ArtsHouston Magazine, August 2005
Michele Brangwen Dance Ensemble
Barnevelder Movement Arts Complex
There are two established elements to a performance by the dance troupe gathered around local choreographer Michele Brangwen. One is the insistence on live music performed by live musicians. The second, even more intriguing, element is Brangwen’s insistence the musicians regular not only remain visible onstage but interact with her dancers in visually interesting ways. A third element in a Michele Brangwen piece is often a serious or moving message drawn from contemporary events and social issues. The latter took the day off from her latest creation, a loving tribute to the tango. The other two were in full force.
After an instrumental piece by recurring Brangwen collaborator Arthur Gottschalk (one drawn from his impressions of the rain forest in Belize and featuring two sets of exotic percussions instruments played by Alec Warren against melding-and-molding projected rain forest images), the musicians for Desesperados walked out to claim their instruments. The musicians – bassist Thomas Helton (who composed the music), violinist Vladimir Kotsiouruba and accordionist Greg Harbar were the constants, the stars around which the evening’s three dancers twirled, pitched and rolled. Items changed hands between dancer and player, right along with enigmatic glances, and hands were held or set free. No literal meaning seemed necessary.
Of the program’s five pieces, “Ghost Tango” was the most intense, seeming a meditation on lost love by Helton’s bass and Brangwen, who drew herself sinuously over, under, around and through the musician’s performance space. Yet other sections featuring dancers Deanna Green and Arneita McKinney seemed almost whimsical – especially one performed by all three women as their hair was tossed cinematically by a portable electric fan and a tango danced by the trio together, with one dancer moving inside the “couple’s” stiff demanding arms. An effective literary background for all this music and movement was provided by romantic poems recited in Spanish by actress Sandra Tapia. – John DeMers
Photo Credit: Thomas Helton and Michele Brangwen in “Ghost Tango.” Photo by Graf Imhoof