Candle, Sword, and Fan: A New Take on Avant Garde

On September 21, 2019, I attended Irene Reinke’s Fringe production, Candle, Sword, and Fan at the Plastic Club. The central concept of the performance, a three-part psychological exploration of emotional growth conveyed through Tai Chi and belly dance, was thought-provoking. Unfortunately, although the piece started auspiciously, the show is best described as slap-shod.

The first dance, “Candle,” was intended to represent light and new beginnings. Reinke began the piece by telling a story of a painter who spent his career painting with only the color red until he discovered the color purple by adding blue. After the anecdote, Reinke and another dancer, Elley Jiménez, dimmed the lights and entered the space. Each of them held two lit candles aloft while walking slowly forward, undulating their pelvises. Their steps were well-timed with the beat of the lulling instrumental music, and it seemed as though Jiménez and Reinke would share the dance of light as a duet. Instead, after a brief introductory period, the two dancers walked to the edge of the space to find a larger candle. Jiménez fumbled with a lighter, eventually passed the larger candle to Reinke, and awkwardly exited the space. Reinke, now in possession of all of the candles finished the dance alone. Bending, reaching, rolling her wrists and shoulders, she closed the number by balancing the lit candle on her head, an admittedly impressive moment.

The dancers then led the audience to the upstairs studio, where two artists and a model waited. As an interlude of sorts, Anders Hansen and Charles Trigiani drew a series of croquis, or loose gestural drawings in which the artist(s) had only a minute to capture the essence of the shape before the model, Stephanie Hyland, changed the pose. Harry Piperakis, an excellent guitarist, accompanied the artists as they worked. Although this section of the performance was not clearly related to the rest of the show, it was in this critic’s opinion, by far the most interesting and professional. The act of drawing became a dance: the artists had to bend and shift, to move with their chosen medium, in order to capture the line of action. The croquis emphasized that there is movement even in apparent stillness, like a still river occasionally disturbed by a jumping fish.

Unfortunately, the show did not end with the beautiful drawings. The dancers entered from the back of the room only to pause mid-dance for Reinke to give instructions to the sound director to turn up the music and begin again. I felt myself wince in discomfort and wondered why moments such as the candle lighting in the first act and the re-entrance were not better rehearsed. I wondered if they checked the stereo’s volume prior to beginning the show.

Reinke pulled a long, curved sword out of the cupboard and began to dance. Meticulously carving through the space, Reinke’s movements conveyed clear martial influences. With trembling fingers, she placed the sword on her head and slowly spun, flinty gaze always forwards. Repeating the motif of balancing a somewhat dangerous object on her head, Reinke’s choreography conveyed the idea that sometimes life is about dancing with danger.

During the next piece, the dancers shuffled into the space with Reinke crouching behind Jiménez’s hips, dressed all in black with a sheer scarf draped over her face. About thirty seconds to a minute later, after a brief dance through the aisle between the chairs, Jiménez left the space again and I was left questioning why exactly a second dancer was involved in a production that was clearly intended to be a solo performance. After Jiménez exited, Reinke began to perform a traditional fan dance accompanied by rock music, a disjointed choice. Unfortunately, once again the music was too faint and Reinke stopped yet again to call out instructions to the sound operator. I sank further in my chair, aghast that she did it again. Once the dance began again, Reinke twirled and snapped her fan, striking the air. Intermittently, she broke the dance to improvise, a generous word for what can only be described as nonsensical bouncing. Improvisation can be a strong choreographic choice if the same focus and intention given to the choreography is present. This was not the case for the third section of the performance, and I breathed a sigh of relief when it ended.

With further development, coordination with her other performers, and perhaps a tech rehearsal or two, Reinke could create a fascinating show. Walking back to my car after the show, it struck me that while Candle, Sword, and Fan was an interesting concept it was ill-conceived and lacked professionalism.

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