by Harlee Trautman for The Dance Journal
On Saturday, February 29, 2020 SteelStacks at ArtsQuest presented Leap Love Dance by Carolyn Dorfman Dance. The Furnace Room at SteelStacks in Bethlehem, PA is a second floor venue with an upstage wall made entirely of uncovered glass windows. The backdrop of this performance was the industrial architecture of the century old Bethlehem Steel plant which brings with it a rich history and aesthetic.
Leap Love Dance consisted of three pieces beginning with Facets. This lyrical work was effectively a collage of solo, duet, and trio material that investigated various relationships and aspects of love. While human interaction was the primary focus, a standout moment was in the section “Love Suite Love” where a trio of three women danced in relationship to their very own reliable companion, a body pillow. The partnerships in Facets ranged from sweet to aggressive, tender to rugged, all the while, the performers maintained a sense of ease and calm in their execution of the work. This introduction to the evening established the dancers’ well-rehearsed approach to risk taking partnership and an indisputable strength the performers carried as individuals.
Dorfman’s seamless showcase of relationship in Facets was a journey marked by recognizable aspects of conventional love, and I wonder if there is space for exploring a broader range of romance. A brief pause in the program allowed the audience to continue absorbing the visual experience of love while mentally transitioning into a softer more somber space for the second piece of the evening.
The second piece, Cat’s Cradle, was deeply inspired by Carolyn Dorfman’s familial experience of the Holocaust, a journey of tragedy, acceptance, and a willingness to survive. The audience witnessed the evocative stories of three sisters knitting, reflective of Dorfman’s mother and two siblings, weaving the memories of their past into the universal narrative of perseverance and resilience. Stark embodied scenes filled the space, beginning with three women ravelling and unravelling balls of yarn, a mundane task that grew increasingly complex and transformative throughout the work. The yarn itself, a tool for distraction and a creative outlet, evolved into the eggs of a nest created by the torsos of the womens’ embrace, only then to become food, apples perhaps, in the grasp of the women’s mouths, sustenance, both wanted and forced digestion of reality.
Eight additional dancers joined the trio to fulfill the literal and figurative unfolding narratives. Through precise gestural motions and disintegrating vignettes, the performers traversed the emotional spectrum. Both dancers and viewers felt the sensations of shock, sorrow, rage, childlike joy, and confused emotional pathways in sections, like “Ich Bitte, Nicht Lachen” (I Beg You, Don’t Laugh), of bold movement vocabulary paired with the performers’ unrelinquishing commitment to plastered on smiles. The piece concluded with a fragile untangling of yarn strung through a pile of bodies, three women returning to their task of knitting, consuming, and embracing the yarn, eachother, and the journeys that brought them there. The timeless imagery of Cat’s Cradle is a testimony to the generational impact of memory and storytelling.
After a short intermission and some time to reflect on the previous work, the final piece Pastorale Pause began on a lighter note. This piece was a joyous reflection and ode to the beautiful complexity that is nature. Two human-sized Lazy Susans occupied the stage with the dancers, which opened the possibility for revolving landscapes and the increased challenge of circular momentum and stability. My thoughts wandered as I imagined the endless potential of these revolving platforms. However, my attention was quickly brought back by the colorful music of John Whelan as it complimented the sweeping pathways and heightened spirit of the performers. The audience gave single word feedback to Dorfman: “joy” “playful” “happy” and “interactive”. These words were at the surface of my observations too, but there was a lingering sense of sadness in remembering that the natural beauty of our world is diminishing as is the ability to witness its wonder firsthand.
At the start of each piece in Leap Love Dance, Dorfman was verbally articulate about the inspiration of the work which undoubtedly guided the viewer’s experience. In some ways, this limited the conceptual imagination of the audience, and in turn gave more space to focus on the dynamic quality of the dancers’ technical abilities and bodily control. The performers of Carolyn Dorfman Dance have a very cohesive movement vocabulary that allows for explicit articulation, clear musicality, and a unified way of sharing the stage. For those that missed the opportunity to engage with the exquisite dancers of Carolyn Dorfman Dance, the New Jersey based company has intentions of returning to the Lehigh Valley in the fall of 2020.