Fringeworthy

Hip Shot: Language From the Land

GALA Theatre at Tivoli Square

No additional performances.

They say: "Language from the Land is a multigenerational dance work that explores what happens when story, history and place intersect. How does the distance between where we are and where we came from inform the way we live, engage and move?"

Rebecca's Take: At the Dance Exchange in Takoma Park, no one is ever too old for summer camp, and the big finale isn't just for the parents who have come to pick up mosquito-bitten youngsters; it's also for the general public. After a hiatus last year, the dance troupe and education center rejoined the Fringe Festival, bringing Language From the Land, a performance that was created in a mere eight days by participants in the 2012 Summer Institute.

If that's not the embodiment of Fringe Festival's DIY ethos, what is? Yet the show feels anything but thrown together. Cassie Meador, the artistic director who took over for company founder Liz Lerman last year, created a framework for the piece, deciding in advance that it would be inspired by Rachel Carson, the conservationist and author of the seminal 1962 book Silent Spring. Stowe Nelson created an impeccably appropriate soundscape, drawing from Woody Guthrie songs, contemporary classical works, and Indonesian gamelan music.

As is usually the case with a Dance Exchange show, there's a good deal of spoken word in the performance. The connections between text and movement can be tenuous, but taken as a series of vignettes, the show has some brilliant moments. Several hundred books are used as props. Some are glued together and function as seats. Others become extensions of the dancers' hands. In one particularly lovely exchange, dancers lie on the floor in a circle, thumb through pages, artfully roll over, then read the next book. Another sequence finds a women delivering a monologue about the stacks of legal briefs she encounters as a Washington lawyer, and as she opines, the other dancers pile stacks of books around her.

Exactly how Dance Exchange got from environmentalism to what feels a bit like an ode to Barnes & Noble isn't clear. Nearly 30 dancers, including three on the Dance Exchange staff, performed on GALA's stage. Nearly all were women, many taking a week off from their day jobs to participate in the dance institute. Like parents dropping in for a summer camp finale, viewers of Language From the Land won't fully appreciate the inside jokes and most meaningful revelations. It's one of those things where you probably had to be there, in the dance studio, for that to happen. But the performance certainly conveys that the studio was a pretty hallowed place to spend the week, and Language From the Land represents the dancers' very best effort to share.

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