The pioneer performance of a two night movement event, Off the EDGE, was off to a warm start.  Curator, Lauri Stallings, wants this experience to be more than a festival.  Her goal is to plant the seed of  a recurring event with a heart.   I got the sense that Off the EDGE was intended to be a Petrie dish of experimental choreography and presentation.  This is an extremely tall order to fill, with an intent I applaud. Originally, I was unaware that the two nights showcased different choreographers.  After the first performance, although I enjoyed the show, it became clear that the journey was not over and it was imperative to come back the next evening.  I hoped I would get the information I needed to understand what was happening around me.  Later at home, while revisiting the program, I realized I would find some of the missing puzzle pieces.

Logistically, day 2 was a little more harrowing.  It was Saturday night in a big city.  Traffic was snail-like and to my great disappointment I missed all the wonderful work being presented in Woodruff Park.  As Off the EDGE and EDGE/Pubic grow I hope the number of possible performances to attend will grow with it.

“Rhizome” choreographed by Ivan Pulinkala and presented by Kennesaw State University jump started a very promising evening.  I am already a Pulinkala fan.  We came to Atlanta at the same time and over the past seven years I’ve had the privilege of watching his work push boundaries, change, mold dancers and build an exceptional program at KSU.  His piece did not disappoint and was a good representation of what  Stallings had envisioned for this project.

There are three elements to this piece that bring it to the “Edge”.  One; is the female performers are in point shoes.  This has been done before in contemporary work, but is unusual in a collage setting.  Two; there is a giant sculptural element made up of two structures that are moved, interacted with, in and around.  It looks like a cross between a broken down tree, bonfire kindling and a teepee. The third radical element is the unusual lighting. Throughout most of the piece the dancers light themselves.  There are bright white LED hand held flashlights, warm yellow torches, tubular fluorescents, and long wands with a pin prick of illumination at the end.  This unique technical element defines the space and showcases the movement in an investigational way.  At one point, upstage right is bathed in a yellow dim hue as the sharp athletic movement skitters in and out of the shadows.  The corps de ballet, bourrée holding flashlights downward revealing only their legs.  Torches are place on the structure creating a cave-like  space on the inside.  Some are even just left on the floor and danced around.  The choreography is kinetic, fast, sharp and clean and the performers are polished and seasoned way beyond their actual years.

Next Gallium Dance (NY) presents “Dust” choreographed by Andrea Miller.  A duet of men jog around the space connected.  The running involves wrestling, playing and teasing like the games young boys play.  Are they brothers?  Once the dancers, Mario Bermudez Gil and Daniel Walczak, separate we see what skilled artists they are and the close attention they pay to detail in an almost chaotic scenario.  Characters start to emerge.  One dancer seems prone to losing control and tantrums, almost autistic, and the other plays a more protective, parental role.  The power struggle becomes more exaggerated as the piece moves forward.  The “out of control” dancer tethers his partner to him with his dysfunctional behavior.  The “protective” partner wanting to escape, but a strong sense of duty and guilt keeps him from leaving. The recurring theme of running in circles was interesting.  If they had been circling clockwise, it would have felt like time was moving forward… but they weren’t. The counter clockwise direction evoked a feeling of being stuck.  As though the boys were spinning their wheels and not getting anywhere.  Eventually, one dancer walks off stage and disappears leaving the other behind, lost trying to fill the emptiness with the existence he once knew.

At long last gloAtl takes the stage.  If I were to get any answers to my questions this would be the moment.  What better way to understand what Off the EDGE is, than to enjoy the work of the woman who put the whole thing together?  Lauri Stallings presents “You Made It”.  We get the point right away when instead of the house going to black the lights actually go up on the audience.  A duet stands motionless on the floor below the stage and then the gentleman casually makes his way onto the marley.  The curtain rises behind him to reveal another dancer and another duet commences.  Oh, did I mention he is wearing a red pair of underwear?  Not boxers… Briefs!

Immediately I fell in love with the geek chic aesthetic, anti-technical movement and socially awkward interactions.  The duets and solos that emerged amongst the five dancers lumbered along using a disjointed movement vocabulary.  The performers are obviously well trained, but had to reverse everything they knew to create this new strangely athletic language that is virtuosic in its own way.  Ugly dance at its finest.  It’s the kind of art that can easily cross the line and make fun of itself.  It works because the performers are wholly invested and play it straight.  Stallings’s choreography lives up to the expectations I had.

Ever thought about a  serial dance piece?  This is exactly what “Below Stairs at Mrs. Margaret’s” is.  BODYTRAFFIC (LA) comes back to finish, or at least add to, what they had started the night before in excerpts from “Monger”.  Plot twists include nannies with babies portrayed by the faces of other company members, who are then retro- actively given birth to.  There is a murder and the relentless ordering of coffee, running the servants ragged.  I can’t say that these added excerpts answered revealed any mysteries but the intrigue did deepen, and I’m still left wanting more.  Is there more?  Will I ever see it?  How could they tease me like that?  It is enough to drive a little dancer mad.  I’m hoping they will come back.

The evening ended with the same majestic Lar Lubovitch duet it had the night before.  I was just as, if not more, excited to see it again.  Wise words from the stranger in the next seat, “That gets the prize for pure beauty.”

This time I left the theater feeling happy, satisfied and stuffed with creative inspiration. “Note to self, must see both shows.”  I am really looking forward to Off the EDGE becoming an Atlanta institution and an international hotspot to showcase experimental movement and modern dance.  Well done to all involved.