Fringe Flashes: Incandescent, Escape, Nations of San Diego

The San Diego International Fringe Festival is taking place downtown through July 2, and it’s a whirlwind of performers, venues, and experiences. In the interest of letting you know about shows when you still have several opportunities to see them, I’ll be doing “Fringe Flashes”—brief impressions rather than deeply thought-out reviews—of whatever I got to in one day. Here’s what I saw yesterday, including my first “Fringe Find.”

Fringe Find: “Incandescent” by Lighthouse Circus Theatre. Lyceum Theatre. I saw Cirque du Soleil early on, before it got over-produced and Vegas-glitzy, and it was magical; it wasn’t just about gasp-worthy circus skills, there was a sense of tapping into the collective unconscious. Lighthouse Circus Theatre delivers that kind of thrill in “Incandescent,” a show that—judging from the crowd last night—is already generating plenty of buzz. Dressed in simple practice clothes and using minimal props (big hoops, a chair, a metal apparatus), the seven performers do contortions to create gorgeous sculptural tableaux (think extreme yoga); they hang from the hoops and spin inside them; they go into handstands on the floor, the chair, and each other.

Brella Lopez manipulated by “puppetmaster” Tari Mannello.

And they create a drama of people struggling to express themselves or connect. Sometimes that’s explicit, for instance, when Brella Lopez (whom I thought of as hip hop girl, moving with strong, clear isolations and robotic moves) curls into a dejected posture and Sarah Shires gives her a “pep talk” via expansive leaps to Andra Day’s “Rise Up”—and the inspiration, not just for this show but for the relatively new company, is to give hope to people with psychiatric illnesses. But the deeper message comes across through the palpable, magical sense of community the Lighthouse creates onstage.

“Incandescent” plays again today, June 28, and July 2.

“Escape” by Shannon Mueller. Centro Cultural. Kudos to Vista-based choreographer Shannon Mueller for creating her first full-length dance, and to her eight dancers, aged 15-19, for their commitment and dancing chops. “Escape” is Mueller’s response to the crazy-busyness of our lives, and elements of this piece capture that feeling—the dancers run in place with piston-like arms, seven of them fence in the eighth with a vivid shoulder-thrusting gesture. Too much of the piece’s message, though, gets delivered via a recorded voiceover that sounds like the thoughts Mueller had as she began to create each section. I wish she had cut the voiceover and trusted her choreographic instincts, which seem solid, to carry the dance.

“Escape” plays again June 27 and 30 and July 2.

Nations of San Diego International Dance Festival. Lyceum Theatre. Now in its 24th year, Nations of San Diego offers a cornucopia of styles, so many that each of the four shows at the Fringe features a different lineup of companies. The costumes alone make Nations a must-see, but there’s also outstanding dance. Last night, I caught dance forms of Mexico, Laos, India, China, Spain, and Ireland (OMG, turbocharged feet!), plus the Hang Ten Hoppers doing Charleston and swing, and raise-the-roof drumming by the Super Sonic Samba ensemble.

The shows coming up (Friday and Saturday) include dances from the Middle East, the Philippines, Slovakia, Polynesia, Cambodia, Serbia, West Africa, and an Spain/India mix.

I also want to give a shout-out to the directors who have kept this event alive. For many years, that was Betzi Roe. This year, Nancy Boskin-Mullen took over and moved Nations to the Fringe Festival, a great way to attract a new audience. Be aware that this show runs 90-100 minutes, so plan accordingly.

Nations plays again Friday and Saturday. (The listing in the Fringe schedule has some errors, so I’m not linking to it.)

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