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No More Fear
Director/choreographer/performer Liz Hoefner seems to bring her life to the stage. While this isn't a new or different way of making theater, Ms. Hoefner's life is filled with humorous moments that surround the challenges of being alive in our 21st century.
Performed this past weekend at the Diavolo Dance Space downtown, her new work, Fear of Drowning/Fear of Flying, included a large cast of dancers, actors and musicians. These people loaded the stage with big modern dance movement, anecdotal accounts of private experiences that frightened the speaker and sounds that ranged from electric guitar to voice and small acoustic string instruments. Co-written with another performer, Sarah Leddy and the entire cast, the eighty minute work is colorful and engaging, highlighting our cultural neuroses and playing with them.
The work opens with Leddy and Hoefner finding each other after a short absence. Leddy is carrying sand bags attached to her legs as she struggles to keep grounded and Hoefner is squeezed into a plastic inner tube. She is also wearing swimming goggles so as to avoid possible natural disasters and supplement her urban childhood and its lack of experience in water. In the twenty-three short sections that follow this, we are told about Ms. Hoefner's summer vacations with her partner's family on a Greek island, another performer's close calls on a window ledge, another's discovery of a drowned young person at the bottom of a lake and memories of September 11 from characters who were at the Trade Towers or in New York City that morning.
The well performed movement clearly illustrated the script and both were embellished by the comical costuming by Deborah Lucchesi. At one point, the dancers wore pillow-filled body attachments on the front of their torsos as they moved (Sandra Burns designed the neo-human extensions). The live music was played soulfully by Yorgos Adamis and Tom Moose and an eclectic assortment of prerecorded tracks underscored the vignettes (Tom Waits, Jeff Buckley, Charles Gounod, Janet Maguire, Aesop Rock and Gavin Bryars). One of my favorite sections was when dancer Sarri Sanchez, dressed like an Esther Williams-like synchronized swimmer, cavorted and was carried above the floor by four supporting performers. Sanchez sparkled as she extended herself in the air above the dancers' shoulders, smiling to the adoring onlookers. The accompanying Gounod music reached its crescendo and the audience cheered in pleasure.
Having begun work on the project eighteen months ago, there was a great attention to detail throughout the evening, from costumes to text delivery to (maybe a little too-often) unison dancing. All the performers looked like they were having a great time on stage. Fear was accessible, easy to follow and a lighthearted romp through the first eight years of our new century and into the psyche of the creator. Though Ms. Hefner included some poignant references to recent US history, the actors didn't seem as genuine there as they did in their other portrayals. The choreographer, herself, is a strong performer--articulate, funny, and a beautiful mover. Unfortunately, however, there were a few times when I missed seeing the woman behind her stage persona. Also, with so much going on throughout the evening, the movement choices were a little disappointing--classic modern lines, regular rhythms--and the structures sometimes too symmetrical. Bringing up the 2001 tragedy could have been more affecting had we gotten to know the other characters more deeply. Still, we did get a pleasant and broad picture of what makes this artist tick.
The other appealing performers included dancers Chris Anderson, Maud Comboul, Melissa Dominguez, Kate Fox and Erik Speth; actors Mark Bommarito, Josh Cieszynski, Julia Danahey, Jessica Ellis and Jess Sorrells; with clean lighting designed by Kuo-Lung Kai.
photo courtesy of the artist