Rolling Along

There is an old saying: "In a world full of caterpillars, it takes balls to be a butterfly." If this is true, Bounce's founder and choreographer, Eva Dean, must have grown colorful wings and burst from a cocoon the day her dazzlingly imaginative production first premiered at the 2002 International Fringe Festival. Since then, this full-length dance piece featuring five talented young ladies, one extraordinary founder and choreographer, and a horde of assorted bouncing balls has really been on a roll. Currently playing at Midtown's Dance Theatre Workshop, Bounce opens with tiny balls whizzing back and forth across a black stage while changing in color and growing in size. Soon the little balls are replaced by large ocean-blue ones, which are quickly pursued by young ladies who throw their bodies upon them, rolling to the floor like waves crashing to the shore. They repeat this movement until the visualization becomes as calming and meditative as a real ocean's ripple.

From here, Bounce keeps its audience guessing by branching off into a variety of skits, each with its own unique characteristics, styles, and themes. One piece, called "Playground," stars three girls playing with their bright red balls. Two scheming bullies clad in preppie pastel colors approach with their polka-dotted ones. A fight then ensues to see who can collect the most balls, while a hapless child simply tries to hold on to one.

Another vignette, "Flowing Fountain," takes a more serious, artistic approach, concluding with a noiseless duet spotlighting dancers Eva Dean and Lauren Griffin as they create soothing, spellbinding imagery with tiny, florescent, red and green balls.

Despite the overwhelming number of things a person can do with a bouncy rubber ball, Bounce takes the unique approach of using them as partners rather than props. The balls are incorporated into the scenes and dances so fully that they appear to be coming alive and voluntarily joining the dancers to tell their story.

There is a shorter version of Bounce for young audience members, called Bounce Jr., although children present for the full-length performance appeared completely engaged. For any youngster wishing to become a dancer, this production is a must-see, and for those truly inspired, Eva Dean offers "Balls" Dance Technique classes at her Brooklyn rehearsal space, Union Street Dance. But potential students be warned: the graceful movements these dancers use to fly across the stage on the backs of balls cannot be nearly as effortless as they make them look.

Still, by the play's conclusion and final vignette, "Surfing" (premiering in this current production), even the most uncoordinated, arthritis-stricken members of the audience will secretly wish they could throw themselves with abandon on a line of three turquoise balls, gliding across them as a surfer would a wave. In this lead-up to the play's finale, the large turquoise balls appear in a steady stream from backstage, forming pairs and triplets as they roll toward the audience in perfect imitation of a gentle wave determined to reach shore. The dancers then leap stomach-first into the lineup and ride it until they are deposited safely on the floor. After this motion is repeated several times, the illusion of a surfer on an ocean wave is so vivid you can almost taste the saltwater.

Unfortunately for these talented, flexible dancers, they are outnumbered by their rubbery colleagues, who are not to be outdone at curtain call. Before the evening ends, six performers and more than a hundred eager balls in all colors and sizes will appear with a vengeance to take their bows. It is virtually impossible for anyone of any age to see this play without having (pun alert) an absolute ball.

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