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Moving Poets still stepping to a different beat

By Lawrence Toppman
Lawrence Toppman
Lawrence Toppman is a theater critic and culture writer with The Charlotte Observer.

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  • Moving Poets Reloaded

    Moving Poets returns to Charlotte for its first concert in seven years, doing its unique blend of theater and dance. The program includes the old favorite “Contact” and unseen works “The Left Foot Smile” and “Three.”

    WHEN: 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday.

    WHERE: Booth Playhouse, 130 N. Tryon St.

    TICKETS: $10-$30.

    DETAILS: 704-372-1000 or

“It means whatever you think it means,” said the amiable usher who tore my ticket for the Moving Poets Reloaded concert Wednesday.

That’s not literally true: You couldn’t reasonably decide these pieces commented on the disappearing Amazon rain forest or political censorship in China. But the hints in the program and the oblique nature of the movements left a lot of room for interpretation.

That’s always been the case with Moving Poets, and Charlotte audiences must have missed them: Booth Playhouse looked about three-quarters full Wednesday night at a performance billed as a final dress rehearsal. Co-founder Till Schmidt-Rimpler, back for the Poets’ first local concert in seven years, introduced the show by saying, “If something goes really wrong, and we have to stop, we will.” (Nothing did.)

It’s easier to talk about moods than meanings with Moving Poets. “Contact,” a piece from their earliest days, seems puckish and playful. “The Left Foot Smile,” which Schmidt-Rimpler brought over from Moving Poets Berlin, varied from whimsical to somber. “Three,” choreographed by Sarah Emery (who anchors Moving Poets Charlotte) felt nostalgic and slightly melancholic.

Each offers mixed musical styles, speech and dance steps merging modern traditions. (Schmidt-Rimpler seems to have been studying the repetitive motions and abbreviated gestures of Pina Bausch.)

“Contact” opens with a text inspired by Oscar Wilde, embodied by Robert Lee Simmons as a man spouting aphorisms about art while jogging or bouncing on a tiny trampoline. A painter (Lee Baumgarten on Wednesday) makes tentative strokes on dancers’ clothes or bodies, then applies himself to a canvas that, like the dance, can be read as you like: I saw a head, jaws open, that seemed to be swallowing its surroundings. The dancers finally make contact by sharing a pattern, after free movement and duets.

“Smile” makes you do just that, as eight jaunty dancers move to a disturbingly cheerful song by the South African group Hot Water: The lyrics begin with “There’s a bush fire burning inside my heart” and move to “Burn anudda one to da ground.” Despite some heavier moments, the piece ends up with people standing and walking on chairs as if they couldn’t stay earthbound. The program note credits the eight with “dance, ooomhh and improvisation.” I have no idea what “ooomhh” is, but I’d bet the Poets have it if anyone does.

“Three” is at once the most concrete and elusive piece, with Billy Ensley as its narrator. He takes us back to the heyday of the Blooming Rose Cabaret, when a dynamic woman in red (Emery) lit the joint up, but the speeches written by Katharine Goforth become wandering meditations about time and family. A warm solo by Blake Barnes on handpan (a kind of steel drum) and a percolating score by Brenda Gambill and Gina Stewart supply continuous energy. At last, Ensley concludes with a grin, “I don’t think there is an end.” That could be the Poets’ motto.

Toppman: 704-358-5232
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