Paige Fredlund and Sofia Tsirakis came out butting heads, bumping shoulders and growling and hissing at each other last Saturday night.

The professional dancers moved in a primal rhythm, making sounds that no other human could interpret. Around them blazed 40 sets of staring eyes.

The modern dance piece epitomized the risk involved in creating, performing or watching one of the productions in the Billings Fringe Festival. There is still one weekend left in the festival, and if you are an adventurous type or simply crave the opportunity to experience new art forms, I suggest you go.

It felt uncomfortable at first, sitting in folding chairs Saturday night in a room at 2413 Montana Ave., affectionately called “Andy’s Storefront.” The chairs were arranged around the performance space on the worn wood floor with stage lights glaring into your eyes so they could beam in on the dancers. Fredlund and Tsirakis’s dance seemed so personal, it felt like an intrusion to be there. Then the storytelling dances began. Through their stories, my life story became more focused.

The stories about their mothers ended in nuggets of wisdom. For Fredlund, whose mother Bess Fredlund is producing the first Billings Fringe Festival, this was realized: “She always let me be who I was. Why did it take me so long to let her be who she was?”

From Tsirakis, who flew to Billings from Brazil to perform with her dance colleague, we learned that her mom was “loud and moody,” but it took Sofia years to “discover this was just her being in this world.”

The dance pieces took some comedic turns, especially when Fredlund performed her “Cockroach” piece, batting and stomping at so many imaginary insects, I was looking at the floor around me for bugs. Tsirakis made her work yet more personal when she performed, “Learning to Fall,” a piece where she swirled around the space tripping and stumbling and finally hitting the ground in her message to ignore the mental roadblocks and inhibitions and allow yourself to fall in love.

Fredlund will perform a family narrative with her mother at 8:15 p.m. Friday and Saturday at the Ciao Mambo loft. Other family narrative performers include Wanda Morales and Victoria Coffman.

Also Saturday night was Dave Caserio and Friends’ “I Conjure a Stubborn Faith,” parts of which were performed at the Garage Pub last year. Under director Patrick Wilson’s gifted leadership, the group took many risks, creating characters in a city street scene where the homeless and mentally ill mingled with the disillusioned and downtrodden. It opened with Caserio stumbling and stuttering his way from the back of the room to the performance space. This was so painful to hear and see, the space became claustrophobic. The other cast members worked the crowd to vent or beg or even sit on an audience member’s lap.

Katy Kemmick repeated the question, “How many cigarettes do I have to sell so my kids can get a better school?” James Hickman kept asking for spare change, theorizing that he’s “selling you a better you at a discount.”

“Throw a few coins in my cup and you can be a philanthropist,” Hickman coaxed.

Anna Paige, portraying a tough street kid, spoke volumes when she said this quiet line, “We are too fragile for this land.”

But it was Caserio’s death scene that really made you think about life when he advised, “Don’t forget your story.”

There are two performances left of “I Conjure a Stubborn Faith.” It will be performed at 8:15 p.m. Friday and Saturday at Andy’s Storefront, 2415 Montana Ave. Jennifer Perkins opens each of those shows with “A Montana Child.”

Admission is $5 per show or $20 for a festival pass. Proceeds go to Venture Theatre. It’s a cheap way to learn something new about yourself.



Entertainment Reporter

Jaci Webb covers entertainment for The Billings Gazette.