08 FringeNext: “Speaking Without Words”

On the final Sunday, the final day of the 2008 Indianapolis Fringe Festival, I made it downtown just in time to catch the noon performance of the Kenyetta’ Dance Company’s “Speaking Without Words.”  Kenyetta’ Dance Company (KDC) was founded in 2004 by Vanessa R. Owens and Nicholas A. Owens.  They are sister and brother.

This was a FringeNext show rather than a regular Fringe show.  In other words, the performers are mostly still in high school or college.  According to the Fringe booklet, “FringeNext is a dedicated youth theatre which gives Fringe performers the opportunity to take an active role in the arts…FringeNext will be coordinated by the Young Actors Theatre, the resident theatre group in The Athenaeum Building.”   

I went because I had enjoyed the KDC’s three-minute excerpt at the Fringe Preview Party and rashly promised some of the dancers that I would go see their whole show.  By the time the final Sunday morning came, however, I had seen more than 30 Fringe shows and I was very, very tired.  If I had not promised, I would have stayed in bed.

I am very, very glad I kept my promise.  This show was amazing!*  A real treat.  It left me weeping and exhilarated.

The choreography, by young choreographer Nicholas A. Owens, is full of unexpected (yet graceful), passionate (yet subtle), lifts, piles, leaps, and twirls.  Its patterns are filled with wit and beauty.  I have even less experience evaluating dance than I do theatre, but it seems to me that his choreography is innovative.  I never thought I would find myself wanting to follow the career of a young choreographer, but I want to follow Owens’.

I ran into him outside Theatre on the Square on Sunday evening.  He told me that the professional dance company, Dance Kaleidoscope, has asked him to be a guest choreographer for a portion of their “America the Modern” show in March, 2009.  I am definitely buying a ticket for that!

The dancing itself in “Speaking Without Words” is also passionate, and very communicative.

In the first piece (which I think is called “Ford the River” but I’m not sure because the printed program did not always match what happened on stage on Sunday), the dancers tell heartbreaking, wordless stories about the challenges in their lives.  One girl is in a gang, for example.  Another has obsessive-compulsive disorder.  Still another is obsessed with her looks. 

The dancers include Arika Casey, Melody Cutsinger, Lalah Hazelwood, Adrienne Jackson, Tamara Ammons-Jones, Gregory Manning, and Nicholas A. Owens. 

The program did not list a name for the male soloist who danced to “For All We Know,” but his strength and expressiveness were breathtaking. 

Fortunately, the soloist was with Nicholas Owens Sunday night, so I was able to learn his name:  Morgan Williams.  Williams told me that had only just returned from Chicago and that he, too, has been noticed by Dance Kaleidoscope.  He told me that he “just got signed” with DK and will be the first African-American male in that company in years.   I’ll look forward to following his career, too.

“Speaking Without Words” ends with a joyfully inventive interpretation of “I Did It My Way” using folding chairs as props.  The dancers who have spent the past hour expressing a full range of intense emotions now dance with the looseness and power of joy and satisfaction.  The smiles on their faces are knowing ones.

I was, I was just weeping at the end of it.

Hope Baugh – www.IndyTheatreHabit.com

*My friend Susan F. will scold me for using the “a” word because she thinks it is the sign of an amateur reviewer.  And maybe it is.  But this show truly was amazing.

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