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The Intimate Encounter of Yes and No by Leanne Schmidt and Company

On August 8th, 2015 Leanne Schmidt and Company premiered a brand new work, The Intimate Encounter of Yes and No. The work was shown at Phoenix Center for the Arts as a part of the [nueBOX] residency program. If you haven’t had a chance to check out the work that is being produced through the [nueBOX program], you truly are missing out, and The Intimate Encounter of Yes and No was another example of this.

As you entered the space, there were Christmas lights hanging from the ceiling and strung along the floor. It seems as though with each [nueBOX] event, the space is completely transformed highlighting the artistic freedom they allow for their residents not only in the work they are doing but also in the use of the space. Schmidt’s work consistently plays with humor and is refreshing to watch. In this work, Schmidt used humor through facial expressions, contrasting but similar phrasing, and playful movement.

As the work opened, four dancers entered the space in a single line and slowly walked forward. The dancers divided into two groups with an intense gaze into the audience. Each group playfully manipulated their partner into a movement phrase that highlighted simple gestural phrases. They would switch between each other as to who was manipulating and who was getting manipulated but repeat similar gestural movements such as the simplicity of stroking the others hair. Already, this playful movement set the tone for a humorous work that still allowed for critical thinking about what was being presented. Although the two pairs of partners where doing similar phrasing, the way in which they approached it contrasted greatly. One group seemed to approach things in a manner that was much more upbeat, while the others seemed more aggressive. The exaggerated way in which they each presented the phrasing left audience members laughing. As the work progressed, so did this theme, each time growing in its comedic approach.

From here, the dancers go back into the line gazing into the audience, a reference from the opening of the work. They come back into moving as a group of four and lift one dancer into the air. She remains in a stationary position as they move her up to the back corner of the stage. From here, they set her down and she breaks away from the group, seemingly reflecting on a feeling of being left out. She finds herself back with the group and they repeat this movement sequence. Throughout the work, it became clear that each dancer was very technically skilled, but somehow Schmidt also managed to have them maintain a sense of individuality. While some may find this distracting in dance works, Schmidt was able to balance highlighting each dancers individuality without taking away from the work but instead, enhancing the work.

From here the dancers move into a box shape with two dancers standing in front and two standing directly behind them. The two dancers standing in front move into phrasework while the two behind stand stationary. The phrase work is clearly something pedestrian, it seems as though they are cooking, however, one seems very relaxed while the other is very frantic. While this contrast is humorous, it also asks the audience to think. It raises questions as to how mundane tasks can be approached so contrastingly. Additionally, it calls for us to see how easily we can recognize movement patterns from our everyday lives and how that can be translated into dance work. From there, the two dancers in the front come forward and move into a shopping cart phrase, paralleling the emotions depicted by the dancers in the cooking phrase. Highlighting the simplicity of everyday tasks with drastically different emotions, inserts humor into the work brilliantly and makes the piece easy for audiences to translate.

From here they group breaks into a new movement phrase that hasn’t happened yet. Two dancers seem to shy away into a back corner while the other two gaze at one another from across the room. There movement seems to be trigged by one another. This occurs for awhile until all four dancers move back into the box shape. This time they are repeating mundane tasks with the oppositional emotions including driving and brushing their teeth. The sequencing in this phrase work itself could fill an entire evening’s work, but Schmidt breaks it up allowing audience to remain engaged and intrigued by what is yet to come.

Eventually the piece transitions into a duet while two other dancers are sulking in the back corner, slowly moving down the wall. While it can often be distracting to have dancers on stage that are not meant to be the focal point that was not the case here. I actually found them to enhance the duet and add an interesting texture to the work. The duet had a mixture of waltzy and shaky movement, another distinct contrast found within the piece. Suddenly the two dancers gaze into the audience and a tension is created allowing for a new element. One of the dancers slowly climbs into the lap of an audience member, clinging on to her. This act breaks the tension as the audience responds with laughter.

The dancer returns to the stage and the two duet partners and they move into a sequence that uses a lot of pushing, pulling, falling, and leaning on one another. They repeat a sequence that occurred earlier in the work in which the dancer from behind links her arms through the other dancer and seemingly controls her actions. What is really interesting is at a certain point you lose sight of who is the one in control as that control seamlessly passes from one dancer to the next. The lights go out and the work is over.

There were so many good moments in the piece, I wanted it to continue. It seemed as if we were just getting into the work and it was over, something that is difficult for a choreographer to capture yet somehow came easily for Schmidt. Overall, the work humorously captured the contrast in approach to mundane tasks. Additionally, it showed how to use dancers for more than their great technique by highlighting them as individuals and capturing how unique movers can come together and brilliantly partner. I look forward to see what Schmidt will produce next, as well as what [nueBOX] will bring to Phoenix Center for the Arts.

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