Solo artists offer up unique dance-themed pieces at Capital Fringe Festival


Emma Crane Jaster, creator of “To Know a Veil.” (Aaron Fisher)

Fringe is freedom to do your own thing, as two young D.C.-based performers are proving this month. Brynn Tucker and Emma Crane Jaster are both under 30 and bringing original dance-themed pieces to the stage, Tucker with “A Guide to Dancing Naked” and Jaster with her cross-cultural exploration “To Know a Veil.”

“I won’t be getting naked,” the cheerful Tucker says right off the bat. “The number one rule of dancing naked is never get caught.”

Tucker, a native of the District’s Maryland suburbs and a graduate of Atlanta’s Spelman College, is becoming a regular fixture on Washington area stages. She has appeared with Synetic Theater about a half-dozen times, most recently in “The Three Musketeers.” She has also acted at Ford’s Theatre in the recent “Our Town” and with Forum and Constellation theaters.

Tucker briefly refers to body issues as underlying “Dancing Naked” but it doesn’t sound like it’s going to be an especially heavy show.

“I just wanted to share this,” she explains over coffee in Mount Pleasant. “It’s about self-acceptance, actively accepting yourself as opposed to just looking in the mirror and saying, ‘I love myself.’ When you move comfortably in your body, it’s a different kind of acceptance.”

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She studied theater at Spelman and started taking dance there. She also worked with an improvisational troupe in Atlanta, where the company was a mix of actors and dancers. When Tucker came back to the Washington area after school, someone told her about Synetic. The demanding movement-based troupe, filled with muscular, acrobatic performers, sounded “right up my alley.”

“I’ve always been very athletic,” Tucker says. “And working for Synetic also takes a certain kind of personality, a creative, competitive but unselfish drive. You see somebody and you go, ‘Wow, look what they’re doing! I want to do that. What do I need to do to do that?’ ”

So doing a solo show at Fringe is a way to get Washington to see her in a different light, right? Nope. She’s moving to California next spring, after gigs with Forum Theatre and Bethesda’s Imagination Stage. Tucker has friends who are working in Los Angeles, and she wants to take her shot at film.

“If I push enough buttons, something will happen,” she says optimistically. And if she’s turned down a lot at first, at least she’ll have her solo show to work on as solace.

“There could be a lot of naked dancing,” Tucker says with a laugh.

Unveiling questions

Jaster’s “To Know a Veil” came about when she went to Morocco two years ago because her French visa had expired. She was in Paris for a four-month workshop in the kind of dance-movement-theater style that’s more European than American, and as she worked out her travel issues she spent three weeks in Morocco.

One long day in the desert, Jaster lifted a scarf over her head for some shade. It cooled her right away. She let it fall over her face. It was sheer enough to see through. She felt protected, even “like a princess.”

“I am a Western woman, I grew up with [a] very feminist mother, and I’m a dancer, so my body is one of my primary tools for expression,” Jaster explains over coffee in Bloomingdale. Even though she had also spent time in rural India dressing as the locals dress, “Morocco was so much more overwhelming than I had expected. The covering was just way more extreme, and more consistent.”

Jaster was knocked off stride by her response to the full black garb demanded of women living in desert heat.

“I realized once I was back here that it’s because I live in the opposite extreme,” she says. “And the opposite extreme is just as upsetting to me, living in a culture of cleavage on billboards and everything sold through sex. I see my friend’s little sister, age 11, in booty shorts and an ‘I Am Sexy’ T-shirt. What is going on?

She worked up a 10-minute solo piece and now has expanded “To Know a Veil” into a longer affair featuring herself and four dancers. Music will be supplied by the D.C. beatmaster known as Unown (pronounced “Unknown”), with compositions by Jaster’s fiance, Matt Pearson. The show will feature interviews she recorded with women she found in the Washington area, a group that includes a young Mennonite and a woman she eventually Skyped with from Egypt.

Jaster comes by her instincts honestly: her dad, Mark Jaster, is the graceful clown prince of Happenstance Theater, and her mother, who died in 1997, was a founding member of Street 70, which eventually became the Round House Theatre. Mark Jaster is now married to fellow Happenstance performer Sabrina Mandel.

“This is second nature to me,” Emma Jaster says of the dance-theater blend that has led her to recent gigs performing (“Young Robin Hood” at Round House) and choreographing (“Our Class” for Theater J, “Gilgamesh” for Constellation Theatre).

So doing an original show at Fringe is a way to get Washington to see her in a different light, right? Nope. Turns out she’s moving to California in a few weeks, as Pearson enters a design program in San Francisco.

That San Francisco has a circus school nearby makes Jaster feel good about the whole place. Circus, she says, is unapologetic about spectacle and beauty for its own sake. This leads her back to “Veil” and how some creative advisers keep asking her what exactly is the point?

She knows the issues in “Veil” are fraught with politics and psychology, but she says, “It’s actually most important to me that I’m not making a point of my own. All the great philosophers are always saying, I don’t need the answers; I just need to learn to ask the right questions. And,” she says, lapsing into a comically harried voice, “there are so many questions to ask!”

A Guide to Dancing Naked

written and performed by Brynn Tucker. At Gearbox on July 14, 16, 19, 21, 23, 27.

To Know a Veil

conceived by Emma Crane Jaster.

At Warehouse on July 11, 14 and 17.

Part of the Capital Fringe Festival, Thursday through July 28.

Visit capitalfringe.org.

First Post byline, 1992; covering theater for the Post since 1999. His book "American Playwriting and the Anti-Political Prejudice" will be published by Palgrave Macmillan in 2014.
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