Review: ‘crazy beautiful’ at FringeArts

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How are dances created? What might inspire a choreographer? Specifically, how does Tania Isaac develop a dance? What role does the viewer have in it all? These are some of the questions that come to mind and are answered in Tania Isaac’s performance piece, crazy beautiful.

Tania Isaac. Photo by Lindsay Browning.

Tania Isaac. Photo by Lindsay Browning.

FringeArts presents this interactive dance event for just three nights, April 27, 28 and 29, 2017. Isaac is both choreographer and dancer (as well as “poet” and voiceover artist). crazy beautiful is not a typical dance concert in which the audience arrives, is seated in chairs facing a stage, silently watches dancers move across the floor, and then leaves. crazy beautiful is a multi-faceted work that includes Isaac’s inspiration and artistic process, audience participation and the dance itself.

On April 27th, before entering the space where the actual dance is performed, I encountered the “open notebook” installation, which is essentially made of Isaac’s journals and thoughts. This “open notebook” is created on the floors, walls and tables of the anteroom. Visitors can react to her written thoughts and questions, watch video and see some visual renderings relevant to the project. The exhibit invites and encourages participation with Post-It notes and markers strategically placed on the tables and hanging from the paper walls. There is even a laptop to digitally record passages from the three literary works that influenced Isaac in this project: The Little Prince, Jonathan Livingston Seagull, and The Old Man and the Sea.

After browsing and interacting with Isaac’s texts, I made my way to the actual movement space where she would perform the dance. Sebastienne Mundheim, the stage designer, has constructed an inviting and open space with few materials, complete with pillows on the floor for extra audience seating. The audience chairs are arranged in shallow semicircles on both sides. The center includes a bed, a plot of real grass and dirt, and markings on the floor that resemble a tic-tac-toe board. Two musicians, Chris and Leonard of Chrysyn Harp, sit at one end to play cello and viola. Paper, a huge part of the “notebook” in the adjoining room, also provides the backdrops for the set. Long white sheets border the space and pages from the three literary texts dangle over the box of 9 squares on the floor. Expertly timed and positioned lighting complete the set.

Isaac’s dance is intense, and every part of the body is utilized. She captivates for forty-five minutes, with twists, turns, crawling under the bed, hopping on the grass, and covering the entire “stage” with some form of movement. Her levels change from the floor to standing upright. There are times when she is lying down, kneeling, sitting, and there a few small leaps in the grass. Isaac displays a myriad of steps, from sustained and slow poses to quick bursts of energy, runs, and slithering on the floor. Regardless, the execution is strong, clear, precise, and organic—and overflowing with emotion.

Tania Isaac. Photo by Lindsay Browning.

Tania Isaac. Photo by Lindsay Browning.

The music of the piece employs live instruments and recorded tracks. There was also voiceover narration by Isaac. The live music sometimes clashed with and did not always fit the rhythm of the recording when they played at the same time. This was intentional, though, and showcased a different texture than traditional harmony and accompaniment. The score, which also included piano instrumentals and electronic dance hall music, was appropriate and reflected Isaac’s multilayered performance style and the diverse elements of crazy beautiful.

Although a talkback was not advertised, Isaac and Mundheim sat on the bed after the dance and conversed with the audience — this was another aspect of the audience’s participation in constructing this performance piece. Personally, I felt that I was part of the project from the moment I entered the “notebook.” Isaac met me as soon as I stepped into the room and we briefly discussed the ideas behind the project. She remained in the “notebook” to greet and mingle with the guests! Meanwhile I scanned some of her writings, recorded a passage on the laptop, and answered some questions on Post-Its. The “notebook” engaged me and set me up for how I would appreciate and relate to her process and performance. The overflow of ideas that were written on the huge pages of paper resonated with me. It was fascinating to see her thoughts depicted three dimensionally in those objects and large pages. Later, it became evident by some of the responses in the talkback that each individual interacted in his/her own way with the “notebook.” Coupled with other pre-conceived notions, each person viewed and understood the performance in his or her own way—in some cases very differently. In the end, this is part of what Isaac means to show in crazy beautiful — how a dance is inspired and created, and how each person who sees it helps to build it and interpret it in his/her own mind.

crazy beautiful is a must-see for dance students and dance professionals. I highly recommend it to artists of other genres as well, and for those curious theatre and dance lovers who enjoy experimental works. Arrive by 7:30 so you have some quality time in the “notebook” and are not rushed to your seat!

Running Time: 45 minutes, with no intermission.

Tania Isaac. Photo by Lindsay Browning.

Tania Isaac. Photo by Lindsay Browning.

crazy beautiful plays through April 29, 2017, at FringeArts — 140 North Columbus Boulevard, in Philadelphia, PA. For tickets, call the box office at (215) 413-1318, or purchase them online.

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