Big River (and Other Wayfaring Ballets), the latest offering from MOVEiUS Contemporary Ballet, achieves the improbable, if not impossible, task of bringing fans of contemporary ballet together with country music afficionados.
As Montgomery County’s only contemporary ballet company in residence, MOVEiUS provides freelance dancers and choreographers with a space to experiment with new and unusual material, and the opportunity to showcase the fruits of their labor. In the words of founder Diana Movius, the company seeks to “catalyze new work.” Accordingly, Big River (and Other Wayfaring Ballets) features four unique pieces by four different choreographers.
Capital Fringe marks the premiere of the first composition, Renforcé, which features music by Olafur Arnalds and Lindsey Sterling and showcases artful choreography by Shelley Siller. The piece contributes to the entire performance’s overarching theme of metaphorical journeys by bringing to life, and to the stage, the process of finding personal strength.
Inner strength is beautifully transmuted into physical strength by dancers Catherine Roth, Christine Sawyer, and Kathleen Weitz, who demonstrate incredible skill as they gracefully execute numerous lifts and pieces of choreography that seem almost more gymnastic than balletic. The music, a dubstep remix of a classical tune, perfectly represents MOVEiUS’ philosophy and the style of contemporary ballet in general: all the rigor and training of tradition, but made relevant through innovative modern reinterpretation.
Big River (and Other Wayfaring Ballets)
Choreography by: Diana Movius, Kimberly Parmer, Florian Rouiller and Katya Vasilaky
at GALA Theatre at Tivoli Square
3333 14th Street NW
Washington, DC, 20010
Details and tickets
As polished and as elegantly performed as the first three numbers are, the star of the evening is without doubt the finale, from which the show derives its name: Big River. For this nine part display of contemporary pointe prowess, the dancers of MOVEiUS put on their black blouses and their skinny jeans in an extended tribute to country music icon Johnny Cash. Big River makes concrete nine abstract phases of emotional development, ranging from Hope (set to “Folsom Prison Blues”) to Love (“Sea of Heartbreak”) to, finally, Integrity (“Hurt”), which featured a heartbreaking solo from Catherine Roth.
Now, there will no doubt be people who question whether Johnny Cash’s mournful ballads of manly sorrow are really suited to contemporary ballet, and vice versa. Perhaps, they might argue, lyrics like “I shot a man in Reno / Just to watch him die” were not meant to be illustrated by beaming women in pointe shoes. But, while the Man in Black probably didn’t have the graceful soloist Shelley Siller in mind when he penned “Got Rhythm,” audiences are fortunate that choreographer Kimberly Parmer did. Siller’s skill in seamlessly combining contemporary ballet and tap is matched only by her cheeky charm as she winks and taps her way through the number, daring anyone to say that modern dance and country music don’t mix.
Big River (and Other Wayfaring Ballets) will certainly resonate with fans of ballet and/or Johnny Cash, but also has a wider appeal. The “contemporary” aspect of contemporary ballet is engaging no matter how much (or little) the audience knows about dance. The show is saved from being just another ballet recital by its music choices, which seem unexpected at first, but seem perfectly natural – and beautiful – the moment the dancers of MOVEiUS take the stage.