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"Foot Notes: Airs and Dances II"


Jay Weitz, Columbus Alive!
April 8, 2010

When it comes to dance, forget the cliche about legislation and sausage. Watching dance being made can instill an even greater appreciation of the finished product.

In mid-March, Hixon Dance allowed Alive to watch rehearsals for two of the works in its upcoming “Airs and Dances II,” to be presented at Columbus Dance Theatre.

Artistic Director Sarah Hixon stands on a chair - for better perspective, no doubt, but also symbolizing the choreographer’s kindly omniscience.

“Don’t let this get mushy,” she implores her dancers - Lindsay Calvert, Marie Klaiber, Gregory Mack, Morgan McFarlan, Sara Mitchell and Tina Tidwell - as they smooth out a transition from two trios into three duets in “Welspryng.”

During a break, Hixon and her husband and musical collaborator, Jacob Reed, discuss his commissioned score - its dynamics, its structure, its points of drama - as together they shape the movement. In this rehearsal, they use a recording of synthesized wordless voices, but in performance, all the music will be live.

“Welspryng” is set to Reed’s motet-like “But a Mouthful of Sweet Air,” borrowing two verses from the song that concludes the W.B. Yeats play “At the Hawk’s Well.” He must be careful, Reed says, not to “box her in with the text.”

The four-voiced, contrapuntal score lies on the floor in front of Hixon and Reed as they sit and talk. With his stockinged right foot, Reed traces a particular passage where the voices move in a way to guide Hixon.

The dancers retake their positions. Hixon asks them to run slowly through a previously discarded section of movement. As they move, she scrunches up her face and beats time on the score. As the dancers nearly collide, Hixson sees in her mind’s eye what she needs to adjust.

She asks them to do it again, “Only you’ll be doing that in canon, not all at the same time, so you don’t kill each other.”

Snapping her fingers as the music resumes, Hixon watches the dancers begin at four-beat intervals, and that section comes together.

“Gunter und Gertrude” takes shape as an adorable courtship duet. Dancers McFarlan and Mack (shadowed by Cristina Duryea and Sara Mitchell) spend a good deal of the work doubled over at the waist, arms clasped behind their knees. From that stance, these odd creatures flirt, nuzzle and celebrate. An observer’s back aches in sympathy.

By the time “Airs and Dances” is ready for the public, we can ask Yeats’ immortal question, “How can we know the dancer from the dance?”

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