FringeArts presents Almanac’s ‘Fronteras: An Homage to Whatshername’

Dancing around the divide

It began with a sweater tug-of-war, expanded with a mountain of clothes and electronic music, and ended with the sweaty but pleased ensemble inviting the audience to take home whatever garments they wanted. FringeArts had its very own clothing-swap party thanks to the Almanac Dance Circus Theatre team and their newest work, An Homage to Whatshername.

Fronteras' dance, circus, theater, in action. (Photo courtesy of FringeArts)

Strong foundations

Homage was the first of two new pieces under the umbrella project Fronteras, created in collaboration with Mexican choreographer Emmanuel Becerra. A Door in the Desert will be presented on May 5, 2017. If Homage is any indication, you’re in for a good time and maybe a new outfit.

As their company name suggests, Almanac borrows from a multitude of disciplines. They use a combo of weight sharing, acrobatics, body stacking, and exhilarating balances. Ensemble members take turns holding their curled-up comrades on their heads, flipping each other through the air, and even building a kind of three-person-high leaning tower by standing on each other’s shoulders. Everyone shares the responsibility of “basing” (acting as the foundation while members climb onto them to make shapes); gender and size are wonderfully erased from the equation. In a piece exploring the boundaries of the masculine and feminine, these moments of neutrality are refreshing.

Female-identified company members were the leading voices behind Homage, using their life experiences and other inspirations to explore the murky pool of femininity and gender constructs with their male compatriots. In an hour.

Subvert the system

If you think that’s not enough time to unpack such a complicated subject, you’re right. Homage begs further exploration to avoid accidentally reinforcing stereotypes. In one of the show’s more comedic moments, the male ensemble members hop onstage in head-to-toe bodycon getups to assist a woman picking out an outfit. The trio cheers and waves their arms when they approve of a garment and yank clothes and huff in high-pitched, nagging voices when they disapprove of a choice, like sinister yentas in spandex. But when you have women such as Melissa McCarthy subverting the system by playing White House press secretary Sean Spicer, men wearing dresses and flouncing around seems like base mimicry in comparison. There are more complex examinations of gender to be had, and comedy doesn’t have to suffer for them. 

This and some spoken-word moments are too on the nose, but the Almanac crew’s overall playful approach and daring physicality are delightful and provocative. The ensemble’s momentum and spritely zeal make the molecules in the room pulse. And the wordless choreography, accompanied by thumping music fit for a rooftop party, makes a strong statement about the inherent limitations of gender and ways to break those bounds as well.

While the artists jumped in and tumbled in and out of a sweater and a skirt, Ladytron’s “Seventeen” played on the speakers. The lyrics hit me immediately: “They only want you when you’re 17 / When you’re 21, you’re no fun / They take a Polaroid and let you go, say they’ll let you know, so come on.”

More of that, please. 

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