Evalina Carbonell’s Fringe Premiere, Carry Me delivers

by Lewis J Whittington for The Dance Journal

Dancer-choreographer, Evalina Carbonell premiered Carry Me at  CHI Movement Arts Center, on the rain-soaked opening weekend of the Philly FringeArts Festival. The show’s title, Carry Me refers to motherhood with literal and symbolic dance meditations of the experience of motherhood –  carrying a child in her body, nurturing, caring and letting go. The piece is also a real-time dance movement expose, for Carbonell dances in her own work seven months into her pregnancy carrying her second child.

Watching Carbonell dance in Carry Me brings to mind Martha Graham’s observations that “the body says what words cannot”and that “the body is a garment”.  Carbonell embodies the strength of an expectant mother dancing as rigorously as her cast members Sydney Donovan, Emma Valeria Girandola and Ashley ‘Peanut’ Johnson.

The opening tableaux, aptly enough set to Bulgarian-British composer Dobrinka Tabakova’s composition “Whispered Lullaby”, has the dancers slowly entering utilizing airy dance phrases that seem to them float over a sea of fabrics that completely cover the dance floor. They begin hoisting the fabrics, and as they billow up glimpses of ordinary, but serene, expressive movements peak through.   The blankets of fabrics on the floor continue to serve as a symbolic kinetic sculpture as the dancers reform it or partner it. One moment seemed in homage to Graham’s Lamentations.  Later, the dancers wrap Carbonell ceremoniously in all of the fabrics, the specter of an earth mother and as she exits, the dancers are pulled along lovingly to her trailing garment.

These maternal evocations offer expected imagery, but Carbonell also contemplates deeper psychological terrain, an altogether fertile creative ground that is not often represented on the dance stage. Along with lyrical dance expression of maternal love as natural, earthy, secret, ethereal, there are evocations of anger, frustration, fear, and suggestions of real worries that a mother faces nurturing a baby in the womb and out in a menacing world.

The piece was originally choreographed for five women with Carbonell’s fellow KYL/Dancer colleague WeiWei Ma.  Carbonell had to quickly make the piece a quartet when Ms. Ma had to suddenly bow out. Carbonell valiantly ended up dancing the solo herself that she had choreographed specifically for Ma’s lyrical technical artistry.

Carbonell’s solos mesmerize in their precision, technical grace and daring physicality.  She steps powerful into a mercury arabesque, for instance, turning in slow-motion, that suddenly flow out into long passages of free dance movement. It is an exaltation of the body beautiful, her baby bump, gorgeously visible through the gossamer fabric. The dancers similarly in two-piece dansbriefs sheathed in full body gossamer fabric designed by Janessa Urwin.

Donavan and Girandola perform a duet in a completely different movement style than the ethereal opening. The dancers circle around each other in a duet, mirroring each other’s movements, and breaking away in aggressive phrases, the physical expression of a test of wills. Suddenly, they are entwined in a precarious body sculpture perhaps symbolizing resolute unity.

Carbonell shifts choreographic gears again, in an athletic trio with Johnson, Donavan, Girandola, that starts with convulsive movements, that give way to ritualistic, angular and supple unison movement. Supine on the floor they beat rhythms with different parts of their body. If there is one section in Carry Me that seems choreographically ponderous next to the rest of the piece, it is this sequence.

Gongs and cymbals from composer Tabakova’s composition “Pulse” engulf the space in the final section and the dancers break away into contemporary balletic solos.  Johnson launches from a deep plie position on demi-point to intricate spinning leaps, laced with phrases from sacred Indian classicism.

The music is atmospheric and lyrical with orchestrals by Tabakova, German composer-pianist Hauschka and virtuoso soloist cellist Maya Beiser and the brilliant Hilary Hahn. Carbonell’s choreographic voice is completely distinct from what audiences are used to seeing her as a member of KYL/Dancers.  Carry Me is joyous in its dramatic purpose and lyrical mystique, an exemplar of Carbonell’s growing choreographic range, delivered in a powerful premiere by this ensemble of dancers.

About Lewis J. Whittington

Lewis Whittington is an arts journalist based in Philadelphia. He started writing professionally in the early 90s as a media consultant for an AIDS organizations and then as a theater and dance reviewer for the Philadelphia Gay News. Mr. Whittington has covered dance, theater, opera and classical music for the Philadelphia Inquirer and City Paper.

Mr. Whittington’s arts profiles, features, and stories have appeared in The Advocate, Dance International, Playbill, American Theatre, American Record Guide, The Harvard Gay and Lesbian Review Worldwide, EdgeMedia, and Philadelphia Dance Journal. Mr. Whittington has received two NEA awards for journalistic excellence.

In addition to interviews with choreographers, dancers, and artistic directors from every discipline, he has interviewed such music luminaries from Ned Rorem to Eartha Kitt. He has written extensively on gay culture and politics and is most proud of his interviews with such gay rights pioneers as Frank Kameny and Barbara Gittings.

Mr. Whittington has participated on the poetry series Voice in Philadelphia and has written two (unpublished) books of poetry. He is currently finishing Beloved Infidels, a play about the murder of filmmaker Theo van Gogh. His editorials on GLBTQ activism, marriage equality, gay culture and social issues have appeared in Philadelphia Inquirer, City Paper, and The Advocate.

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