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Fringe Day 10: Identity crisis, brass progress, and water sprites


Dance yrself clean
Choreomania” | Sept. 23 | All ages

On Thursday night, a small company of women led by Grassroots Dance Exploration founder Amya Brice took the main stage at the School of the Arts to work some things out.

To the sounds of baroque guitar and the hauntingly powerful wails of 17th century singer Barbara Strozzi, a solo dancer began by shifting between composure and spasms, frantically touching her face and hair, pantomime-cradling a child, and and looking as though she had electric volts coursing through her frame. The rest of the group bounced between supportive embraces, keeping their distance while training their eyes on the solo dancer, and all-out joining the erratic dance. They shifted from elegant, controlled movements to entirely possessed whirlwinds, at times writhing and panting on the dance floor.

In the quiet moments, there was evident turmoil bubbling: carefully suppressed, but not for long.

The 45-minute dance performance’s title, “Choreomania,” is a term that means an uncontrollable urge to dance, and the show is based on a mysterious scrap of true history. In 1518 Strasbourg, Frau Troffea began moving and didn’t stop for food, rest, or the weather, until she was physically forced to stillness. And it was infectious — after two months, hundreds of people had joined her, dancing their feet bloody, some dropping dead from the exertion.

All these years later, it’s still debated if that episode was a mass psychogenic illness, cult activity, fraud, or some unacknowledged protest. But the dance mania phenomenon occurred a lot — dozens of times, with numbers of participants sometimes reaching the thousands — throughout Europe from the 14th through the 17th centuries, and has been referenced as recently as in Florence + the Machine’s song “Choreomania” from the 2022 album, “Dance Fever.”

Dance can feel like an opaque language, more about phenomenon than clarity or sense. And you know what? That feels right.

In all honesty, the desire to flail and wail, judging-onlookers and decorum be damned, is completely relatable, given (*gestures broadly*) the rolling tangle of pressure from the soul-crushing state of this world, in this time and that. And it’s probably why dance clubs and underground dance parties became so wildly popular — so folks could have a regular space to check in  when their bodies just need to heave and ho. (Forgive me. No shade.) —REBECCA RAFFERTY

Natan Badalov mines his identity, but could dig deeper
Connect the Dots” | Sept. 22 + 23 | Ages 18 and over

From the beginning of his stand-up set Thursday at JCC’s Hart Theater, New York City comedian Natan Badalov was clear about the theme of “Connect the Dots.” “It’s a show about my relationship to Judaism,” he said.

Badalov’s material is rooted in his distinctive, often painful experiences as a Bukharian Jew from Uzbekistan who emigrated to the United States as a child. He talked about being perceived as Arabic due to his dark features (“I’ve experienced Islamophobia more than anti-Semitism”) and his awkward relationship with his overbearing single mother, likening his role in helping her with her online dating search to that of a “Nazi detective.”

His bits on relationships were the sharpest and most socially insightful of the set. He told the story of losing his temper with a stranger in front of a former girlfriend, and delivered this nugget of truth: “It’s very hard to convince someone what you won’t do when they see what you’re capable of.”

The comedian’s humor was at all times sincere, but it was also often crude. Explaining the idea of matrilineal descent in Orthodox Judaism, he referred to the Jewish vagina as a “kosher microwave.”

A recurring thread in Badalov’s humor was the pressures he felt from the weight of Jewish tradition. He recalled his grandfather trying to pick his wife for him: “Arranged marriage is just the first dating app. But the algorithm is my grandmother.”

He also detailed his experience dating a rabbi, and the contrast between her religious devotion and his animosity toward God. “I love you, I don’t like him — I’m a Jew,” he said in a particularly telling moment.

But this felt more like a passing observation than an in-depth reflection through humor, and I was left wanting more. I sense there’s still some unmined comedy in Badalov’s strained relationship with God. — DANIEL J. KUSHNER

When is a work in progress done?
"The Dave Rivello Ensemble RED" | Final performance

DRE | RED is a longtime work in progress, as composer and director Dave Rivello told the audience at Kilbourn Hall. “Tonight, you’re going to hear the latest version.”

