Artistic Muscle

Tuesday, January 1, 2021

Exhale dance troupe launches debut series

The Exhale Dance Tribe, which launched its first concert series Friday night at the Know Theatre, is truly a fresh breath of artistic air on the Cincinnati dance scene.
The company, founded three years ago by artistic co-directors and choreographers Missy Lay Zimmer and Andrew Hubbard, brings an exceeding amount of strength to their dancing.

And sorry, guys, with the exception of Hubbard, the movement muscle found amid these vibrant dancers performing Friday night belonged all to women.

He, along with Zimmer, who also dances with the troupe, was announced as dancing the lead in the concert. He actually had only a limited presence in Friday’s concert, though.

Zimmer and Hubbard, who have a mix of credits including Broadway dancing, bring a diverse mix of styles to their work as represented in their “Aren’t We All But a Dance of Particles?” The work is having its premiere in this concert series.

There is a slim narrative at work in “Aren’t We All?” It apparently is sort of a choreographic pilgrimage through major experiences and with symbolic characters found in life – an empress who is a kind of earth mother, strength struggling against adversity, old age, death, the presence of evil and the promise of new life and vitality that emerges triumphantly at the conclusion. The dance uses the stony presence of actor Derek Snow, as The Poet, showing up generally at the beginning of the segments. He offers cryptic lines such as “Let go … and transform” and “Evil wants to make you think it doesn’t exist.”

But no matter the literary vagaries. The dance is enough.

“Aren’t We All?” begins jauntily with some impressive tap dancing from a character called The Fool. The program indicated Hubbard was to dance this but a woman dancer, unfortunately not identified as the replacement, did the expert turn.

Things really get moving with the appearance of the ensemble and the live drumming by O. Yemi with “The Magician, Episode II.”

The women’s movement in “Episode II” is jerky, then slinky and topped off with can-can high kicks that the ballet world calls grands battements.

Mia Deweese’s solo in “The Empress, Episode III,” is a dynamic display of how the Hubbard-Zimmer choreography requires the dancers to make quick shifts in positions.

They often speedily move from poses to sharp leg extensions (arabesques) and then slide to the stage floor for sinewy movements there.

While Deweese expertly achieves these quicksilver movements, she, by no means, is the company specialist in such fluidity.

Other dancers, in other episodes, accomplish similar transitions equally as well in both solo work and ensemble moves.

The most poignant moment in the concert comes in “Death: Transition into a New State, Episode V.”

Zimmer and Hubbard show a masterly expertise in selecting music that richly serves their choreography. In “Episode V,” they use two songs by Laurie Anderson – “One Beautiful Evening” and “Slip Away” – and Brandi Carlile’s “Sixty Years On.”

During “Slip Away,” Tiffany Frost, Ashley Klein and Alessandra Marconi engage in anguished movements of inconsolable grief – arms stiff in the air, heads thrown back like broken dolls.

As Anderson’s lyric of grief over a lover’s death continues (“Ooo they slip away into the remains of the day”), the Exhale trio looks every bit the Greek chorus in the throes of lamentation only in contemporary dance gear.

But “Aren’t We All” ends on a note of jubilation. The dancers strut. Hips twitch. Pelvises thrust. Heads shake in a blur of flying hair.

Exhale’s euphoric finale manages to capture the same life-affirming mood that the musical “Hair” achieved as it went out so inspirationally with “Let the Sunshine In.”