Ah, Love…Can anything new be said about it? From Sappho to Anna Karenina to the latest Hollywood schlockfest — surely we’ve just about covered it by now? And yet, even if the new stories turn out to be just the old ones reloaded, they still hold our attention and delight us as if they were truly revelatory. In the words of the anonymous sage: “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”.
Valentine’s Day is, of course, the ideal occasion to revisit these familiar human dramas, and local choreographer/dancer Kathy Meyers has risen impressively to the task. Apparently she has strong personal reasons for this, the most important being one Tom Leiner, a local musician of note and Meyer’s fiancé.
S/He Loves Me…S/He Loves Me Not is an evening-length performance of surprising variety, in which Meyers and Leiner have summoned their friends and collaborators to present original works on the theme of Love. On the musical side, Leiner offers not only his own talents on voice and guitar, but those of singers Crystal Bray, Kat Williams and Annie Lalley, as well as of percussionist River Guerguerian and violinist Joel Ebel. Meyers’s own company, Moving Women, a mainstay of Asheville’s modern dance scene, serves up the choreography with a little help from special guests dancers Kathleen Hahn, Holly Mason and Erik Moellering, as well as performance artists Claire Barratt and Julie Gillum. This is an impressive line-up of local artists, and the result is good entertainment.
Hands-down the high point of the show is “Skin,” a simple and gorgeous duet between Guerguerian and Mason, who are married. While Mason may not be the strongest dancer in the show, and her husband is apparently no dancer at all, the connection between them on stage is at once powerful and tender — in a way one imagines it would be difficult to fake. Guerguerian plays a massive hand-held drum, from which he evokes an astonishing variety of sounds, while at the same moving it through the air like a strange puppet. Mason at first merely responds to the rhythms, sometimes bearing Guerguerian’s weight and sometimes being borne by him, until eventually the two meet over the drum as if over a small round table or altar. This last image went through the audience like a sea-swell, and was the perfect resolution to the piece. Dance has rarely moved me the way this piece did.
But the show offered many other delights as well — in particular a series of vignettes choreographed by Meyers and performed by Erik Moellering and Kathleen Hahn. Moellering and Hahn portray a couple at various stages of their relationship (from “Attraction” to “Commitment”), and they’re both fantastically funny and skillful performers. Along the way, Meyers herself performs “Ray of Hope” with longtime collaborator and fellow Moving Women member Jenni Cockrell — a lovely duet about friendship.
It’s ambitious — and risky — to put musicians and dancers onstage together. The result is too often to divide the audience’s focus, and S/He Loves Me … S/He Loves Me Not does not entirely escape this fate. Why is it that musicians are so irresistible to watch — even for people who are not musical themselves? Is it the performer’s trance-like concentration? Or is it the interest of trying to match what one hears with the minute technical gestures of playing an instrument? In any event, the staging of S/He Loves Me … S/He Loves Me Not didn’t exactly help, and too often I found myself watching the musicians rather than the dancers. This was at least in part also due to the venue itself: the Masonic Temple is simply not designed for theatrical performances of any but the most traditional kind, and poor lighting only exacerbates the problem.
And yet, it was a sold-out house, and the audience left happy. Above all, one left with a richer sense of the depth of talent in this town, and of the exciting things that can happen when people like Meyers and Leiner come along with an ambitious idea for bringing artists together.