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Hope Stone Dance attacks domestic captivity: A corporate drone & a dowdy house dress make a day of it

Hope Stone Dance attacks domestic captivity: A corporate drone & a dowdy house dress make a day of it

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"Bread and Circus" rehearsal by Hope Stone Photo by Simon Gentry
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Promo for Hope Stone's "Bread and Circus" Photo by Simon Gentry
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Hope Stone artists rehearsing "Bread and Circus" Photo by Simon Gentry
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Jane Weiner and David Neumann in "A Day of It" from Hope Stone Dance's "An Evening of Bread and Circus" Photo by Simon Gentry
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"Now what is it that keeps us together?" wonders the dour couple in Jane Weiner and David Neumann's, poignant duet, a day of It (2004), as part of Hope Stone Dance's "An Evening of Bread and Circus," at Barnevelder Movement Arts Complex. They trip through the rituals of domestic captivity like players in a deadpan dirge, re-enacting gestures of affection, some predictable, some curiously animalistic, which proves to be a compelling thread running through the dance.

Neumann, director of Advanced Beginner Group in New York, and Weiner have a long history in motion together and it shows in this delicately crafted dance.

The Mr., a once-dapper corporate drone, stumbles through his duties, while the Mrs., donning an epically dowdy house dress, scurries about the house, which just happens to appear thanks to a robotic white suited team of furniture movers. They hang their coats on an imaginary coat rack, undisturbed by the existence of gravity that lets their coats fall to the ground. A day of It plays with ideas of a post-dead marriage, a pair of sleepwalkers stuck in the parade of daily chores of living, like retrieving the mail like a pair of retrievers.

Little things excite them, offering momentary stirrings out of their somnambulistic trance. He loves forks, while she comes alive in a pre-dinner prayer. The two time Bessie-winning Neumann delivers a wonderfully nuanced performance, with such modulation of effort we almost hold out hope for him. Weiner, one of Houston's best actor/dancers, also shows us emotional shades of coming in and out of aliveness.

It may sound dreary, but it's as hilarious as it is tragic. Weiner and Neumann are experts in knowing how to pull back the reigns on the comedy, leaving the sting intact. 

In the end though, they come apart. The Mr. crawls under a rug returning to a more primal state, while the Mrs. hides under the kitchen table. The cleaning crew arrives, stripping the stage/cage bare, including the white tape border, perhaps the only thing tethering them to their vacant lives.

Are they set free? Or maybe, there just won't be another day of it. 

A day of It was sandwiched between two other works, which were remarkably similar in structure. Bloom where you are planted, created for the capable dancers of Houston Ballet II, took its time to get started. Like most of Weiner's work, a sense of community is established before the dancing begins. Bloom contained one really clunky prop, cinder blocks, that the dancers logged around a bit too long. Once the dancing gets going, Weiner shows off  both the performance and technical skills of these young dancers.
 
Innocence, first love and trust, were some of the ideas tossed in the air by this promising troupe, which includes Guillaume Basso, Chunwai Chan, Francesca Forcella, Dylan James Lackey, Jacquelyn Long, Sareen Tchekmedyian, Kumiko Tsuji and Harper Watters.
 
Weiner's set — change is inevitable — was originally created for HB II. Like the previous work, the piece starts off with whimsical antics involving a fountain of pennies that end up in their pockets, the floor and flying across the stage. The pennies work considerably better than cinder blocks, creating cool rhythms and motion as they drop, spin and roll. Eventually, the piece bursts out into a thicket of full-throttle dancing, chock full of near miss partnering, and space gobbling ensemble work, all performed on a stage strewn with hundreds of pennies.
 
The company — JoDee Engle, Patrick Ferreri, Spencer Gavin Hering, Courtney Jones, Catalina Molnari, Joseph Modlin, Candace Rattliff and Brit Wallis — is showing more cohesion all the time.
 
Weiner, a fearless advocate of arts education, ended the evening with a plea to save the arts in the schools and a threat to redo the piece with quarters. The show continues Friday and Saturday night at Barnevelder.