In their Maine debut, Monica Bill Barnes & Company opened the performance season at Bates Dance Festival on Saturday evening.

The performance was refreshing, accessible and technically superb, with an intellectual elegance that never faltered. In a dance world that sometimes crosses the line between serious and grim, Barnes’ style is believable and very human.

The program included “Here We Are,” a solo for Barnes; “Mostly Fanfare,” a work in progress that will premiere in its finished form at Jacob’s Pillow later this month; and the longer work “Another Parade.”

“Here We Are” was the most moving. In a simple A-line skirt and dressy white sweater, Barnes looked like Everywoman as she danced to “Wild is the Wind,” sung by Nina Simone.

As Simone touchingly begged for love, so did Barnes, dancing with an imaginary partner and evoking the frustration and anger of loneliness. Thoroughly absorbed in the piece’s movement and emotion, she maintained striking dramatic tension throughout.

Whereas “Here We Are” called to mind love and loneliness, “Another Parade” explored the phenomena of seduction and performance, in original ways.

It opened with Celia Rowlson-Hall dancing across the Sarabande from Bach’s Cello Suite No. 4. In contrast to the slow, resonant cello, Rowlson-Hall’s movements were strong and somewhat disjointed, a juxtaposition that worked brilliantly.

She seemed to test the water, tentative in her sweeping and staccato moves, and then looking to two imaginary viewers for approval. Finding approval in one corner but not the other, she resorted to baring her abdomen and shoulder, with a perfectly seductive pout.

Rowlson-Hall was joined by Barnes, Anna Bass and Charlotte Bydwell, who developed these themes, while the music changed to James Brown’s “Get up (I feel like being a) Sex Machine.”

Evocations of seduction and approval-seeking became harsher, with a snarling, grinning parody of the stereotypical cat’s meow, and shadowboxing when approval wasn’t forthcoming. A breezy, innocent interlude to Dionne Warwick’s “I’ll Never Fall in Love Again” ended with struggle in a Bach reprise.

It was pleasing to see the lyrics acknowledged by the choreography, and the songs played in their entirety. To James Brown’s “It’s a New Day So Let a Man Come in and Do the Popcorn,” the dancers stomped and clapped to Brown’s recorded requests. Bydwell was a powerful “Polk Salad Annie” when the music segued to Tony Joe White’s classic, with a bright smile for the audience as her thick blond ponytail flew around her head.

“Another Parade” closed with the dancers entering the house and picking out young men to bring on stage, to the audience’s delight, and then throwing mounds of brightly colored confetti.

Throughout the piece, the ordinariness of the dancers’ costumes — simple knee-length skirts and cowl-neck sweaters — drew connections between the onstage action and real-life striving and awkwardness.

“Mostly Fanfare” explored similar themes: performance, approval and self-awareness. The dancers wore jarringly large feathered headpieces, with much of the choreography showing them as a burden, perhaps symbolizing the potential artificiality of performance.

The movement was alternately awkward with intentional missteps, and elegant with powerful turns and balances. There were also comedic elements and circus-like stunts: Bydwell carried a tall stack of packing boxes after they were thrown inexplicably onstage, and she, Barnes and Bass balanced chairs in their mouths, looking like circus swans with their white feathers swaying.

Throughout the program, Barnes & Company pierced the invisible curtain between stage and audience, through facial expression, movement and theme, and served up a heaping portion of entertainment.


Jennifer Brewer is a freelance writer, teacher, musician and dancer who lives in Saco.