Audible Odyssey, "Heard Again, for the First Time"
By Laura Molzahn
For a fledgling organization like Audible Odyssey to get a behemoth like "Heard Again, for the First Time" off the ground--at all--is a feat. Audible Odyssey's second venture features seven choreographers who've developed a piece apiece, each about 15 minutes long, and 15 dancers, some appearing just once while others perform in more than half the works. In a small theater with inexperienced producers, that's a guarantee of delays and occasional chaos. As AO executive director Phil Brooks puts it, "To have an idea is one thing, to turn that idea into a viewable piece ... is another."
Audible Odyssey's aim is to go beyond rhythm tap to explore the narrative and thematic potential of hoofing. It's a noble idea not so easy to achieve. Though "Heard Again" is studded with bright nuggets of entertainment and, more rarely, genuine feeling, the material doesn't really sustain the show's two and a half hours (with intermission). A number of pieces are underdeveloped, basically three five-minute dances strung together. The time allotment should probably have been ten minutes per work; economy often drives ingenuity and, ultimately, power. (No worries about audience, though: both shows at the Den sold out. The AO website says it's watchable online, however.)
I found myself drawn to the works with strong music--the more rhythmically sophisticated, the better. Jessica Chapuis's Miles of Miles has a slim theme: finding one's voice. But its three Miles Davis selections are fertile ground. Though Chapuis says in a curtain talk that the tapping follows the music note for note during Davis's "Tempus Fugit," there are many, many notes to choose from. Plus the music really swings. Starinah Dixon does a fab job with her improvised solo to "Israel." But when Miles riffs on a Michael Jackson tune in "Human Nature," the rhythmic complexity wanes, and so does the interest of the dancing.
"Heard Again" hits the theme of love hard. In The Hunt, Martin Bronson tells a familiar boy-hoping-to-meet-girl story, set in a club. And he tells it well, with a bravura opening section for the three guys (Bronson, Tristan Bruns, and Zada Cheeks) filled with hotshot spins and splits, both airborne and earthbound. The three women (Chapuis, Jenna Deidel, and Dixon), entering to the ultimate in cool 60s jazz, face off with the guys, then boys and girls pair up, each couple unique. The story holds no surprises, but hard-bop tunes from Freddie Hubbard's album Backlash keep the momentum and musical inspiration high throughout.
The evening's only a cappella piece--Melissa Reh's choreographic debut, the quartet Expecting (in 3 Movements)--also trades on musical appeal. For her program description, Reh provides a vaguely religious quote from poet/painter/sculptor Brian Andreas. Reh's methodical construction establishes a base rhythm (two long scrapes and a stamp) and a variety of tap voices, which repeatedly depart and reunite. Wonderfully cooperative and satisfying, Expecting does suggest order and harmony.
In Girl, Jenna Deidel thoroughly realizes AO's goals. Girl has a beginning, middle, and end. The theme, suggested in a Gloria Steinem quote about women who step out of their expected roles, is reinforced by Deidel's choice of props: chairs that act as crutches, anchors, entrapping cages. The first section is especially tied to the chairs, which Deidel uses ingeniously to create both visual and rhythmic interest. Her pop-music selections are inspired, moving from a compelling clockwork tune to a song carrying strong emotion to Liz Clark's rendition of the Beatles' "Girl" to a final upbeat number whose joy feels earned, not tacked on. Joining Deidel and Reh, Kelsey Overberg proves a valuable presence, prim and vulnerable.
Some of the less successful works in "Heard Again" appear to rely on lyrics to carry the message. Words can't be heard over the thunder of tap-dance. Every tune in Deidel's mix works to develop the arc of her piece because, even if we can't hear the words, we know the song ("Girl") or hear the emotion and mood behind it.
Tristan Bruns's complicated Levels focuses on the id, superego, and ego. Bruns--who plays a man struggling to regain his self-esteem after a breakup--is a fascinating dancer. But his piece is all over the map: it starts with a cartoonish look at classic Nintendo games, proceeds through a romantic duet, and ends with a section seemingly meant to represent the strength of the ego but concluding in jittery turns that suggest only anxiety. Voiceovers provide a clear--too clear--conceptual map.
Phil Brooks's A View on Love has an equally clear concept: love decades ago, love today, set out in the stereotypical first and third duets. The middle duet--by a tap dancer and a modern dancer, meant to suggest the head and the heart--is more interesting. But I wouldn't have known its meaning without reading the program note.
Jabowen Dixon's flawed but intriguing trio The Law of Music posits that everything in the universe is music (wow!). Unfortunately, projections of scientists talking about physics take up a good part of the piece, and when the music kicks in, it's got a steady breathing rhythm that's frankly not very inspiring. But Law comes alive when it escapes abstraction--when Dixon grins at his sister, Star, or dances a quirky solo to a physicist talking, his beats interacting with the speaker's rhythms and pauses.