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Viva la difference!
Fusionworks gets ‘unplugged’

In their annual fall concert, Fusionworks Dance Company will present four new works, all choreographed by artistic director Deb Meunier, plus the reprisal of Slow Run Back, a piece by David Dorfman that was set on the company in 1994. Performances are on November 18 and 19 at 8 pm in Sapinsley Hall at Rhode Island College, with Saturday evening’s show "unwrapped" — i.e., Meunier will offer introductions to each dance that give some ideas about its genesis and production.

Seeing four of the five pieces in rehearsal last week at the company’s East Greenwich studio, I was able to get some of that "unwrapped" experience myself: the lighting designer and the stage manager watched for cues, Meunier and assistant director Stephanie Stanford took notes on technique, and members of Fusionworks II, the apprentice company, got their first crack at the new rehearsal space. (The company still maintains their original studio in Lincoln.)

In keeping with the company’s philosophy of "different is good," two of the dances are quite serious, two quite fun and funny, and one very thought-provoking. In rehearsal, I saw one of the serious ones first: Te Deum, inspired for Meunier by Arvo Part’s score and the uplifting text of the liturgy. Though the text is filled with messages of promise and the music itself feels very powerful, Meunier tuned into the underlying assumptions of human suffering that question and then reaffirm a spiritual faith. She cast three soloists as an Outcast (Amy Burns), a Christ-like figure (Mary Manning), and a Guardian Angel (Stephanie Stanford).

The seven dancers in the piece (including Melody Gamba, Donna McGuire, Stacy Charette, and Laura Newell) enter in a diagonal line, slowly striking various poses, reminiscent of the closing image in Bergman’s The Seventh Seal. Throughout the dance, arms reach up and heads turn toward the heavens, but this never feels overdrawn or trite, rather an organic response to the music. Burns and Manning have several poignant sequences, in which they prod each other out of despair, lifting, catching, holding. Manning also seeks comfort from Stanford, in her own time of crisis. And after the chorus echoes Burns’s anger in crossed fists, Stanford returns to soothe their spirits. Powerful music, powerful dance.

The piece I didn’t see, Under the Bridge, was made with members of the Rhode Island College Dance Company, who will join Fusionworks for this post-apocalyptic work, set to a techno-industrial score by Keith Fracassa and Ron Schmitt. Drawing on the dark vision of Michelangelo’s The Last Judgment as well as her own interest in sci-fi fiction and film, Meunier considered a time when aggressive street urchins are left to wander an empty, nightmarish landscape.

But on to the lighter stuff of this concert. Meunier got permission from Carlos Santana for a no-holds-barred dance-party piece titled Buenos Dias. Taking her cue from childhood days in Brazil, Meunier wanted this to be a celebration of the free-floating freedom of movin’ and groovin’. Six Fusionworks II dancers join four company members (including Meunier) for a delightfully festive parade of hip-wiggling, head-bobbing, and merengue-stepping, accented with leaping, jumping, kicking, arm-pumping, and hand-rolling. OlŽ!

Meunier says that the playful jazz of the Bad Plus reminds her of the comic books she read as a kid, so it was a natural to create Iron Man Meets Scuttle and Static to their music, the latter two characters her own invention. Birghandi Weeden gives Iron Man a muscular resolve, as he fends off the irritations of Scuttle (Tim Rubel, with a villainous gleam in his eye) and Static (Mary Manning, all skittery and frenetic). Scuttle and Static egg each other on, with Scuttle stealing Iron Man’s belt (and his strength) but Static eventually giving it back. A great fantasy to the band’s embellishments.

Dorfman’s Slow Run Back is a contrast to the other pieces in many ways, its movements smaller, less expansive, its emotional content laid bare. Performed by Meunier and McGuire to a minimalist score by Scott Killian, Slow Run Back shows two people in a relationship that is no longer good for either. One tries to leave and comes back; they talk and talk, in a singsong swinging of hands; they rise and fall back onto each other; they are clutching one moment and letting go the next. There’s a captivating rhythm to the stops and starts and repetitions of this piece, plus a tug at your heart about the push/pull in any relationship.

Fusionworks’ performances are always varied, with a bit of madcap energy here and a solemn thoughtfulness there. But "different is good."


Issue Date: November 11 - 17, 2005
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