Melanie Rockwell and Jonathan Monroe
Melanie Rockwell and Jonathan Monroe Credit: Shelby Kroeger

RE|Dance’s 75-minute epic starts out auspiciously. A single dancer appears in front of a luminous white 13-foot-tall origami crane serenely poised on a high platform, one long, slender wing sloping elegantly to the floor. The bird’s sheer size skews our perception just enough that we imagine the dancer as a puny, fragile
little baby bird teaching itself to walk. Choreographer Michael Estanich’s focus on birds makes sense—a bird, after all, is the ideal mover, and it’s oddly stirring to picture a dancer envying the creature its ability to migrate mind-boggling distances winter after winter.

Alas, there’s more. The paper bird is also a ship, the nine dancers also conquistadors. A colonization narrative develops through hand movements that slice and measure, inspired by cartographers’ tools. But Estanich doesn’t find a way to build on that; while the dance has three named sections—”Discovery,” “War,” and “Transcendence”—the third recycles imagery from the second, flattening the contrast and suggesting that warfare and worship are much the same thing. Estanich further bogs himself down in an enormous theme, that of the world on the precipice of spiritual meltdown and environmental pandemonium. Yet though the dancers often throw themselves down, nowhere do we get the feeling of being on the edge of anything. Instead the emblem that filters back to me is this: a woman standing ramrod straight jams her forearms through the armpits of the woman in front of her so that when the second woman drops her weight, she’s braced in a pleasant-looking seated position. There’s no falling here, only sitting.