It's a juxtaposition that in many ways goes to the core of the heartland American experience...McIntyre's works speak to the great unknown within all of us; sometimes with a deep resonance, other times, with a flirty wink and a knowing nod...It could be a scene out of Martin Luther's greatest nightmare...the seductive power of the church keeping a strangehold on otherwise simple worshippers. The push and pull between the people and the church is aptly embodied in the costuming and the dance.
Go Out is an ambitious 30-minute work that begins and ends with death. In 11 sections that fluently follow one another, we glimpse the secrets, fears and passions of the group that is discovered mourning for a man lying downstage. Towering above him, as the lights come up, Roper is an implacable, proud figure in a crimson gown, who stalks offstage calmly, leaving the rest to cope with what she has wrought.
Sandra Woodall’s costumes evoke the 1930s Dustbowl, or a generic vision of simple, hard-living folks. Bluegrass tunes, with their captivating rhythms, provide part of the score, but McIntyre has mixed in oddly disturbing recordings of church services and fervent preaching. Couples meet and court warily, and Roper, who manages to sustain a vivid presence without turning her difficult role into a caricature, looms nearby. The dancing has a robust, at times desperate force, and, even though the women are in pointe shoes, much of it has a modern-dance flavor.
When four couples share a rare moment of celebration to the glorious sounds of the Sacred Harp Singers, Roper suddenly appears within their circle. There’s no escaping her from that point on. She asserts her dominance in a commanding solo, and then claims the innocently youthful Jon Michael Schert. A craggy voice sings, asking to be spared for one more year; but there is no mercy—Schert’s lifeless figure slides out from under Roper’s skirt.
Death is a red peacock of a dancer, in the world but not of it. Choreographed for the festival by Trey McIntyre, "Go Out" is as much about the themes snaking through old-time bluegrass and spiritual music as it is about the movement on stage. The title of the piece speaks to souls leaving the world."
Dressed in vintage clothes, the dancers leapt and loved their way through life. They mourned a dead friend, they wooed one another. When Alison Roper appeared as Death on stage, the tone of the dance didn't change much. Life simply went on. Dressed in a sleek red ball gown cut away in the front, she moved with grace and purpose, beautiful and apart and ominous. Sleight of hand here, steely look there, she harvested souls with impersonal poise.
Everything changed with her solo to Ralph Stanley's "I'll Remember You in My Prayers." An incongruous song for a dance by death, but this is no stereotypical grim reaper. With arms swinging and legs stomping in a pagan almost-tantrum, she showed desire and lust for what she could never have: life.
Still, she was a sneaky bitch - part siren, part warden - stepping between couples and moving one off to the side, toward their demise. But towards the end of the piece she was dancing with them, too, in fleeting moments, unable to help herself. She, too, knows about appetite, about need.
The 11-song dance ended in a crescendo of Stanley's "O Death." Joined by company member John Michael Schert, Roper egged him on. Her movements made promises, but despite moments of surrender, he never gave himself over completely. It didn't matter; Death was in control. In this divine game of cat and mouse, only one creature can reign. Few are ever ready to cross that line. And so in a whirl of hope and despair, Schert was sucked into Death, only to be belched out an inert corpse at the feet of the viciously beautiful monster
The audience was both stunned and appreciative, and stood in ovation of the dance troupe.