Dance Review: Monica Bill Barnes and Company

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In "Mostly Fanfare," three dancers prance onto the stage wearing large plumed headpieces.  It reminded me of show ponies, but this really should be left up to individual interpretation.


Nonetheless, it’s fun from the very beginning.  The dancers stumble, trip, reach out a hand for help and at times receive nothing, perhaps significant of having to perform circus-like stunts in our daily lives.  The choreographer emphasizes emotions and facial expressions.  At the end of one scene, one of the dancers sits looking at the audience with an intense expression, something one wouldn't normally see in dance.  A dancer has a large box thrown at her from the side of the stage, symbolizing the “stuff” life throws at you.  Soon there are more and more boxes until they’re all over the stage.  At one point all four of the dancers balance chairs in their mouths.  I like the fact that these dances are so open to interpretation, people can read very different things into them and all would be correct.


[image-1]"Here We Are" is a moving, impressive solo by Ms. Barnes, danced to "Wild is the Wind," by Nina Simone.  She alternates with tightly controlled movements and quick kicks and turns.  Every look and gesture is significant here as she mirrors the loneliness expressed in Nina Simone’s song.  This is truly thinking person’s dance.  She maintains physical and dramatic tension throughout and has a magnetic stage presence.


"Another Parade" has a flirtatiousness about it.  The dancers are all smiles and wiggles until they are rejected.  When they start shadow boxing, sometimes they're hit back.  The women at times seem jealous of each other, stopping the person next to them when they perform some movement.  The true delight of this piece is the choreography to James Brown's music, “I Feel Like Being a Sex Machine,” juxtaposed against Dianne Warwick’s breezy “I’ll Never Fall in Love Again,” and Bach’s cello piece “Courante.”  I was struck by the nuances of emotion portrayed through movement.  It could have been the choreography of four women’s lives, alternately, flirtatious, angry, happy, abandoned and lonely.


Throughout there is humor, with the dancers flashing a section of stomach or licking a bared shoulder. At the end, the dancers venture into the audience and pull some willing participants up onto the stage.


I think the compelling part of all of these dances is that they are open to interpretation, yet there is no mistaking the subtle emotion they evoke. Throughout all of the pieces, the dancers wear fairly plain sweaters and A line, just below the knee, skirts.  Why?  Perhaps to make them more like real-life people to better let the audience relate to them.


The dancers in this company have to be expressive as well as physically adept to perform these pieces, and they were uniformly excellent.  Also, there sheer endurance is required for the physicality and duration of the dances.  Dancers are:  Monica Bill Barnes, Anna Bass, Celia Rowlson-Hall, and Charlotte Bydwell.

I attended the Thursday night performance of Monica Bill Barnes and Company and Wow, did they ever rock the house.  Ms. Barnes has a reputation for creating witty choreography and it was that, but I found it to be so much more.  The work was intelligent, quirky and unpredictable.  It can be joyful or angry, exuberant or lonely.  It’s all of these things, actually.  In a way it mirrors the feelings we have in our daily lives.

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