When the music, projections, and visual design of a dance performance are as strong as those in Rabble & Twine’s The Mesoplanets, the most recent offering from Durham Independent Dance Artists, it’s disappointing when the choreography lags well behind.
But the polish and flashes of imagination that we repeatedly experienced during a drolly narrated guided tour of our interplanetary B-team—ten moons, asteroids and dwarf planets selected from the host that meander throughout or at the edges of our solar system—came for the most part from the costume and prop design, co-artistic director Luke Selden’s video montages, and a soundscape from a quintet of synthesists and musicians.
Still, a dance work ultimately rests on the dance. Given co-artistic director Anna Seagrave’s dual roles as a choreographer and a dance educator, I found myself wondering if the limited technical abilities we saw among an uneven septet of movers meant that The Mesoplanets was intended more as a recital piece for early dancers than a professional company’s evening-length piece.
Too frequently, these movers rarely strayed beyond easily identifiable comfort zones in velocity, balance, and weight sharing. If humans had demonstrated no more curiosity in exploring and pushing beyond the borders of our solar system than Seagrave’s dancers did with the edges of their kinespheres—the space around their bodies that torsos and extremities can potentially reach—we might well have never discovered the evening’s subjects in the first place.
Thankfully, there were exceptions. In the “Triton” sequence, Denver Carlstrom and Carley McCready gave us a centrifugal thrill as they provided differing counterbalances against multiple ensemble members, spinning about the stage at opposite ends of thick white lengths of rope.
In the arresting visual design of “Charon” and “Pluto,” those ropes formed stage-length margins that movers lined with multicolored glow sticks. In the final section, “Sedna,” dozens more were scattered across stage and into the audience, plunging the darkened floor into dazzling, chromatic chaos—and a potential movement hazard for the dancers onstage. Among Seldon’s refreshing visuals, a heavenly body was unexpectedly likened to a pomegranate, cosmic rays to a captivating electronic blizzard.
But legato dance dynamics—plus the choreographer’s uneven onstage crowd-management skills—bogged down a number of other sections, despite the sometimes energetic sounds of synth duo SFM, the single-named violinist Morgan, and Selden on the theremin. Aijia Nicole Bryant held our interest in her sections, and young Lindsey Perry gave a diverting tap solo in the “Eris” sequence.
This was my first encounter with Seagrave’s work, so I can’t conclude if her dance ideas are more convincing on better-trained bodies or her own form, outside of her current pregnancy. But the problems with this work made me question the curation standards at Durham Independent Dance Artists, which produced the show. Dance artists have to learn, of course. But we expect them to have mastered the fundamentals better than this in a main-stage production.