks for the link

  3. Awesome to follow your dance blog, Jessica! Great start! :)