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Empty Spaces’ latest boundary-smashing performance explores life’s dualities

click to enlarge KRISTEN WHEELER
  • Kristen Wheeler

Division and reunion. Love and war. Destruction and creation. Our lives are tugged every which way by these binaries, but never pegged in one particular place for long, ebbing and flowing or breaking apart altogether, only to form something entirely different.

Empty Spaces Collaboration director and performer John DiDonna's hands are pleasantly messy from the crushing and sifting he's done with Fragment(ed), his genre-bending dance medley which chronicles the disintegration and re-shuffling of various couples across a series of vignettes.

"When we developed our last show, Unspoken, we latched onto that one abstract word – 'unspoken' – and everything fell into place from there," DiDonna says. "So in that way, Fragment(ed) is like a companion piece to Unspoken. I wanted to use that same approach to develop this show, and something about 'fragmented' – the ending of things, the many different parts implied – just stuck with me."

Billed as a "fusion of dance/movement/spoken word/combat/aerial," the show rejects any confines or sensible boundaries heaped upon it. What a happy accident that, in this election season's mounting heat – politicians carving us along party lines – DiDonna's latest work so delightfully tickles the in-betweens of performance art and our everyday lives.

Is it a play? A ballet? Instead of making a definitive choice, Fragment(ed) illuminates the chasms and crooked alleys, the passage from one to the other. Although you can draw tenuous plot threads through it, Fragment(ed) is more an expedition than a storybook, in navigating its dualistic themes and myriad forms alike. Dance builds from ethereal to hostile, erupting into literal fisticuffs, subsiding into soliloquy and back again. DiDonna and his players are staccato and legato, violent and sexy, cognizant of their art's borders while simultaneously dismissing them.

Elemental and spontaneous, just as profound as it is hilarious, you get the impression that Fragment(ed) would exist with or without the audience, occurring like rainwater in the wild. We're just lucky enough to witness the spectacle.

The entire ensemble from Unspoken returns for this one, and newcomers Parris Baker, Leilani Wolfgramm and Jill Lockhart join the fray at the Lowndes Shakespeare Center's Mandell Theater. Longtime collaborator and singer/songwriter Tod Kimbro scores the whole affair with instrumental music and original songs, the latter cobbled together from old musical scraps and breathed into life for the stage. Guitars chirp, beats thump, and a thick bassline – the lithe lumbar column of Kimbro's music – slinks along and ties it all together. Mila Makarova and Bill Warriner helm dance and fight choreography duties, respectively, but the whole cast has a hand in crafting the show's exquisite movements.

"This is a big ensemble, with actors and dancers involved," says Samantha O'Hare, a seven-year veteran with Empty Spaces. "We're all contributing in various ways, blending the boundaries between our roles until the differences are very small. We want to take ownership of this thing."

"Even though I have writing credits for this show, all I did was string the words everyone here contributed," DiDonna adds. "We are not 'Empty Spaces Theater Company,' we're 'Empty Spaces Collaboration': just people meeting and working together."

Art is life and life is art in Fragment(ed), evoking a chicken-versus-egg conundrum of exactly which influences the other. But again, answers aren't what you'll find here. Lovers love and fighters fight, only to exchange hats and live it out all over again. It's gorgeous. It's perplexing. And although you may not recognize exactly what's unfolding on stage, maybe you'll find something familiar in the shadows and empty spaces.


opens 7:30 Thursday, July 12
runs through Monday, July 16
Lowndes Shakespeare Center
812 E. Rollins St.


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