Our three children used to come home from trick-or-treating to dump bags filled with an odd assortment of fun sized candies on the kitchen table so they could pick through the contents looking for their favorites. Now that they’re in college, no one needs me to sew their costume, escort them through dark neighborhood streets or make treats for Halloween gatherings. It’s time I develop a new holiday tradition, and I’ve found just the thing.
Thursday night I witnessed a charming collection of dance performances which culminates in a dance meets dracula piece that’s one of the most stunning dance works I’ve ever experienced on Valley stages.
It’s a visual feast blending rich storytelling, music, lighting, set design and dance — and you can see it through Sunday at the Herberger Theater Center in Phoenix. The Center Dance Ensemble production is called “A Haunting We Will Go.”
Think haunting in the emotionally moving sense rather than haunting in the ghosts and goblins sense. Though several of the works have themes that resonate during Halloween or Dia de los Muertos season, it’s the music and dance that will haunt you.
How lovely to replace those nights spent combing through an odd assortment of candies with an evening of dance that feels like sampling deliciously diverse truffles or bon bons on an elegant silver platter or dessert tray.
“A Haunting We Will Go” includes two “Masquerade” works performed by Center Dance Ensemble, the resident modern dance company of the Herberger Theater Center, which is led by artistic director Frances Smith Cohen.
It opens with “Masquerade Part 1: Love Games,” choreographed by Cohen and Diane McNeal Hunt to music dubbed “Dead Can Dance.” The work features hard-driving drum beats, an elegant trio of hanging lanterns and dancers dressed in delightful black and white fashions.
“Masquerade Part 2: The Mask Within” includes three works featuring masks created by Valley artist Zarco Guerrero. “Calacas Encantadas” (Enchanted Skeletons) is choreographed by Hunt with music by Guerrero. It’s a whimsical piece that elicited lovely laughter from Thurday’s audience.
“Espiritu del Agua” (Water Spirit) is choreographed by Hunt with music by Gustavo Santaolalla that captures the sound of powerful waves. It features a sole dancer wearing an iridescent silver unitard and mask that reflects light in two beams streaming out across the audience.
“The Blue Box,” a take on the tale of Pandora’s box, is choreographed by Hunt, Marion Kirk Jones and Mark Vanek. It features music by Alston Neal and a pair of dancers whose masks and movement invite reflection on such things as earth and sky or human and animal instincts.
Scene from Dracula: The Legend. Photo courtesy of Center Dance Ensemble.
“A Haunting We Will Go” closes with “Dracula: The Legend,” choreographed by Cohen with music by David Byrne, Frederic Chopin and Camille Saint-Saens. Many know Byrne as co-founder of the Talking Heads, but his composing credits include a ballet score called “The Catherine Wheel” for choreographer Twyla Tharp.
Though elevated, Shaun Sites’ circular set piece for this work resembles a swirling pit. I was puzzled by the simplicity of Michael Eddy’s lighting design during the second masquerade piece until the majesty of Eddy’s “Dracula” lighting made me appreciate its value as a sort of visual palate cleanser.
“Dracula: The Legend” is set in 1897 London. It features seven scenes and eight characters that include Count Dracula, Jonathan Harker (the man responsible for Dracula’s move from London to Transylvania), a trio of female predators victimized by the Count, and a trio of women dubbed victims of repressive Victorian times.
Every sinew sings as Scott Bodily dances the role of Count Dracula. Movement throughout the piece is exquisite, and beautifully complimented by costumes rich in color and subtle texture — the work of Margret Emerson, Michele Hervey and Ruthe Ponturo — which capture the ethereal quality of the dance.
Those who attend “A Haunting We Will Go” this evening or Sunday will also see “Nightlife” performed by Terpsicore Dance Company, “Forbidden Love” performed by Andrea Hashim and Jose Soto, “Unsound Mind” performed by Kaleidoscape Dance and “Persist” performed by Glendale Community College’s Verve Dance Company.
Last night’s guest performances — “Ablaze” by Movement Source Dance Company,” “Last Supper at Sad Café” by Desert Dance Theatre and “Undercurrent” by Scottsdale Community College’s Instinct Dancecorps — will repeat on Oct. 27.
I especially enjoyed the Desert Dance Theatre piece, a humorous riff on waitresses gone wrong at a desolate cafe sporting a neon “Open” sign between bouts of mayhem. Dancers delightfully fold set pieces and props into clever phrases of movement set to Beethoven music, leaving folks to wonder whether the menu is laced with sadism rather than sadness.
“A Haunting We Will Go” beautifully blends the work of Valley dancers and musicians, plus theater and visual artists. Audiences hear music created by mask artist Guerrero, and see dance performed by Childsplay costuming and wardrobe director D. Daniel Hollingshead. Eddy, who is well known to Valley theater audiences, conjured a real masterpiece of light and shadow for this production.
Eddy serves as lighting designer and production manager for “A Haunting We Will Go.” Katie Bitz is stage manager, and Bret Reese assistant stage manager. Center Dance Ensemble costumes are by Margret Emerson. Light board operator is Alexis Raetz, audio operator is Billy Lopez and Hannah Ruebbelke handles stage crew.
It’s a magnificent collaboration that left me hungry (or thirsting, perhaps, in the spirit of Count Dracula) for more. “That’s a good thing,” muses Hunt.
Note: Herberger Theater Center fans should “save the date” for the March 8, 2013 “Objects d’Art Auction” to benefit the venue’s art education and outreach programs for youth. Click here for information on Center Dance Ensemble’s 2012/13 season. Please note that “A Haunting We Will Go” is recommended for ages 12 & up.
Coming up: Try the priest