Bunnies and Bellyswipes, or How Art Deals With Distance.

Everybody Knows This Is Now Here, part of this year’s Capital Fringe Festival, is a multimedia contemporary dance exploration that is the result of a year long Skype rehearsal process between Eliza Larson and Rachel Rugh, of Mountain Empire Performance Collective. Through stories, original sound score, video, and movement Larson and Rugh explore themes such as the Great American Road Trip, the trials of physical and virtual distance on the artistic process, and female friendships. As costume changes, lightening fast chair dances, and an exposition of their creative process (which is extremely cool and we’ll get to that in a bit) unfold you are left touched by their charm and fluidity of movement, but asking yourself, 'now, why didn't I think of that?' (in the best of ways possible).

I first met Rachel Rugh and Eliza Larson early this year when they came through DC to show their collaborative work, the Telephone Dance Project, with the other members of the Mountain Empire Performance Collective, Katie Sopoci Drake and Barbara Tait. Created in 2013,  the collective of women explore "ways of making work beyond geographic limitations”, making use of traditional and modern methods of communication such as Skype, and email as well as telephone calls, and letters through the mail. Distance, which is ordinarily a deal breaker for collaborative dance efforts, has become an integral part of the creative process for these four artists and friends.

"Everybody Knows This Is Now Here" showcases this process exquisitely. Larson and Rugh, with the help of audio and video clips from choreographic collaborators/contributors around the country, intertwine and build upon the phrases that are products of these video chats and telephone conversations. Some phrases that are limited to movement from the waste up, are a result of the barriers of what a computer screen can capture. They give names like “Boob flower”, “Bellyswipe”, and “No no bunny” to gestures as a way to codify their movements so they will translate in their long distance communications. They perform individually developed phrases in unison, and for two woman who’s time together is minimal, they are more in sync than many who rehearse together on the daily; it’s impressive. A walking pattern that turns into a brisk jog, then a run, is so tight and together I am literally on the edge of my seat with fingers crossed that they don’t mis-step (they don’t, at least not by accident).

Their movement is satisfying with just the right amount of gestural exploration to balance out the more refined phrases of releasing, falling, and recovering. Sonic and visual themes are well explored, but varied and not over used. Larson’s long, languid, and breathy phrasing juxtaposes nicely with Rugh’s often quirky, buoyant, and more pedestrian actions. But what resonated with me, the theme that I locked into most, was the theme of friendship and connectivity that was so evident in their work. From the moment Larson and Rugh introduced themselves to the audience, eye to eye with us and one another, their bond was charged and kinetic, turning this evening- length work from just another contemporary dance piece to a meaningful conversation.

By the end of this ambitious undertaking my only regret was that there wasn't more. Not necessarily in length, because 55 minutes is just right for what one can ask many dance audiences to sustain, but in production. I actually wish to see this piece less “fringy”. What would it look like with full production capabilities? There were so many powerful, funny, and touching moments, how could they be more fully realized?

With such a daring yet logical concept of using Skype for a rehearsal process there seem to be no boundaries to what can be created. I’m inspired. There are enough artists in my life, scattered around the country, that I'm just dying to work with again.

Alexis, Jenny, Will, Paulina...what's up? My wheels are already turning...

Everybody Knows This Is Now Here is showing tonight, 7/15, at 9:45 and Thursday 7/17 at 6pm, at the Goethe Institut-Gallery. Put it on your list of Fringe must-sees. Choreographed by Eliza Larson and Rachel Rugh/Empire Dance Collective, and performed by Larson and Rugh with video appearances by Emily Geman and Annie McGhee. Original score arranged and edited by Rachel Rugh, and videography and editing by Eliza Larson.