Over the years, I’ve watched the Capital Fringe Festival flourish with awe. Given that the theme of this year’s festival aims at transitions – including nostalgia for #FringeStories – I’ll share that I remember dragging myself to un-airconditioned, tiny boxes with a single fan blowing in the back in order to see theatre. Then, the nosebleed section was the best seat in the house!
But what has propelled Fringe to its current state of stardom was the force of its artists – creating innovative work despite being on the fringe of, well, everything. Ironically, Purge was in a “real theatre” with a grid, raked seating, and more at the Dance Place. Yet all the same, it was plagued by technical headaches, causing an interruptive shutdown early on in the show due to lighting problems.
The artists putting on this emotionally exhaustive, fluid dance piece put on a brave face and went on. Though there were obvious ways in which this disruption changed the performance, like hearing backstage whispers in the middle of numbers or seeing performers scurry across stage during transitions to figure out what was next, the all-female fusiondance troupe followed the primary rule of live performance. That is, that the show must go on.
Choreography: Candra Eglin, Shelley Siller and Laura Gelles
Director: Candra Eglin
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And the merit of the performance, besides the cringe-worthy technical elements, stood on its own. Purge was inspired by a deeply unsettling event – the death of a child, and the need to search for cleansing. When the show was at its best, it was startlingly honest and striking. Courtney Roth delivered a remarkably poignant poem in honor of her son, followed by a delicate solo from Laura Gelles that honored the incredible weight and intensity that such a moment would provide.
The company’s strength and Roth’s best choreography, however, showed in group numbers that highlighted the technical prowess of the ensemble. Particularly, a piece called “Resurrection” featured excellent energy and more than a few stunning feats. The athleticism in their acrobatic lifts was talented, and never missed a beat. Additionally, the original music, from a slate of composers, never felt out of place, hitting the right note for each theme.
However, the ensemble did seem slightly touched by nerves, which is understandable given the chaos from earlier in the show. Still, some elements felt clunky and disjointed, most so the “making of” video shown midway through the show that consisted mostly of rehearsal footage. The purpose of showing it was unclear, and the video generally felt unnecessary. fusiondance members should stick to their strengths, which is excellent contemporary dance.
As one dancer read aloud early in the production, “Without a little madness, I wouldn’t be able to feel.” Though the mishaps marred the debut of Purge, perhaps they served to further amplify the vulnerabilities shown in this challenging work.