Review: Bill Evans Dance, Leo Crandall standouts at Fringe

09:56 PM, Sep 22, 2013

'Impressions of Willow Bay' featured Kathy Diehl, Don Halquist, Leanne Rinelli and Adrian Safar. (Photo provided by Bill Evans)/


Written By Jeff Spevak | Staff music critic

She wore the classic ethereal dress of a dancer, hair pinned properly to the back of her head. He wore a flannel shirt and blue jeans, long hair tied in a ponytail. The Bill Evans dance piece, “The Field of Blue Children,” was created to show a contrast in styles, and that fits the larger dance picture as well at the First Niagara Rochester Fringe Festival.

Dance — and there is an astonishing amount of it — is all over the floors here. The athletic moves of the renowned Garth Fagan Dance, on display all week. The hand-made props and humor of Red Dirt Dance. The multi-platform theatricality of FuturPointe Dance. And Sunday at the Eastman School of Music New Rehearsal Hall, the straightforward, contemporary elegance of the Bill Evans Dance Company.

A visiting dance professor and guest artist at The College of Brockport, Evans presented four pieces, each completely different. “The Field of Blue Children,” the title taken from a Tennessee Williams story, was created by Evans in 1979 for him to perform with Cynthia Gregory of the American Ballet Theatre. The contrast was her classic prima ballerina to his contemporary style. Sunday, Evans sat and watched Vanessa Van Wormer in the role he had written for Gregory, and Ray Harrington Tracy in the role he had written for himself, as they merged the two dance disciplines to solo flute.

In the opening “Octet For Jacquie,” eight dancers accompanied by a six-piece chamber orchestra, was an exciting and busy recent piece, with the dancers one moment moving in concert, the next breaking off into individual orbits, yet almost always expressing themselves in individual, charming movements.

Impressions of Willow Bay,” featuring frequent Evans dancers Kathy Diehl, Don Halquist, Leanne Rinelli and Adrian Safar, was created by Evans in 1977 as a tribute to his love of the Pacific Northwest, where he was living at the time. There is conflict in the piece, but ultimately the quartet comes together, circling the floor arm in arm.

The final dance featured the trio of Van Wormer, Diehl and Rinelli in Evans’ brand new “For Jamie.” And Evans, of course, loosely and elegantly tap dancing across the floor. He may have surrendered his role in “The Field of Blue Children” to a younger man, but he is not one to sit for long.

Crandall the Revelator

Happy accidents make for a successful Fringe Festival. About two dozen people stumbled into one at Bernunzio Uptown Music: Leo Crandall.

The Syracuse singer-songwriter blends a fine aching blues voice with an ear for unusual, arrhythmic arrangements, which suited this trio fine: Crandall on the cello and high-pitched requinto (pretty much a guitar in most people’s books), tribal drum and wash-tub bass.

He opened and closed his performance with Blind Willie Johnson songs, although “John the Revelator” was completely unidentifiable at first through the eccentric wail of the cello, which Crandall often treated as a percussion instrument, slapping the strings with the bow and smacking its body with his hands. “Sorry John and Paul,” Crandall apologized after a similarly disarranged version of The Beatles’ “All I’ve Got to Do.”

No apology necessary. His own songs, like “The Lightning Bugs of August” were filled with marvelous abstractions that made sense. Is that a play on Barbara Tuchman’s history of World War I, The Guns of August? The words are ominous and dark, and frequently spring from offhand remarks or observations. Seeing a woman jogging along the Erie Canal, he explained, led to “Jesus was a Runner,” who was “loping to the sea.”

Crandall admitted he once tried to write songs with a clear idea in mind — including one song that addressed his mother as a victim of incest — but he soon gave up. “I just write them and I figure out what they mean later, if I even get that far,” he said. “Every time I try to think about it, I sort of got in the way.”

I have trouble keeping the ideas out of my songs,” he added, “which makes them over-complicated.”

No vaudevillians harmed

While not strictly adult-oriented, Fringe Fest performances tend to skew toward non-mainstream, edgy entertainment. It meets in the middle with acts such as Flower City Vaudeville, where adults and children are laughing at the same jokes.

The seven-member troupe explored a wide range of vaudeville’s dusty arts at RAPA East End Theatre. Juggling, of course, with Jeff Peden and Rich Simpson performing tandem juggling tricks including the incredibly difficult (they assured us) seven-club pass. Peden pedaled about on a high unicycle, and Simpson brought a charming parade of young children to the stage to try their hands at spinning plates.

Ave Pryntz-Nardworny, also a member of the demanding PUSH Physical Theatre and Cirque de Soleil, offered a dynamic light show in the darkened theater, Dave Paprocki frequently backed the performers with his gadget-filled washboard and Ward Hartenstein’s home-made sound effects devices accompanied his old-time radio play about Hobo Joe, with “loveable janitor” Richard Hughson an unwilling draftee to play Joe. Hughson proves to have more-useful vaudeville skills than his clown persona suggests.

With his “Man on a Hammock” tightrope walk, Ted Baumhauer approaches his task in typical vaudevillian manner, with trepidation and cheerful uncertainty. And you’re surprised when he pulls it off. Despite their unsteady approach to handling flying machetes and cracking bullwhips, no vaudevillian was harmed during the making of this show.

Flower City Vaudeville returns to RAPA at 11 a.m. Saturday.

Urgent Tibetan sand painting update!!!

Calm down, there is no such thing as urgency in Tibetan sand painting. But Katie Jo Suddaby, who’s working on one in the Geva Theatre Café during Fringe Fest, predicts that her painting of a peacock will be completed on Saturday, the festival’s final day. And at about 4 p.m., she’ll sweep it away. Such is the impermanence of life.