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Rochester Fringe Festival, Day 5: "Love at First Waltz" review 

Where is the love?

I think it’s fair to start this blog by pointing out that, by Sunday evening, I was rapidly approaching Fringe burnout. I saw 15 shows over the course of five days, and almost all of them were interesting, entertaining, or a combination of both. But I was tired, y’all, when I took in “Love at First Waltz,” the collaboration between BIODANCE and Rochester Oratorio Society’s Resonanz ensemble at RAPA’s East End Theater. That said, even if I was at my sharpest, I think I still would have had issues with the performance.

The Fringe Festival Guide includes the following description of the show: “Close harmonies, creative dance and cabaret mix when BIODANCE and Resonanz celebrate love in the time-honored traditions of the American Songbook and romantic Austria.” So I was expecting sweeping, romantic movements -- including, you know, waltzes -- set primarily to the elegant, hummable music of the early 20th century. Instead the show spent half of its running time with the 20-something members of Resonanz singing eight movements from Johannes Brahms’s “Liebeslieder Waltzes” -- in German -- followed by just five selections from the like of Cole Porter and George Gershwin, including the quizzical addition of Duke Ellington’s “It Don’t Mean a Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing).” Great song, but what it has to do with an attempt to “celebrate love,” I have no idea.

(The show was also listed to run an hour, but lasted just slightly more than half that. Tickets cost $8-$12.)

While the Resonanz ensemble is made up of many lovely voices, I wondered if the group was too large for the space, or just had too many voices for this project. Diction was a problem throughout the show, especially during the Brahms piece. Yes, it was in German. I couldn’t have understood it even if I could make out the words clearly. But it was just a mush of syllables and harmonies from where I was sitting.

The dance portion of the evening, choreographed by Missy Pfohl Smith for BIODANCE, seemed to have similar issues with crispness. There were some strong moments -- I especially liked the sequence to “If Ever I Would Leave You,” which seemed to my untrained eye to reference women working in factories during World War II. But I couldn’t shake the feeling that the entire piece, both dance and music, was not a fully formed work. Like we were watching a rehearsal.

And sure enough, at the end of the show Pfohl Smith joined ROS’s Eric Townell on stage to tell the audience about BIODANCE’s upcoming fifth anniversary performance in November, which will also feature Resonanz and extended versions of the works shown here. There’s nothing wrong with previews, but I don’t think it’s fair to an audience to not bill a performance as such -- especially when you’re charging for people to watch it. To be blunt, what I saw at “Love at First Waltz” was not ready for public consumption. I suspect that when the actual performance comes in November, both groups will be better rehearsed and ready to master the pieces. But I did not think that this show lived up to the high standards associated with either group.

(On a related note, I strongly recommend that BIODANCE check out Groove Juice Swing or another swing-dance troupe prior to the November show to get a sense of the energy and excitement that defines that dance form.)

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