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BWW Reviews: BARE Dance Company Takes Flight with Mike Esperanza's New Work, AVES

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I arrived at St. Mark's Church fifteen minutes before the performance was to begin. I picked up my ticket and entered the space, only to find the dancers already performing! The church space was cleared of all of the pews, and a large wooden dance floor was placed in the center of the room. Chairs were lined up in the front and back of the room for the audience, who seemed to be already enjoying the show. I think the usher could sense my worry because she whispered, "It's just an improvised pre-show. Take a seat wherever you'd like." But my embarrassment didn't go away. While the pre-show show was a neat idea for the dancers to warm-up and the audience to get a taste of what was to come, it made me uneasy - perhaps because I wasn't expecting it at all. I felt awkward and intrusive as I quietly made my way to an empty seat.

As I watched the dancers improvise with each other, the embarrassment faded from my cheeks, and I began to appreciate what was transpiring before me. There were fourteen dancers in the company, each clad in different hues of gray - including matching gray socks to help them slip and slide across the wooden floor. The dancers took turns improvising on stage, acting, as the title of the show suggested, like different types of birds. The penguin slid across the floor on her stomach and waddled in first position with her hands flapping at her sides. Other dancers mimicked birds such as an eagle, owl, pheasant, and flamingo.

When the actual show began, the dances seamlessly flowed as one cohesive performance; there were no gaps in the movement or music for applause or breaks in character. The bird metaphor was ever-present, but not so literal that it became overstated or inane. At one point, four dancers took the stage with two rolls of blue painter's tape. One dancer would crouch in the corner of the wooden stage and roll out the tape, while another dancer pranced on top of it to secure it to the floor. Resembling birds on a wire, the dancers finished rolling the tape so that it divided the stage into a large "X." It was clear that AVES was trying to explore the different "personalities" of birds: the competitive spirit of the firebird, the dignity of the raven, and the maternal nature of the bluebird.

After the performance, choreographer Mike Esperanza invited the audience for a question and answer session. He described the subtle use of color in the piece - how small colors sparked larger memories, moments, and emotions. While the dancers dressed in gray, they added singular fabrics (a coat, a shawl, etc.) to represent the different personalities of the red firebird, the black rave, and the bluebird. While the work was not created for the St. Mark's Church specifically, Esperanza described how the pairing was almost fate - the church space represented a birdcage with the dancers performing on the ground floor in the center and surrounded by large white pillars.

What was most surprising to me was the amount of improvisation and collaboration that Esperanza said occurred during both the rehearsal and performance processes. Not only was the pre-show improvised, but also much of the actual performance was different every night. As the fourteen dancers sat around Esperanza, the synergy and camaraderie within the company was clear. One of the dancers, Cat Cogliandro, commented, "It's rare to get to work with a choreographer like Mike [Esperanza]. He truly respects us back as dancers."

Photos by Edwin Lockwood


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