There is no doubt in my mind that Jane Franklin Dance’s Aflight brings something special to Fringe. Usually based in Arlington, this group blends music, dance, and visual art in a way that is not only enjoyable to watch, but flows—it is rare to find a show where these elements work together so well, and are so effective at telling a story. Aflight resonates both through its universal themes of family and changing generations, and locally, through its creative use of stories from our community.
The entire show is structured around interviews that Director/Choreographer Jane Franklin conducted with people in the DMV area. The pieces are set against either projections by Franklin and Dawn Whitmore (chalkboard sketches that come to life, illustrations of stories being told, etc.) or dances by the company: Emily Crews, Emily Jaikaran, Anthony Scott Milligan, Carrie Monger, Amy Scaringe, Brynna Shank, Susannah Keefe, Claudia Maloney, Peg Schaeffer, and Rebecca Weiss. Some pieces begin with interviews and continue with music that sets the tone—the styles vary, with some more instrumental and a few mostly percussive.
Franklin has collected an array of stories from community participants, beginning with immigrants new to the country, or people who were descended from immigrants. Gradually, the show builds to interviews with naturalists, bird watchers, environmental scientists, fishermen, and nature enthusiasts. Common themes are change—life uprooted by relocation, the passage of time, environmental and climate change—and embracing life, love, and new or changing homes. Franklin weaves these seemingly different themes together so smoothly that there is never any doubt that they are part of a larger whole. In “Like Animals, ” the interviewee describes how “birds migrate like people…together” as the dancers weave and flow together.
Some stories are funny: in “Prohibition,” the dancers illustrate how an interviewee’s quick-thinking father made a getaway from being drawn into a gang’s bootlegging activities. Others are stirring: in “Fence,” the dancers carry (blank) signs of protest while moving in front of a projection of the U.S.-Mexico border fence. Their movements are sharp and filled with purpose as they wordlessly give voice to those stuck on either side of this wall. Music composed by David Schulman, Mark Sylvester, and Patrick McAvinue carries the dancers through their journey, with Franklin providing additional sound.
The dancers are dressed in different tones of blue, white, or pale green and yellow, according to the piece; the impression is one of water and earth tones, mirroring the nature-oriented style of the pieces. It should hardly be surprising that nature and place are featured so heavily in these stories about immigrants—memories of where we grow up shape who we are, and the way we deal with leaving these places, or watching them change over time, is a profoundly human experience that everyone can understand.
One of the aspects that makes these stories so poignant is that they are told by residents of Virginia and Maryland. They frequently name places that much of the audience will be familiar with, all the while talking about how they or their parents have immigrated here, or how those places are changing. This creates a sense of interconnection: with faraway places and here, with our lives and the natural world around us.
The dancers are a seamless ensemble, moving together—sometimes in twos and threes, sometimes as a company—to tell these stories. The focus is not on the individuals, but on bringing the stories to life through movement, music, and visual media. There will only be two more performances of this production, and all I can say is, it is one you should not miss.
Running Time: 60 minutes, with no intermission.
Check other reviews and show previews on DCMetroTheaterArts’ 2017 Capital Fringe Page.