Vinyl Shines

Monday, February 21, 2011

Exhale Dance Tribe Shines in “Vinyl”* BY KATHY VALIN Last Saturday evening at The Aronoff Center, things were hoppin’ during Exhale Dance Tribe’s lively presentation of “Vinyl.” Billed as a “contemporary twist on 50s and 60s tunes,” the show consisted of nineteen short pieces, each performed to a recorded popular song. Many were familiar, and reflected in their subject matter young love and its many permutations, and the new sense of freedom and rebellion against the status quo that seemed to embody the spirit of those times. Evocative projections by Todd Uttley accompanied each song, and the cast of eleven young women and one young man (plus one apprentice and one guest artist) in various numbers and configurations gave the sense that they all inhabited aspects of the same society. This small ambitious company headed by two ex-Broadway dancers (Missy Lay Zimmer and Andrew Hubbard) who have settled in Cincinnati (Zimmer’s hometown) has had a distinctive contemporary jazz style from the get-go. Their productions typically dazzle in short vignettes, where (and here I quote myself) “oversize emotion reigns supreme and the physicality of the young movers onstage is mesmerizing.” Using the organizing principal of an era’s songs to illuminate turbulent times was a stroke of brilliance in this case. It has always been left to the audience to figure out a specific narrative in Exhale presentations. In much of their ensemble work I’ve seen previously, I felt as if I were seeing the culminating moment of a Broadway show without quite knowing what specifically that show was about. It didn’t make the dances any less fun to watch–there was always plenty of virtuosity, playfulness and lots of emotion on view. But, the tunes in “Vinyl” incorporate catchy lyrics (and a variety of musical styles and subject matter) in a way that helps enormously in directing the audience’s attention by contributing specificity, momentum and continuity to the onstage situations. Also, though there are moments of pain and the horror of young men going to war is invoked, “Vinyl” is ultimately upbeat, ending with Joe Cocker’s inspired version of “With A Little Help From My Friends.” Other standout numbers were set to “Sea of Love,” a very funny “I Put A Spell on You,” “These Arms of Mine,” Ray Charles’ “What I’d Say,” and a cover of the Beatles’ “Something.” Short skirts, scarves and ponytails, and lots of eye makeup were all in evidence. Occasionally, the women appeared in jazz trunks or pants and sports bras. Zimmer and Hubbard have managed to attract a very strong group of performers. These were some very energetic and fit dancers! “Vinyl” is mostly danced in bare feet, and lovers of modern dance technique no doubt rejoiced. I certainly did! Battements were effortlessly ear-high, yet controlled. Turns were clean, with little obvious preparation and an absence of off-balance hops. Isolations and timing were impeccable. There were struts and grand jete jumps, formations that spooled performers off one at a time, much floor work, acrobatic somersaults and flips, and slow motion groupings, as well as joyful unison dancing. One thing never lacking was variety and inventiveness, strong suits of the choreographers.* This was a one-night-only performance. It would be terrific if Cincinnati audiences got another chance to see this program. *I thought it might be fun to post the first-ever review I wrote of Exhale for CityBeat after their 2007 Fringe Festival appearance, and also to keep in mind that their collaboration “Infamous Love Songs” (for Cincinnati Ballet to the music of Over the Rhine) is coming up this spring. The review and info about “Infamous” are here.