Rochester Fringe Festival, Day 5: "Spection: Intro/Retro" review 

City's dance writer applauds Heather Roffe's latest work

Heather Roffe puts on a good show. One that is entertaining in the manner of the old-fashioned variety shows your grandparents used to watch, but with a cutting edge. A sharp one.

As Fringe wound down Sunday night, Roffe and company performed nine pieces in their dance concert "Spection - Intro/Retro" at GEVA Theatre's Nextstage to an appreciative audience. The choreography is Roffe's and, happily, she appeared in most of the dances, but the other performers were impressive in the talent department, too. Vanessa VanWorker and Roy Tracy each shone brightly in their duets with Roffe.

I was especially taken with "Hier" (2012), a new multi-section piece that is defined in program notes as "an abstract reflection on the societal constructs that divide and distance us from others and ourselves." The sections are connected by their exploration of how people communicate, how their physical interactions - gesture, body language, facial expression - express their intent.

This was especially apparent when Roffe and Tracy performed together, enacting the joys and fears associated with opening yourself up to another human. Roffe's choreography proves her keen eye in discerning body language. Her profound awareness of how we physically express our vulnerability manifested in the hesitation with which Roffe and Tracy initially approached each other, first reaching out only to encircle the empty spaces around the other's body, then, tentatively, allowing more intimate contact. Tracy is a good partner for Roffe - his long, clean lines match her own; his mien of sensitivity balances her strong-purposed movements.

VanWormer's effect is in her earnestness, her precisely executed movements and the deep emotional resonance of her dancing. In a short solo section in "Hier," she appeared atop a pedestal struggling to maintain her balance as she worked through various extensions and positions. Roffe joined her and the two danced together to Schubert in what seemed like a student/mentor relationship. By the end, VanWormer's movements were more assured and when she leaned in toward Roffe, Roffe giving her a shove that I interpreted as a well-meaning push toward independence.

Humor runs like a golden thread through Roffe's choreography. She is able to illuminate for us just how silly, even foolish, we often are. She is able to make us laugh at ourselves, and do so easily. In Sunday night's performance, there was a running elevator scene in which the dancers improvised boarding a crowded elevator. Complete with costumes and props, the performers stepped into the "elevator," encountering their fellow riders with distaste, friendliness, or annoyance. The audience related with unrestrained laughter to the comedy inherent in this universal scenario.

Roffe's long dance career includes years of performing nationally and internationally with Garth Fagan Dance Company, with Bill Evans Dance Company and, more recently, with Futurpointe Dance Company, of which she is also a co-director. Last month she began a new position as director of the dance program and assistant professor at Nazareth College.

I spoke with Roffe before Fringe began last week and she expressed excitement about the festival and its outcome. "I feel like dance is always on the fringe," she said. "That's where dancers live, in the margins of the entertainment world. Hopefully, Fringe will help to build audiences."

Maybe it already has.

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