DALLAS -- Props are tricky things to involve in modern dance, but that doesn't stop choreographers from using them. They were prevalent at the opening performance of the three-week-long Barefoot Brigade Dance Festival, which is co-presented by Contemporary Dance/Fort Worth at the Bath House Cultural Center in Dallas and continues through Jan. 26.
The festival's producing members include two other Fort Worth groups (Collective Force Dance Company and Dancing Outside the Box), two from Dallas (Beckles Dancing Company and Feel Good Dance) and one from Denton (Satellite-Dance), but guests from across the state and country will participate in the festival, a "celebration of modern dance, contemporary dance and performance art."
The theme for the first weekend was "Dwelling," and Houston's ChinaCat Dance made it most obvious with Maggie Lasher's Nomad (2008), in which a dancer (Cindy Lou Parker) popped in, out, over and through boxes of various sizes. The prop usage became comical in Collective Force's You, Me, and My Chair (a premiere), a sort-of improv with the dancers (Holly Arnold, Lauren Butschek-Neisler and Audry Kennedy) dragging, standing on and caught up in metal folding chairs. Quirkier than Nomad, it was the noisiest work of the program.
Unless you consider Emercion (2012) from Velocity Dance Company, of Tarrant County College South Campus, with six dancers each emerging from heavy, translucent plastic bags as if from a chrysalis. The choreography by Gypsy Crane Ingram was simple and reflective, but the rustle of the plastic made it hard to love. The young dancers showed promise of good technique, though.
Speaking of young dancers, Images Contemporary Dance Company of Grand Prairie started out with a gaggle of young girls, about 5 to 7 years old, from Amanda's Dance Express, for Borrowed (In Three Parts). Just when you were wondering why kids were dancing in a professionally produced festival (the less said about their synchronization, or lack thereof, the better), they were replaced by older kids, maybe tweens, which were later replaced by six older teenagers/adults. It was rough, but if the idea was to suggest the evolution of a dancer beginning as a child, and to show that many of them give up on it, point taken.
Feel Good Dance's Indwelling (another premiere) showcased founder/dancer Angie Dutton's expressive solo work, backed by vocalists, guitars and drummer, performing a Vedic prayer.
Contemporary Dance/Fort Worth presented the premiere of Dwelling Near, the only work performed in the Bath House gallery, which has an exhibit of photographs of Mexican cathedrals. Sarah Newton, Julia Nova and Claudia Orcasitas danced around a column and created architectural stage pictures.
Beckles Dancing Company's A Meditation (2012, by Loris Anthony Beckles) used four dancers in a symmetrical, four-sided dance around the small stage. Muscle Memory Dance Theatre's (re)build (2012, by Lesley Snelson) had the most interesting use of props, with dancers Ashley Hellen, Brandy Niccolai and Tarah Tristan moving and stacking bricks, while still keeping a contemporary dance vocabulary.
The best was saved for last, as we finally got some semi-fast-moving dance in Shifting Boundaries by Hub City Dance Collective of Hattiesburg, Miss. Choreographers/performers Meredith Early, Kelly Ferris Lester, Elizabeth Lentz and Rebecca McArthur used diagonals and symmetry to their advantage.
The Barefoot Brigade Dance Festival features different programs and companies each weekend.