If you happen to be hanging out at your local playground, watch out. For the next five weekends, the Ellen Sinopoli Dance Company is leaping and gliding along swing sets, monkey bars and slides.
This unusual outdoor performance, known as “Underground Playground,” is meant to be a spontaneous explosion between four dancers; Melissa George, Andre Robles, Sara Senecal and Laura Teeter; and a drummer (on Saturday is was Zorkie Nelson). It’s like a miniature flash mob, without the mob nor much of the flash as spectators are warned about what will take place just a few minutes before it begins. (Choreographer Sinopoli says that the dancers frightened young children the week prior and felt it was necessary to caution the crowd.)
Either way, those who, by chance, witness “Underground Playground” are in for a quick bit of frolicsome fun. The performers, whom I watched at West End Park in Queensbury and Montcalm and Crandall parks in Glens Falls, emerge from trees as if woodland creatures. With Teeter out in front, the line of dancers looks as if they are playing a lyrical follow-the-leader. They take giant steps, Robles especially so as his legs are far-reaching, and wave their arms above their heads. Senecal turns cartwheels while George springs straight in a tour en l’air.
Their leaping onto the playground is done with a mischievous smile — indicating they are enjoying the generous improvisation of this dance as much as the surprised audience. And once they land on the equipment, the real mirth begins. They slide down poles, careen head-first down slides and pump the legs on the swings while their feet do balletic changements at the peak of the swings’ height.
Tying it all together is Nelson. On djembe and tom drums, he is the heartbeat — signaling its start and finish as well as urging the dancers, who are working hard in the hot mid-day sun, to forge on. He also embellishes his sound with an occasional pierce of the flute, lending his music a Pied Piper sparkle.
One of the best things about “Underground Playground,” which runs about 10 minutes, is the audience reaction. The children, seated on playground equipment, look both delighted as they bounce to the music, and apprehensive as they gawk at dancers moving around them. Others follow the dancers and Nelson through the park — looking at their lively steps at various angles. One family in Crandall Park was in the midst of a birthday party. They all stopped eating, lined a picnic table bench and watched the action unfold. Two teenage boys at Montcalm Park eyed it in bemused bewilderment. Though they deemed it “weird,” they asked where the dancers were going next.
While “Underground Playground” might seem odd to the average spectator — it’s not for Sinopoli. Some of her best work has her dancers hanging upside down or climbing on or weaving atop large equipment. But in all cases, audience came to her. “Underground Playground” is inspired as it takes dance to the people, letting them see that dance can be play, a fact that is lost on too many.
Ellen Sinopoli Dance Company in “Underground Playground”
WHEN: Sunday, Sept. 11, and Saturdays, Sept. 17, 24, Oct. 1 and 8
WHERE: Playgrounds in Saratoga, Rensselaer, Schenectady and Albany counties respectively
HOW MUCH: Free
MORE INFO: 408-1341 or www.sinopolidances.org