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GARNERDANCE at OCT, June 17, Eugene

GARNERDANCES premiered Strings! An Evening of Dance, at Oregon Contemporary Theatre, June 17.

            The evening’s length work featured dancers Shannon Mockli, Laura Katzmann, Mariah Melson, Suzanne Haag, Antonio Anacan, and Cory Betts, with choreography, costumes and lighting design by Brad Garner.

            The first standout to mention is the space itself: This was our first time seeing OCT adapted for dance, and it works, and works beautifully.

            The simple black Marley dance floor visually stretches the stage, hurling dancers practically into the front row of the audience. The exquisite, thoughtful lighting plot allows for moments of genuine intimacy, and total exuberance.

            Eugene has needed a venue to see dance that is this shape and size. It’s perfect for contemporary pieces, dance and performance art, that could be drowned out, or lost in a cavernous concert hall.

            And there’s something exciting about seeing work that’s nestled into an audience on three sides, instead of the dreary proscenium. For some reason, it feels more awake and alive, like the audience is almost a participant.

            To OCT, a challenge: More, more, more dance, please. And to Garner: Bravo for choosing this space. Great spot to premier your work.

            The evening’s work played with strings, starting with a strong ensemble set to Vivaldi, entitled “Flora”. Bold, florid, the piece interweaves traveling patterns and relational patterns, a delightful confection. (The post-performance Q&A confirmed this dance history buff’s running thoughts while watching the lush work, which borrows heavily from titans of 20th century dance.)

            But who cares? It works. Playing with signature riffs and static shapes, the piece is a vibrant, fresh hook: Inviting the viewer into the experience.

            Mariah Melson dances a keening solo in “Shrine”, and Mockli and Garner share a duet in “Sanctum” that is simultaneously powerful and vulnerable.

            Garner uses the space smartly, allowing for entrances and exits not only from the upstage wings, but also from the theater’s two voms. Costume changes accompany every piece, and at times, he has the dancers themselves provide the light source.

            Suzanne Haag, Antonio Anacan, and Cory Betts explore weight and rhythm in “Pendulum”.

            Garner incorporates animation by Eric Toucheleaume in “Anatomy of a Tropical Home”, playing with the resonance between and among the architectural shaping that dancers create, and the riveting process of building structures.

            Dynamically, Garner’s work is approachable and easy to watch. He has a confident hand, but clearly allows for dancers to exude their own swag, their own mastery and to make their own contributions. As a viewer, that’s exciting. That is what makes dance live.

            “Torch (for Orlando)” was a crowd favorite, an ensemble piece about the simple connections made in moments of flirtation.

            As an ensemble, the GARNERDANCE Company melds well. Though they may have differing professional backgrounds, the “ballet” dancers and “modern” dancers in Garner’s company mesh and balance each other.