For years John Rosemond, that joyless syndicated columnist on parenting, has basically given the same crotchety, one-size-fits-all advice: Adults are supposed to be grim, and no matter the question, children should always be told "no." The sole performance Sunday afternoon of Woven, dancer-choreographer Rachel Brooker's independent spring dance invitational at Carrboro's ArtsCenter, has me re-examining Rosemond's neo-Victorian counsel.
I can't review what happened on stage during Woven, because I have to review the audience instead. More precisely, I have to focus on the seven small children and their affiliated parents who continuously disrupted the first half of the concert, and several sections during the second. Notice is also due the clueless ArtsCenter ushers who permitted such unscheduled audience participation to continue unchecked for well over an hour.
Four small children on the right audience bank squirmed and talked their way through Dan Schmidt's opening sequence in the show. Then their parents unleashed them to run, roam, jump and play throughout the concourse, commenting on the action, distracting audience and performers. Ultimately, one of them made their way down the center aisle to stand in front of the stage, looking up at the performance. Later, three other small children who'd been permitted to sit in the front row of the theater away from their parents got into a shoving match. One of them wound up standing on her chair.
Nor is this the first performance in recent memory to have been fundamentally sabotaged by inattentive parents and unattended children. In one of two showings by Choreo Collective last month at Chapel Hill High School, Amy Beth Schneider's evocative duet, "Sway," was totally derailed when a cute little 3-to-5 year old milled around in front of the audience for several minutes while the work was going on, before she found a set of stairs and proceeded to walk onstage in mid-performance. There she meandered upstage for a minute or two longer before someone--not the parent--finally intervened. More than once in recent years, the Forest Theater Festival in Chapel Hill has ground to a halt when an actor on stage paused in mid-performance for negotiations with a daughter who blithely walked on stage and stopped the show.
There is a word for these lapses. That word is "no." And if the parents or ushers in these venues are unable to learn and utilize it, the performers and audience have to, in their own defense.
Most independent companies and choreographers can afford to show their work only once or twice a year. They put months of labor and hundreds or thousands of dollars of their own money into the one chance their new work has at being seen. It's unfair for that one presentation to be ruined by adults who haven't taught their children how to behave at a public arts performance, or haven't learned themselves.
For those who came in late, here are the rules. A darkened theater is not our private playground. We don't talk during a performance. We stay in our seat and sit still. We do our best to pay attention. We don't jump, stand up on our chair, walk around, play with our toys or shove our neighbor, because it's impolite to distract the other people who want to see the artists work on stage. If we are unable to comply with any of the above, we have to leave the theater, as quietly and quickly as possible. Once we leave, we don't get to come back.
Given these recent developments, artists must be prepared to take matters into their own hands. When house management or parents won't intervene, as they didn't at ArtsCenter, performers have every right to stop the show themselves, and then announce--politely--that the work will only continue once the disruptions have ended.
We now turn our attention to the actual art at the event. Daniel and Kai' Appah took the Ghanian high-life rhythm called Kpanlogo as both the subject and the title of their African-influenced dance, an early standout in this robust gathering of independent dancers. A regional premiere for both, their exuberance and energy were infectious as they invoked sky and earth, exhorting the audience to clap their hands in time.
Host Rachel Brooker's new work, More Than Air, explores how supportive relationships can darken over time. An enigmatic Maureen Jordan comforts a traumatized Alice Johnson at first. As time passes, her interventions become more and more manipulative. Occasionally the work verges on melodrama, but the integrity at its center is obviously worth encouraging.
Valarie Samulski's LEFT explored surreal movement patterns before a robust extended solo. At times, head and hand gestures overdramatized the soloist's plight, but the promise in this work's experiments in balance and lyrical observations leave us wanting more.
We say the same for Christal Brown's John David Project, a dynamic and forceful dance problem solved to music by India.Arie. Brown's initial section sees just how far and how fast she can push a dance staged on the top of a conventional office table. After exhausting the possibilities and the audience, she takes to the floor in further meditation on the song "Ready for Love."
Before that, agent provocateur and performance artist Julee Snyder restaged Steve Paxton's Flat, a view into the inner poetry of mundane movement. After her recent concert at Peace College, there's no doubt Snyder needs her own evening of work--but I couldn't begin to tell you what it might begin to look like.
An unusually unfocused performance by Durham's Capoeira Collective closed the show, but not before another very tantalizing piece in the jigsaw puzzle of Tiffany Rhynard's upcoming full-length work, Running with Scissors.
Rhynard's had the dance community on tenterhooks for months now, teasing the regional scene with a series of hints, peeks and excerpts from this larger work in process. Originally titled Dancing on Edges, the work has steadily developed over the past year, as has her working relationships with a company of adult dancers she formed to face the challenges of her choreography.
Running with Scissors gets its first full performance this weekend at the Durham Arts Council. The bad news is that it's Rhynard's valedictory concert, a summation of things learned over the past three years in the region. This fall she starts graduate school in dance, at Ohio State University.
Since 1999, Rhynard has made a fundamental contribution to the regional independent dance scene. She brought serious modern dance to Peace College, and contributed to and collaborated with some of the sharpest members of local dance's new generation. By the end of her first year in the area, her work had been chosen for inclusion in the North Carolina Dance Festival. When Heather Mims, another member of that select group, departed for graduate school last year, Rhynard took her place, teaching in the notable modern dance program at Raleigh's Enloe High School.
From the beginning, her works have focused on gender and relationships; sharp meditations that have explored the absurdities of social roles. Over time, a decidedly dry sense of humor has infused her later works, a by-product of a gifted young choreographer's increasing sense of confidence. "Butter and Roses," which premiered at Woven, is the funniest exhumation of the stereotypical housewife we've seen in some time--more than enough to make us wonder what else is behind that curtain in Durham. We'll see--at last--this weekend.