Image: Lynn Lane

Quench
Aug 28–30 at 8
$16–30 (Aug 28 pay-what-you-can) 
Frenetic Theater
5102 Navigation Blvd.
freneticore.net 

As I sat watching Quench, a new evening-length work from FrenetiCore Dance, I thought about the legendary choreographer Yvonne Rainer. Not because any of the dancing resembled Rainer’s groundbreaking work, but because of what she’d said once about the grand jeté, a ballet movement where a dancer jumps from one foot to the other. The move is not something a dancer “does,” as she put it. Rather, ”one must ‘dance’ it to get it done at all, i.e., invest it with all the necessary nuances of energy distribution that will produce the look of climax together with a still, suspended extension in the middle of the movement.”

Quench is not a ballet, though the choreography contains some classical elements, such as leaps, turned-out extensions, and brief fragments of adagio and grand batterie. Who created it, exactly? In the program, Rebecca French is credited as director, and each of FrenetiCore’s 13 dancers (including French) is credited as a “dancer/choreographer.” This might be why Quench has no apparent identity. With a roster of artists possessing uneven abilities and experience, the dancing is often reduced to the lowest common denominator. It is a formless work that plays out as a series of dull vignettes, more a kind of anemic vaudeville than a well-considered whole. The company seemed to be phoning it in—the show desperately needs those “nuances of energy distribution” identified by Rainer.

Image: Lynn Lane

On paper, Quench looked promising, from the press release to the small white cards that were handed out in the lobby, each bearing a quote about water from such figures as e.e. cummings, Jarod Kintz, Isak Dinesen, Woody Allen, and Beyoncé. Clearly, much thought went into assembling the evening’s inspirations. The production boasts a rain machine, live music by SPIKE the Percussionist, and Ashley Horn’s elegant, impressionistic, postcard-like films. SPIKE and Horn are sophisticated artists whose work stood above that of the largely amateur dancers; it should be clear to French, as the show’s director, that successful choreography involves much more than putting together a compelling mood board.

Water as metaphor and inspiration has a long history in dance. Pina Bausch’s epic Vollmond comes to mind, as does much of the work of Eiko and Koma, who often staged their slow-motion duets at the edges of raging rivers that carried them away from the audience. By contrast, Quench has kiddie pools, makeshift mermaids, and other predictable signifiers, none of which seem to bear any considered relation to the choreography.

When the dancing doesn’t feel bland, it feels labored. One unison phrase seemed more like a hopeful aspiration than a reality. Occasionally the dancers would form a tableau, struggling to balance. Some of these events met with half-hearted applause from parts of the audience.  

Certain events did stay with me: SPIKE the Percussionist drumming confidently under a shower of water, his blue drum covered in plastic cling wrap; Horn’s vivid underwater film montage. The rest was mostly forgettable. Yes, hierarchy has been vanquished—everyone in the show is a choreographer. But nobody is a star, either.

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