Guest blogger Danielle Marie Georgiou is a Dance Lecturer at the University of Texas at Arlington where she serves as the Assistant Director of the UT Arlington’s Dance Ensemble. She is also a member of Muscle Memory Dance Theatre – a modern dance collective.
David Parsons and the East Village Opera Company (EVOC) have embarked upon a risky journey with their joint collaboration, Remember Me, which they performed Friday night at McFarlin Auditorium.
The story follows the age-old tale of a love triangle: two brothers (Steven Vaughn and Billy Smith) love the same woman (Julie Blume). At first their relationship is one of youthful innocence, but the brothers’ flirtations soon turn physical as Blume becomes more interested in one of them. The attraction culminates with a moment of passion between Blume and Smith narrated by the EVOC’s Tyley Ross and AnnMarie Milazzo. Yet, the action turns deadly as the brothers battle over Blume’s love; Vaughn’s character kills Blume, Smith kills Vaughn and later kills himself. The Shakespearean storyline is one that communicates with all audiences, and one that we can all appreciate. Further, the juxtaposition of classically arranged and well-known pieces of music, like Mozart’s “Overture,” the “Habenera” from Carmen, and Schubert’s “Ave Maria,” with the infusion of a rock n’ roll edge and modern dance movement is intriguing and had the audience wrapped around its little finger.
However, the presence of Ross and Milazzo, at times, was distracting. It’s extremely difficult to stage a production that involves choreographing both dancers and singers, and for the most part, Parsons did a wonderful job. But there were moments, like when Ross and Milazzo built the “Flower Duet” from Lakme to a crescendo and rocked out to “When I Am Laid In Earth,” that the eye followed them instead of the dancers. They are such powerful singers that they deserve the attention, but the focus moved from the story being told by the dancers to being told by the singers, creating a disconnect for the audience.
Moreover, the presence of the singers added to the drama of the story, and at times pushed the plot toward the melodramatic. This was especially prevalent during “When I Am Laid In Earth.” No rock concert is complete without a power ballad, but with such a heavy story line, the added drama of live singers and giant ensemble-work was a little over-the-top, though the movement was masterfully performed. On the other hand, the dancers were lucky to have Ross and Milazzo there, especially during “Ave Maria.” Blume and Vaughn need Ross’s deep vibrato to push the tension and aggression that they should have been portraying forward. Blume seemed at times too soft during the confrontation between her and Vaughn; likewise Vaughn did not seem fully committed to tossing her in Parsons’ unique lifts. Their emotion starting building toward the end of the piece but peaked too late.
Though Remember Me turns to the melodramatic, Parsons’ inventive choreography cannot be overlooked. With his new work, Parsons is developing a vocabulary of contemporary dance movement that is truly American. There are touches of Paul Taylor and Martha Graham, but many movements that were refreshingly unique: the inclusion of popping and locking combined with deep plies, quick pivots, and pirouettes.
And just as the choreography cannot be overlooked, neither can the talent of the company’s dancers. “Caught,” Parsons’ experiment with light and movement and danced by Southern Methodist University alum Zac Hammer, was an homage to the athleticism and drama that the company is known for. Hammer defied gravity with floating double stag leaps and moments of running in mid-air. It was a brilliant puzzle of the mind that had the audience on its feet. Blume seduced with her calm and smooth approach to the movement. And the company as a whole worked extremely well together and is probably the quietest ensemble I have ever seen. It was as if their feet never touched the floor. But they touched our hearts and minds and left us remembering them.