The 13-member Dave Rivello Ensemble (that’s the 'DRE') is made up of many familiar
 faces from the Rochester jazz, classical and Eastman scene. An assistant professor of jazz studies and contemporary media at the Eastman School of Music, Rivello heads not only the Dave Rivello Ensemble, but the school’s New Jazz Ensemble. It’s all quite removed from the nights three decades ago, when Rivello would shoehorn a handful of students into the old Richmond’s – not the new one – a couple of blocks from the school for big-band jazz on a small-bar stage.

Despite Rivello’s self-confessed inability to quit tinkering with the composition, this latest version of DRE | RED is an hour-long pleasure. The ornate wood paneling of the stage was bathed in red light (I guess that’s the 'RED') setting the mood. There is an urgent dynamic to the piece, opening like black-and-white movie crime jazz, a soundtrack for a cop car driving down a rainy street.

Half the The Dave Rivello Ensemble is brass, the rest a scattering of reeds, bass, drums and keyboards. The group’s easygoing dress code – black shirts and bluejeans, accented by Rivello’s omnipresent ponytail – is the correct casual fit for his untamed, sometimes arrhythmic sensibility. The band breaks into several brief sets of hand claps throughout DRE | RED. Stephanie Tateiwa’s wistful soprano sax solo is played out over a long, sustained tone from the band, before it goes back to work with a churning, busy rhythm. Muscular moments trade off with moments of melodic beauty and mournful baritone sax.

What comes after this “latest version"? This work in progress is already memorable. An in-demand composer, Rivello works big for a guy who flies under the radar. —JEFF SPEVAK

A warning for Planet Earth
"The Weight of Water" | Final performance

A vintage-looking wheeled device of no immediately discernible purpose is at center stage. It is a set of three gear-like wood wheels of different sizes, the largest seven feet tall. That’s taller than the dancers who assemble this contraption and set the gears in motion before draping themselves over it. This mechanism is mysterious. There is no explanation. One will not be forthcoming, other than a program note that it is “a musical wheel.”

The wheel is at the center of "The Weight of Water," an intriguing multimedia creation presented on The School of the Arts Main Stage by a Rochester ensemble, electricGrit dance.

“Water fulfills our most basic need,” said a tall spectre-like woman, her crown a physical manifestation of spiritually enhanced brain waves. She walked with a staff made from a tree branch (standard equipment for nature-based psychical creatures). She was perhaps a water goddess, or perhaps Neptune, Roman god of the sea.

It is no matter. Water, she said, “can’t be identified with any culture.”

"The Weight of Water" is dance enhanced by poetry, video projections and electronic music accompanied by a reed player sitting at the edge of the stage. Five women dancers scurry across the stage, then one or two separate from the tight choreography, before returning to the flow of dance. This is also what happens in nature, like leaves swept before the wind.

Gender is perhaps important, as women are often depicted in art and literature as more attuned to nature than men, who are busy changing the muffler on their cars or fighting in wars. John Muir aside, of course.

The dancers collapse on the stage, dark shapes in the murky stage lighting. Resting, re-generating. Some of the same dancers appear on the large video screen at the back of the stage, images beautifully shot of them dancing and lounging amid compelling images of leaves drifting on the surface of a beautiful creek. There is frolicking in water, and scenes of polished-rock beaches and constructions made of larger flat rocks reaching into a large body of water that looks like Lake Ontario (I believe I caught a brief glimpse of some familiar power-plant smokestacks in the distance).

Prescient, if odd, references to Starbucks, Subway and Taco Bell are acknowledgements of the modern-day, time-saving distractions we face. Yet there is a timeless synchronicity to this perpetual-motion wheel. It is water that has held us together all of these centuries. The five water sprites of "The Weight of Water" present a sense of working together, emphasizing society’s connectedness to water. Nourishing, entertaining, refreshing, we are told.

Environmentally celebratory, yet "The Weight of Water" carries a warning for humanity. Don’t blow it. —JEFF SPEVAK

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