Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.
Choreographer Jane Comfort and her modern dance company performed two striking works to a packed LPAC in a performance supported by the Cooper Foundation. Though the pieces differed in many ways, they shared a visceral energy and a real direct expressiveness through movement.
The first piece, “Fleeting Thoughts,” was marked in the program as “a work in progress.” In the question and answer session following the performance, Comfort said that it was the first time the company had presented the dance to an audience, and in its full form it would be a full evening piece. In its current form, it is true to its title; a disjointed series of engaging dances with some vague thematic connections. A dancer struggles across the stage, only to fall to the floor. Hands mysteriously appear from the wings. Though many of the episodes were individually interesting, they failed to build to an effective conclusion. Several audience members remarked on this after the performance.
The second, longer, work, “Underground River,” dates from 1998. The four dancers- three women and one man- portray the inner life of a girl in a coma. We hear her doctor and parents speaking to her in the form of recorded voices, and the dancers portrayed her reaction. Sometimes this was quite literal, such as when she blinked, and sometimes more metaphorical.
One of the strongest sections of “Underground River” required the dancers to manipulate a tiny but extremely expressive puppet. A section with paper birds also remains notable, and the finale was emotionally wrenching. In the question and answer session, Comfort described the work as “magic realism.”
Both works required the dancers to sometimes speak disjointed phrases; they often also sing a capella. The music, mostly wordless oohs and ahs, was mostly effective, though the vocals in “Fleeting Thoughts” sounded somewhat under-rehearsed. Composer Joan La Barbara’s minimalist piano music was used well in “Fleeting Thoughts,” set to a magical duet.
Throughout both works, Comfort created a highly expressive language of movement, expertly performed by the ensemble of six dancers, and enhanced by David Ferri’s lighting and Liz Prince’s costumes. In the question and answer session, Comfort emphasized that the company’s choreography was collaborative, and not only her work. She, however, is the director and writes the texts.