Review: Variations on Exchange

The month of April saw two weekends of ‘Variations on Exchange’, an evening of dance choreographed by Webster University graduate, Ashley McQueen produced by AnonyArts. performed in the unique Satori space on Locust, the show gave an up-close-and-personal experience of the wonders of structure, musicality, and expression.


Yes! There is an awesome performance space hidden in this picture

Yes! There is an awesome performance space hidden in this picture

I know what you’re thinking, ‘wait, weren’t you IN that show, Jess? How can you possibly review a show where you performed?” Don’t doubt me, friends. I’m just that good.

The show presented an array of six pieces and I was in one. Luckily, I was able to see a run-through (albeit whilst stretching these old hamstrings) of the other five.

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The show opened with the most traditional of the works, set to classical Vivaldi music with a group of women clad in black or white tutus with sports bras. The choreography demonstrated a nice understanding of classical stage formations and showcased both ballet and contemporary vocabulary done with enough repetition and variation that the piece had a sense of construction and character without being narrative. It was a smart opener.

Next was ,’One and Another’ a duet danced by McQueen and Webster University dancer, Tayler Kinner. Here, the ‘exchange’ theme of the night really came through. The partnership between these two wonderful performers showed both strength and vulnerability, and offered ideas of relationship. I saw the two as sisters.

Third was Ashley’s solo, ‘Single Conversations’. It was truly a showcase of her incredible physical capabilities- and extraordinary shoulder-joint rotation- and even more so, a demonstration of the intelligence behind motif and progression of a piece. Her playful quality with musicality was a delight. It was just unfortunate that the first 2/3 of this solo took place on the ground because anyone not sitting in the first two rows might have had trouble seeing her. While the music was entertaining  and livened things up, I didn’t see the connection between the movement and the choice of song.

Fourth was ‘M R S’, danced by Christy Aumiller, Sarah Starkweather, and Ellen Vierse, each with two chairs. The three women wore matching blue leggings with high-necked nude silky sleeveless button-ups. The look was somehow conservative and feminine, wild and masculine at the same time- much like the piece. Each dancer brought an individual personality and quality to the piece, crazed, calculated, cautious. The were captivating in solos and breath-taking in group work. The contrast within this piece was well done; I enjoyed the exotic flair of the music while the women seemed to represent something closer to home. This was a complete piece, with choreography that was at once innovative to the eye and relatable within the heart.

Then came ‘With Reverence’ .There were four corps girls and one soloist. And lots of candles and incense. I know for sure that we smelled the best on stage.

Last was the much-anticipated wall piece, ‘Abve Dissent’. Three women slowly peeling themselves away from separate places on the wall, to find a harness swing down to meet them, hook themselves up and then take turns hooking up with each other, climbing, swinging, and flipping. Cheyenne Phillips was graceful and aloof, seamless in transitions, and picture-perfect even in movement. Tyra Kopf seemed to take the most risk in the piece; she seemed to be upside-down most often and would fling herself with ferocisty into movement. Closest to the audience was Tayler Kinner, who brought a youthful innocence to her performace and cat-like landings on to the wall. It was a beautiful and exciting piece where you could still see choreography, musicality, and dancing within what would be an easy flashy ending to the show.This was a piece where the nuance and possiblities of movement were heightened by creativity and exceptional performance more than tricks.

Absolutely amazing photography by Optik House

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Overall, the show had a nice range of visual spectacle. There was variance int he style and color o the costumes, the number of dancers onstage, lighting, and use of additional props such as chairs, burning candles, and swinging harnesses. even within a small space, Ashley changed focal point within pieces- emphasizing a diagonal towards the downstage left corner in one piece, the downstage right in another, the back and upward mobility in the wall piece, the center and floor in her solo. She made each piece feel like it was an individual expression, located in diverse situations, populated by different characters, of a central running theme.

What I can say with certainty about the show is that it generated a lot of excitement- from the dancers backstage, warming up together, marking things in the basement- to the audience post-show. Everyone in the show seemed genuinely excited to be a part of something we could all tell was quite special. It was great to come out to greet the audiences and hear so much happy chatter. People wanted to actually TALK about the work, to engage their own thoughts and responses. It seems the variation of exchange extends beyond the stage, which is probably exactly what Ashley set out to accomplish.

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