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GALA Theatre at Tivoli Square

Remaining Performances:

Thursday, July 18, 6 p.m.

Saturday, July 20, 7:30 p.m.
Wednesday, July 24, 9:45 p.m.
Saturday, July 27, noon

They say: “Ballet with a fresh twist. 2012 Fringe Audience Award winner MOVEiUS premieres Big River, featuring music by the Man in Black. From sophisticated to spicy, classical to quirky, this athletic mixed-repertory program walks the line between classical and contemporary.”

Alexis’ Take: In an interview for American Songwriter Magazine shortly before he died, the one and only Johnny Cash gave this advice on crafting a song: “Write as clearly and plainly as you can… and try to convey your feelings in a simple, honest and straightforward way.” So I imagine Cash would be pleased to learn, from whatever perch he and June occupy atop the heavenly Nashville skyline, that Diana Movius’s ensemble took a similar approach with Big River, setting simple, honest movements to his soulful, fiery music.

Cash defied the country/western musical genre in much the same way that these dancers try to defy ballet. And some stabs are more successful than others—- this could have done with more creative costuming than jeans and black shirts with a red bandana, which really feels more Born in the U.S.A. than “A Boy Named Sue.”

Big River is not the most cutting-edge, eye-popping dance work you’ll ever see. Choreographer Kimberly Parmer fares better when she’s digging into a touching, slow love song like, “First Time Ever I Saw Your Face,” which features Sarah Waldrop moving in slow, subtle ripples across the stage like a calmer stretch of the mighty Mississippi  (what’s that? Is someone chopping onions nearby?).

Where the mediums tend to misfire is on Cash’s more aggressive rallying songs, like “Folsom Prison Blues” and “God’s Gonna Cut You Down.” The forcefulness of the lyrics don’t gel with these light and airy turns, nor with the smiling expressions the dancers seem to have been directed to leave on.

The members of the troupe appear to vary in their levels of talent, training and athletic ability. Standouts Olivia Sabee and Catherine Roth are so graceful and effortless in the ensemble pieces that you can’t help but follow them rather than the group. But there’s a genuine delight emanating from everyone onstage that’s hard to resist. Cash is beloved for a reason, and even if we don’t quite get there, it’s a pleasure to walk the line toward new territory. (Another gem? Shelley Siller’s almost compulsively toe-tapping “Get Rhythm”).

Finally, a heads up on the program structure: Big River is the final piece in a lineup of four, so the Cash doesn’t show up for a good half hour. It’s an understandable maneuver by MOVEiUS to sneak in other new works before giving us what we really came for—-and I am the last one to hate on Franz Schubert—-but be forewarned. You may get antsy.

See it if: You want to support an enthusiastic local dance troupe getting its experimentation on. Or if you’re such a big Cash disciple that you’ve seen this Columbo episode MORE THAN ONCE.

Skip it if: You can’t bear to sit through the non-Cash choreography.