Lemon Sponge Cake Ballet presented Vertical Migration Experiment at The Dairy Arts Center in their hometown of Boulder on Saturday, March 17th, 2018. This was not the debut of the evening-length work but rather the latest manifestation of the choreographed concept of human migration and displacement. The performance was directly followed by a question and answer session which was attended by the majority of the house and provided pivotal insight into the innovative and challenging production.
Lemon Sponge Cake Ballet is not an archetypal ballet company but rather a creative team that artistically addresses bleeding-edge global and human rights issues. Artistic director Robert Sher-Machherndl, a native of Vienna, Austria was granted permanent residence in the US in 1976 with the status of Alien of Extraordinary Ability. Jenifer Sher, co-founder, producer and executive director of the non-profit organization, is the mastermind behind Lemon Sponge Cake Ballet’s high profile international reputation. Bailey Harper accompanied Robert Sher-Machherndl onstage to bring to life the surreal and unnerving Vertical Migration Experiment.
The show opened with a less than memorable prologue danced by 13 students from the Colorado Ballet’s pre-professional program. The choreography foreshadowed the idea of searching for one’s place on the planet and the repetition of the cycles of humanity. Ms. Harper and Mr. Sher-Machherndl danced on a murky stage ever and again rolling with a hazy fog lit by unobtrusive shafts of light that came and went. At first, with the title of the piece in mind, I imagined the dancers lost in space as their movement portrayed an anti gravity forcelessness that appeared amnesiac and displaced. Considering the lack of color on the stage and on the performers, and the gridlike spatial relationships the two dancers maintained and repeated, I imagined them lost in cyberspace not aware of each other’s existence there but with an unsure perception of another presence. The contact that the dancers made with each other was precisely desperate then at moments hopeful, like a beacon; it was tentative yet caring, and then contact was broken. As the piece began to repeat, I imagined the dancers fighting their way through the inane loop of days, years, centuries, wars, loss, and renaissance. The story did not resolve but rather left one behind while the other forged into the next shaft of light, stage right. They never again ventured to that place they had come from stage left.
Post show, as audience members began to present their questions to the dancers, we learned that the Syrian War, and specifically, the orphaned and missing children inspired and informed the work. A woman in the front row revealed her level of discomfort with the “creepy” nature of the ballet to which the choreographed replied, “thank you, I take that as a compliment.” He shared that the discomfort was intentional and that some of the more bound and restricted contemporary movement was taken from not only scarred and maimed sufferers of catastrophe but also from the limp with which his own father walked.
The more we learned the more deeply personal and compassionate the experience became. Mr. Sher-Machherndl even went so far as to invite the audience to donate or adopt if they were so inclined or equipped to do so. Colorado is not to underestimated in the caliber of artists that it boasts. Be the change.
Shelly Chapple Clements: I was raised in rural Pennsylvania, in Amish Country. I was drawn to the city of Pittsburgh through dance at the young age of 9 and never looked back. My dance education took me from Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre, to the National Academy of Arts in Champagne-Urbana, IL, then back east to graduate from the renowned Pittsburgh High School for Creative and Performing Arts. After high school I enjoyed a professional modern dance career in San Francisco from 1990-2002. I am a master instructor for young dancers and currently teach dance in Highlands Ranch and hold the position of Artistic Director of Youth Programs for DAMAGEDANCE. I have been a Colorado resident since 2002 and earned bachelor’s Degrees in Spanish Interpretation and Translation, Hispanic Literature, and Theatre Dance from Colorado Mesa University, and attended the master’s program at the School of Education and Human Development at University of Colorado Denver. I am an academic teacher for Summit Education Group, a public benefit company offering an alternative education platform as well as an ambassador writer for Presenting Denver where my passion for writing gives voice to the dancer who speaks not on the stage.