Choreographer Karole Armitage, aka the “punk ballerina,” is known for dabbling in the more radical fringes of ballet. Yet on Saturday night at Skidmore College, the artistic director of Armitage Gone! Dance revealed her softer, socially conscious side.
At the start of her first showing of the unfinished “Fables on Global Warming,” Armitage told the Dance Theater audience that she wanted to highlight the plight of our struggling environment. She also wanted to embrace a wider audience, including the reluctant dance-goers and children.
It was a tough assignment for a dancer/choreographer who has always gone her own way.
This new work, which she has dubbed performance-art musical, broke from her norm and returned her to her roots as a classically trained ballerina. The piece told tales — including the fable of the tortoise and the hare — to accentuate the unsustainability of our insatiable consumer lifestyle. And, unfortunately, Armitage rendered the situation as hopeless.
But that may change. “Fables on the Global Warming” was in a raw and unfinished state.
It is almost unfair to review it as the cast of seven dancers and one singer (composer/lyricist Corey Dargel) was obviously uncertain of much of the movement and direction. In addition, the costumes and puppets, including the inside of a rhinoceros, were clearly incomplete.
Still, the seed for Armitage’s “Fables” was firmly grounded in Dargel’s music, an eclectic blend that drew inspiration from musical styles from every corner of the world.
Dargel, portraying an extinct hog-nosed skunk, walked between the dancers, warning of the consequences of “thinking we are more important.” With his even tones and his expressionless face, he appeared resigned to the inevitable — disaster and death. He was the lamenting pessimist who needed a serious hug. Oddly, there was something sweetly pathetic about him that made his every appearance welcome.
Still, “Fables” was depressing. The only hints of brightness shone from a love duet, with Lourdes Rodriguez and Jeffrey C. Sousa, in “The Frog and the Sun.” They delivered a ray of warmth that was lacking in an otherwise cold landscape.
Their partnership had a tenderness and light that radiated with honest and sweet affection. But that didn’t last, as their partnership was plagued by the burning question: if we have suns for sons, how could earth survive?
The most effective fable, perhaps because it is so well known, was the portrait of the tortoise and the hare. With a sextet of bouncing hares racing on and off the stage, the tortoise slowly crawled through the crowd. It was an ideal metaphor for the rat race and how those who slowed down and savored the moment garnered more from life.
Also persuasive was the opener in which a beautiful stag was devoured by a lion. That too was an unhappy allegory for our exquisite world being chewed up by the powerful.
The ending, in the hot, dusky drought where animals reached for the single cloud, cemented the overwhelming sadness of “Fables.”
I’m not asking for a Hollywood ending, but some sliver of hope would make “Fables” more palatable to everyone — dance lovers and children alike.