Offshore Project Choreographers Explore the Abstract Side of Dance

If you expected to see some cabaret at last weekend’s Co-Lab 4, then you were not disappointed. It was a production full of Ezra Dickinson-Rainbow Fletcher choreography, after all. But this wasn’t your typical Can-Can show. Co-Lab 4 presented collaboration between Dickinson and Fletcher’s dance company, The Offshore Project, and dancers from Coriolis Dance Collective—all set to live music from Dylan Rieck and his band. Unlike The Buffoon, which the Offshore duo presented at On the Boards in 2010, Co-Lab was less story-driven and more dance focused. Although the usual Dickinson-Fletcher theatrics were there (light-hearted playful moments and acrobatic strength), the beautifully executed modern dance displayed maturing choreography and the skillful ability to blend motion in surprisingly delightful ways.

Before the dancing came the music. Cellist Dylan Rieck led his band, “Threat of Beauty” in a wonderfully diverse musical composition that combined a little bit of jazz and a little bit of rock, and added some Caribbean and clasical influences. The musicians seemed to perform their own dance—moving in time with the music, embracing their instruments and weaving seamlessly between solos, duets and ensembles. It was refreshing to see the musicians touted as equal performers rather than just the background; a trend seen lately at PNB, in work form Catherine Cabeen, and anticipated in Whim W’Him’s upcoming show.

The first dance piece, Frenchey, Texas, Fritzy and Helga (choreographed by Fletcher) contained the cabaret element, but with a wobbly, humorous bent. Featuring four dancers with teased hair, blue rompers and black heels, the girls’ precision (creating patterns and shapes with their bodies, the way they moved around each other) was similar to that of enthusiastic synchronized swimmers. The playful choreography contained a can-can line, but legs were purposefully bent at the knees; the dancers flirting with the audience, swaying hips seductively, running hands up legs and sliding across the stage on lovely long legs. Fletcher has fun with it, and the way the girls appear to throw themselves into the performance, but not quite hit it (an intentional move) suggests a sadly aging group of women, trying to relive their former glory as once-young dancers.

The standout was a duet choreographed and performed by Fletcher and Dickinson. Rock, Paper, Scissors used a spotlight to create silhouettes of the dancers against a backdrop at the top of the stage. This double-image dove into deep into the question of what constitutes dance—it was often hard to decide which to watch: the people or the shadows. Sure the people who create the shadows, but is the detached movement of the shadows dance? Regardless of the answer, the two displayed a masterful grasp of their performance. Clad it simplistic black shorts, their well-muscled bodies were on full display, and the ultra-slow movement (set to Rieck’s onstage cello) starting with hands above heads and moving into larger, sweeping lunges, threw a nod to Dickinson’s Slow Walks, and deconstructed movement to its basic roots. The lifts and yoga-esque poses were impressive, showing off an equal mix of strength and grace. The title is incorporated into the piece with the two performing the rock, paper, scissors motions behind their backs in a rhythmic pattern suggesting order and monotony rather than childhood fun. 

Too many to recount was an interpretive piece with a cast of eight dancers; a mix of Offshore and Coriolis members. Clad in full orange jumpsuits, they moved around the stage peeling in and out of the large group into smaller duets and trios, often simulating violence by throwing each other onto the floor, pantomiming fist fighting, shoving and slapping. A lot of movement and metaphor happens here, completely open to individual interpretation. Although there is no clear narrative, violence is a heavy-handed theme throughout the piece. Dancers undress and dress again, lighting turns their skin purple, transforming them into an alien-like appearance, supplementing the chaos that occasionally breaks out on stage.

The Offshore Project pulled out all the stops with this production. For a group well known for their theatre-esque antics, they impressed with a strong infusion of modern dance and tenderly graceful moments. Not only can they dance; they can really choreograph. It’s still The Offshore Project, but just a little more grown up.