Fringe Festival Takes Flight with Nichole Canuso Dance Company at the APS Museum

RETURN RETURN DEPARTURE considers the fleeting nature of time and the human compulsion to capture it, and there can be few more poignant examples than an ephemeral dance duet at sunset, videotaped for posterity by the performers themselves. The bittersweet work by Nichole Canuso Dance Company was commissioned by the American Philosophical Society to complement its current exhibition by artist Antonia Contro of Chicago, TEMPUS FUGIT: TIME FLIES.

Nichole Canuso Dance Company APSThe age-old concept for the APS’s interdisciplinary programming dates back to the well-known quotation from the 1st-century-BC Roman poet Virgil. It’s a theme of monumental importance, with references to geological epochs, meteorological changes, Darwinian evolution, the Christian dogma of creation and eternity, and an underlying memento mori theme—the omnipresent “remembrance of death” that has haunted humanity from time immemorial.

Contro’s museum exhibition intersperses her original art and videos with historic artifacts from the APS collection, correlating not only their subjects, but also their shapes and colors. It is a well-conceived show, both intellectually and visually. A sound installation by Contro and Lou Mallozzi, entitled “breath,” aurally evokes both respiration and the turning of pages, augmenting the show’s leitmotifs of the brevity of life, the passage of time, and their documentation in writing.

Also on display in the exhibition are silent video projections of Nichole Canuso and her RETURN RETURN DEPARTURE dance partner John Luna (freelance dancer/choreographer/video designer and company member of Brian Sanders’ JUNK), documenting their interpretive performances inside the gallery and outdoors in the APS Jefferson Garden, where the musical compositions of Michael Kiley accompany them and the bells of Independence Hall chime to mark the hours. With each live show, the newly shot videos will be added, to evidence the changes that come with the seasons (the Fringe Festival dance duets will be restaged in October, November, and December) and to record the dancers’ ever-changing audiences.

Canuso’s sensitive choreography beautifully conjures the interconnectedness of nature and human nature, and the alterations that have, over the centuries, transformed the site of Jefferson Garden, where Dock Creek once flowed. The dancers roll, run, and flow like the water, their repetitions of movements and gestures recall the cycles of time and the redundancies of our daily routines, and their grey costumes by Tara Webb harmonize with the river rocks they displace and then use to construct cairns to immortalize their evanescent presence. When Canuso is physical and earthy, Luna is ethereal and air-bound; they perfectly combine and contrast the concrete with the abstract, and serve as a telling metaphor for the stones that outlast the lives of people and the time that soon removes us from our corporeal existence.

RETURN RETURN DEPARTURE is heady and exquisite, moving and evocative. It’s a show that you’ll want to see evolve over time, so plan to visit more than once, as the summer turns into autumn and the videotapes accumulate. The audience, too, is invited to leave its mark, by placing stones on the garden’s patio and pressing flowers in a book, using the forms of nature to document our human impact on the universe and to pass our memories on for the future. [American Philosophical Society] September 5–21, 2012,

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