“Dancing on the Edge” at McKenna Theatre

As the lights of McKenna Theater dimmed and the performance of “Dancing on the Edge” commenced, one may assume they were about to watch a dark, sullen play. This seemed like the case as two actors slowly marched into the view of the audience, accompanied by ominous music and met at center stage. The true mood for the play was set, however, as the two actors grabbed hands and threw them in the air, signaling the stage lights to go up and an orchestral soundtrack to begin.

“Dancing on the Edge” is a play written by Adam Kraar and presented by Minneapolis-based theater company, Theatre Novi Most, which had performances on Friday, Sept. 22 and Saturday, Sept. 23 at McKenna Theater. The play, which focused on the relationship between American pioneer of modern dance Isadora Duncan and Russian poet Sergei Esenin, had been in production since 2011. After premiering in Minneapolis earlier this month, Theatre Novi Most decided to bring the production to the East coast, and choosing New Paltz was no coincidence.

“Lisa Channer, who played Isadora, grew up in New Paltz, so it felt like coming home to her,” said Vladimir Rovinsky, director of Dancing on the Edge and co-founder of Theatre Novi Most.

Channer was accompanied by Sasha Andreev, who played Sergei Esenin. The show featured two supporting actors, Sergey Nagorny and Katya Stepanov, who each played multiple roles. While this is a brave move in any production, the actors executed it flawlessly, perfectly capturing the essence of each character they played.

The play, which ran for a little over two hours, followed Duncan and Esenin’s unorthodox relationship from the magical start, when the two met in Russia and fell in love instantly to the bitter end, as the two ex-lovers said their final goodbyes. In between, the production had many highlights. Channer, who had been dancing almost her whole life, stunned in multiple dance solos, where she showcased the styles and techniques she had practiced since she read Duncan’s memoir at 15 years old. Another thing that made these scenes so beautiful was the stage lighting, which ranged from a dark, glowing red to complete darkness, save for a spotlight fixated on Channer.

A major plot point of the play focused on the language barrier existing between Isadora and Sergei, who spoke English and Russian, respectively. While most scenes between the two featured both of these languages (like when Sergei would recite his poems to Isadora, which she loved, despite not being able to understand them), there were some scenes where the two would speak to each other in perfect English.

“The idea [behind these scenes] was the play is about communication, specifically the inability to communicate,” Rovinsky said. “When people are speaking the same language, the conversation is fluid—not only for the actors but for the audience too.”

One of the final moments of the play was a scene of Isadora’s final performance in Russia, where children local to the New Paltz area performed as students of her dance school in Russia. The performance received a standing ovation from the audience as the actors took their final bows.

Even if one had no knowledge of Duncan, Esenin, or anyone else mentioned in the play, the production managed to hook all those in attendance with it’s aesthetically simplistic set, mesmerizing dance sequences and a story filled with humor, romance and emotion.