“Rumblings”: All About the Blues

Kim Surkan enjoyed "Rumblings," the blues-inflected dances performed by Minnesota Dance Theater at O'Shaughnessy Auditorium at the College of Catherine in St. Paul. Through April 9.


From the moment the lights go up on Minnesota Dance Theatre’s production “Rumblings,” the scene is set – we are transported into the world of the blues. The show opens with Kurt Weill’s “Lonely House,” and set and light designers Joe Stanley and Jeff Bartlett have made it look like one, a desolate place that has seen better days.

In “Rumblings,” choreographer Lise Houlton has created a show that is all about the blues, creating dances that are intimately connected to the musical numbers performed live by musicians and singers on stage. The two-hour show features twenty-two pieces set to music by artists including Leonard Cohen, Fats Waller, Stephen Sondheim, and Tom Linker.

Although the musicians and ensemble singers occupy a space at the rear of the stage, Houlton makes the ambitious choice of placing her two vocal soloists, Jennifer Baldwin Peden and Bradley Greenwald, in the center of the action. For the most part, it works – only in a few numbers do the gestures of the vocalists distract from the fluid movements of the dancers. In Leonard Cohen’s “Famous Blue Raincoat,” solo dancer Jennifer Hart and vocalist Peden are set up as mirror images of each other, executing the same movement as Peden sings. Baritone Bradley Greenwald becomes a human pendulum in “The Eleventh Hour,” swaying from one foot to the other alongside dancers Samuel Feipel, Pavel Homko, and Nick Strafaccia.

Not all the pieces are sad or angst-ridden; Houlton includes a humorous number as Greenwald croons Waller’s “Feet’s Too Big,” a tap solo danced (in socks!) by Feipel. Greenwald has an actor’s stage presence that engages the audience, though it occasionally threatens to upstage Feipel’s beautifully executed steps.

Bartlett’s lighting choices in this show are phenomenal, most notably in the conclusion of the first half of “Rumblings,” as he lowers a hanging light nearly to the floor over a solo dancer. The result is a distinct film noir feel, which lends itself to the blues theme.

In the only piece without vocal performance, Mifa Ko and Pavel Homko dance a breathtaking duet in “Night Fantasy” immediately following intermission. Unlike much of Houlton’s other choreography, in which the balletic influence is obvious, the duet is a three-dimensional sculptural work reminiscent of the modern dance company Pilobolus. Ko and Homko turn and balance against each other, fitting together in a series of seamless poses in tune with Linker’s music.

When all the elements are in synch, Houlton can really transport the audience – and nowhere is this more successful than in “Hallelujah,” the men’s quartet danced by Feipel, Homko, Abdo Sayegh, and Nick Strafaccia. Greenwald’s exuberance works in this context, and Bartlett’s lighting creates what can only be described as an eerily spiritual experience as the men circle around a rope suspended from above, lifting and supporting each other in turn.

If there is one dismaying feature of Minnesota Dance Theatre’s latest show, it is only that there were not enough people in the audience to see it – on opening night, there were a significant number of empty seats in the large O’Shaughnessy auditorium. It’s a problem easily remedied, however – the show runs through April 9, so there’s still time to see these Minnesota artists in action.

“Rumblings” is performed by Minnesota Dance Theatre at
O’Shaughnessy Auditorium, College of St. Catherine, in
St. Paul.
April 8-9, 2005,
8 pm,.
$30/$15 students/children. Call