Julie Brette Adams at Santa Fe Playhouse: Dress Rehearsal, July 9, 2009

by Janet Eigner

The last time modern dance soloist Julie Brette Adams collaborated with a dance mentor, dancer and choreographer Charlene Tarver, she created a fascinating and powerful dance, “Knowing,” premiered in 2000, a work in the dramatic tradition of Martha Graham’s early work.

After Tarver’s death, Adams began a collaboration with dancer Kate Eberle, in 2004, when they co-founded Two Women Dancing. Their work stretched Adam’s movement vocabulary to include more martial arts-like and aerobic-like work.

When Adams described her solo plans, and a new mentorship with Lindsay Mayo, she stirred curiosity over her new work. Mayo has been a dancer, teacher, choreographer and producer of dance on feature film and opera.

Very good news: this recent solo performance has had a long gestation, and has brought forth a lovely creation. The concert was filled with novel premieres, entirely skillful works that engaged, sparkled and showcased how Adams has continued to grow as a dancer and artist.

I wasn’t able to attend the performance, but watched both the dress rehearsal and the DVD of the first and second concerts, July 10 and 11th.

The innovation that enriched “Knowing,” the nine-year-old Adams-Tarver work, was Adams’s monologue, recorded and a pleasure to hear in the clarity of its sound. The first half of the concert cleverly used the dancer’s voice, woven in between three other works, to tell the story of her creative process with Charlene about the reason for her movement in this work. The brief, taped segments of the monologue also allowed Adams to disappear and change costumes between these dances (“Heart Dancing Open,” a premier, “Freudian Slip,” a delightful and surprising demonstration in movement and costuming of the unconscious view of woman as the delicate flower and the devourer, and another premiere, “Opus for Socks,” a Chaplinesque poignancy to below-the-belt moves, her upper body in black shift and shadow the entire time. )

Adams related that, for a long time, she was unclear where her “Knowing” movement originated. She knew that she must sit naked in a chair, her back facing the audience, using only her upper body and its expressive muscles, to tell the story..”but what is the story about,” Tarver had questioned repeatedly.

After many months of questioning by Tarver, Adams said that she finally understood that the inspiration had come from her relationship to a wheel-chair-confined friend she visited regularly in his nursing home, as he slowly declined from Multiple Sclerosis. Though Adams didn’t say that the dance movements showed tragedy, decline, and horror at the slow death, her nuanced arm, head and back undulations, shiverings and muscle isolations revealed these feelings, all performed sitting, with no leg involvement. The dance, seen at least four times by this reviewer, took on new layers of meaning after the monologue.

Nevertheless, the concert began with a mood of whimsy that wove through all of the work, another stretch past Adams’s comedic, Lucille Ball-like sense of humor in past years (and seen in this concert in “Freudian Slip,” another collaboration with Tarver, from 2002.) Even before the first work, we saw the curtain risen to knee-level and the dancer bare footed, jumping behind the curtain.

“Heart Dancing Open” a premiere, began to the music of The Beatles (“Because”) and of Ana Lains, forming a novel variety of open-shaped movements that announced the kind of emotional tone the concert would reveal.

The second half of the concert hadn’t the pauses allowed by Adams’s monologue, so that each dance showed the artist’s skill at changing layers of costume while performing.

Another premiere, “Blues for Mary,” to the twangy, whispery, gritty folk music voice of Mary Gauthier, Adams showed her tough-girl-don’t-mess-with-my-blues-persona, using slashing, staccato, slinky, frantic, and rag-doll moves, a semi-abstract relation to the lyrics.

Another premiere, “Running Heart,” with music by Eyvind Kang, had Adams running a circle around the stage, over and over, finally panting, but continuing to run, then slipping offstage briefly, changing costumes half offstage, half on, continuing to run (don’t remember the number of costume changes) showing a lithe athleticism, variety, fitness and a rubbery persistence by the conclusion.

In “Skyframe,” the fifth premiere, Adams navigated a three dimensional rectangle of metal in graceful, meditative, varied moves to music by Harold Budd and Brian Eno.

In “Curves on a Point,” her sixth premiere, with choreography by Kate Eberle, and percussive, metallic music by Khaki Kang, Adams moved swiftly and elasticly, using jazz and modern moves with quick stops and long stretches.

The last premier, “Note to Self,” with music by drummer by Mickey Hart, was memorable for its smart, clean movement, its surprise and freshness. Adams, clad in a one piece body suit of oyster gray, stood with arms slithering close to her body in a slippery asymmetry of limbs, and only after a few minutes of her crawling, pressing moves did it become clear that she was decorating herself with liquid tempera, in white, burgundy and black, bold swaths that dripped onto her neck and leotard, as she continued to move in ways both dancerly and delicious.

The concerts were sold out, I’m told, and I could see and hear on Craig Hansen’s clear DVD the audience standing in its ovations.

Brava, Brava!

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