Props can be more than shape and function. In the context of a performance, they can take on multiple meanings and increase their effect. That is what Arlington-based choreographer Jane Franklin attempted Sunday at Dance Place. In "Scape Vietnam," dancers manipulated bamboo in various forms to imply limits, shared burdens and interdependence. Unfortunately, the props took over the show and damaged the work's considerable potential.
Jane Franklin Dance has performed sections of "Scape" over the last two years, but this was the premiere of the work in its four-section entirety. It successfully draws on Vietnamese culture, creating a serene mood with dappled lighting, persimmon-colored cotton costumes and Vietnam's rich sound palette of gongs and strings. Bamboo, a common material of the Vietnamese countryside, is the prop of choice.
Much in the same way that bamboo naturally proliferates, "Scape" overproduces an abundance of falling over, crawling under, stepping in, cradling and passing of bamboo balls, shoots, hoops and sticks. In the end, the bamboo loses its magic and the work's simplicity becomes threatened.
While the overall look of the piece is distinctive, its progression is disappointing. Movements are humdrum, consisting of basic lifts, shifts, bends and extensions. What seems spare and attractive in the first section becomes repetitious by the last.
Yet with all its faults, "Scape" often seems a splinter away from being transporting. The overall concept of community interaction is rich. The Vietnamese music is used wisely, as background and to set mood (rather than for its meter and structure). A snapshot of the stage at any one moment would show good design. The work has potential, and that, perhaps, is what makes the work's inability to rise above persistent pleasantness so annoying. The level of satisfaction doesn't meet the amount of anticipation.
Were Franklin to recast her work with the spareness that the busy choreography and props try so hard to imply, she could get closer to the truth of the human interactions this work is about.