Dancing through milestones: Alexandria Nunweiler’s ‘Edge Of Aquarius’

Alexandria Nunweiler's 'Edge of Aquarius'. Photo by Liam Kean, courtesy of The Click.
Alexandria Nunweiler's 'Edge of Aquarius'. Photo by Liam Kean, courtesy of The Click.

The Foundry, Cambridge, MA.
January 21, 2024.

Childhood birthday parties, red Solo cup parties of an older age, preteen girls learning to use menstrual products, the first colonoscopy: these are just some of the nearly universal milestones portrayed in Alexandria Nunweiler’s Edge of Aquarius, produced through Boston’s The Click

The show ran on Nunweiler’s birthday weekend (hence, the title, if you know astrological signs). It thus fittingly explored birthdays — their meaning in our lives, how they change throughout the lifespan and more. Yet, the work got a whole lot deeper than balloons, cakes and pointy paper hats (oh yes, there was all of that, too – in spades); it elegantly peered into aging, how we see ourselves as years pass, how past generations live through us and much more. 

Getting into all of that is quite a tall order for one concert dance program. Through elements such as the specific brightly illuminating the universal, and thoughtful integration of theatricality and movement, this one fully met that challenge.  

From fairly early on, it was clear that this show would be as much a theatrical piece as a concert dance one – and that these performers would excel in both areas. Early vignettes portrayed childhood birthday parties: complete with playful competition (“I bet I can do more than you!”), elementary school taunting (“you’re a loser!”) and delightful dashes of humor (with Tony Guglietti’s character exclaiming “there are too many girls at this party!”). 

One memorable moment had an older woman sharing her wisdom on aging with these young ones (proudly taking on the title of “robot” with discussion of having a hip replacement). This theatricality felt like a welcoming access point for audience members – or future audience members – who “don’t like” or “don’t understand” contemporary dance. Yet the dance part of it was also just as accessible and engaging.

Bits of movement – such as rolling on the floor, pencil-shaped, with flashing lights signaling the world blurring and the onset of dizziness (lighting design and technical direction by Lawrence Ware) – vividly colored this childhood picture. Balloons were a central focus of a lovely dance section, with the prop carried through smooth kinetic pathways. The classic “Duck Duck Goose” even made an appearance. 

At times, speech accompanied this movement, a challenge that the ensemble stepped up to with gusto and technical command. Nunweiler, for her part, integrated these two disciplines as smoothly as beaten birthday cake batter. 

At other points, dance and movement were related, yet asynchronous – like two puzzle pieces sitting side-by-side, locking smoothly together. Sandwiched between periods of discussion on her grandmother and her birthday, and her grandmother’s resonating impact, Angelina Benitez danced a solo of both tenacity and softness – not to mention pure heart. Carmen Rizzo danced another solo, one that felt just as invested and honest. 

Amidst vignettes on one character getting her first period and learning to use menstrual products, Benitez and Katrina Conte danced something more high-energy and frenetic: embodying the urgency, confusion, and pure drama of those unforgettable pre-teen moments. Audible breath and a tender embrace between them then tempered the energy in the space – and reminded me that those quieter moments can really be the most special ones.

After an interactive intermission (with Nunweiler seeking out audience members having the same birthday), another party kicked off – an adult (or young adult) one this time. Games and uncertainties of young romance transpired before us. Glowsticks, shot glasses, and red Solo cups brought us right into such an atmosphere. I chuckled at Guglietti’s callback to his earlier line: “there are so many girls at this party!”. 

More sobering was the sound of a ticking clock: resurfacing the idea of the passing of time, and thus inevitable aging, first appearing in the first act. Another memorable solo to that ticking, from Hannah Ranco, embodied both the accented and resonant qualities of those ticks. Both angular and arching lines reflected a clock’s abundance of shapes and angles.

Indeed, while the first act brought forth chuckles and simple aesthetic enjoyment, the second act inspired pondering and reflection. Next in that vein was a home video, classic camcorder style, of Nunweiler and her younger sibling as toddlers. I reflected on the passage of time, and what we pass on to those we help guide through life.   

More striking movement sections next filled the stage. An evocative, vulnerable poem accompanied textured pedestrian movement, the movement quality internal and somewhat heavy. A duet with two of the older cast members (Jody Leader and Linda Spencer) illustrated the heaviness of experience that can set in with passing time. Their deeply invested and aware qualities made that idea fully visceral. 

Repeated phrases, danced to a score with a bittersweet weight to it (“These Candles Grant Wishes”, Parts I and II, by Benjamin Cuba), built the sense of routine and monotony that can set in during the working adult years. Birthdays happen, but there aren’t always cakes or presents wrapped in bright, sparkly paper. It also hit me then just how intergenerational the cast was. That’s only appropriate, it would seem, for a work investigating aging and the lifespan.  

With a drastic shift of tone, a birthday dance party returned – complete with the ensemble throwing confetti all about and a balloon bridge overhead emptying its contents all over the stage. Bringing back a childhood song from the first act, performers sang “are ya one, are ya two, are ya three?” There was a sense of the birthday girl (Katrina Conte) under pressure, of being put on the spot – which birthdays can feel like (it’s life, after all, so it’s not always joyful). 

Lights abruptly cut out, and I thought that this was the work’s final ending – but I was mistaken. A final section had Conte punching at a cake, continuing that idea of the pressure and other less-than-happy parts of birthdays. Ensemble members slowly rose from under balloons and behind set pieces, humming the “Happy Birthday” song (who doesn’t know that one). 

I did wonder if that first ending would have tied it all off in a nice bow just fine (I’m a big “less is often more” proponent). I’d love to see how the final act would feel ending right there. This final ending did, however, build upon the heavier, more internal threads of the last act – and, if there were to be future iterations of this work, I’d love to see some of that colored in with even more depth and texture. 

All in all, Edge of Acquarius managed to illuminate the experience of years going by – marked by birthdays and other milestones – in ways I haven’t seen it illuminated before. A plethora of creative tools joined forces to shine that light. The result was an overarching feeling of joy, it seemed to me – yes, even in the more somber sections, because of the pure beauty and vitality that they offered. If we can’t always experience joy as time passes, maybe we can at least do so on our birthdays. 

By Kathryn Boland of Dance Informa.

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