Review: ArtLabJ / March 29-31 / Greektown, Detroit

by David Benoit-Mohan, Chevalier, OPA

ArtLabJ Director Joori Jung addresses a packed audience for ‘Dream City’

A new company, ArtLabJ, has taken the Detroit arts scene by storm and changed it forever. Blending experimental dance theatre with a choreography best described as poetic, the amazing Joori Jung premiered, this Friday, a 48 minute piece called “Dream City,” presenting a complex tapestry of impressions and emotions which describes at a visceral level, the humanist experience of Detroit in the modern age.
The choreography is new, innovative, fresh, daring and pure. The dancers’ technique is flawless and the use of props is powerful.

ArtLabJ dancers. Photo (c) Scott Lipiec.

The people of Detroit come to life in her piece, first cradled in the arms of blissful sleep, bathed in birdsong and awaken to a realization of their own greatness. A tempered yet frenetic pace, movements in counterpoint, exquisite aerial sequences, and dramatic mime paint a picture of the turn of the century. The musical history of Motown and the giddiness of Detroit’s heyday is evoked as well, with increasingly ominous whispers of the gathering storm ahead. One graphically sees the crumbling of hearts as the city begins to feel painful times, when, with a superb use of costuming, lighting, projection and movement, Joori’s dancers portray, both in raw and sublimated angst, the disillusionment, frustration, despair, paranoia, learned helplessness, and collapse that had become a citywide phenomenon for so many years. Singly and in packs, lost souls turn upon each other in a ravenous bid for survival. There is casualty, there is death; there is a brief and startling glimpse of unity in mourning. What is phenomenal, however, is that the resolution of destructive anomie is not found in a utopia of collaborative politeness, but in an uneasy harmony between cultures and perspectives in the here-and-now.

Dancers Chris Braz & Aaron Smith. Photo (c) Scott Lipiec

The dénouement is a gritty, uneven tangle of bodies and paint, both black and white, as the choreography moves between struggle and unity many times, resolving into a mythic dyad with each other’s colours marbling their own as the protagonists finally stand, not side-by-side, but at slight angles to each other—and that mirrors reality. It is the heroic struggle of the present that is exalted, and leads to the rebirth of our city, awakening once more from the bliss of sleep into the Elysium of tomorrow.
As a Detroit physician dealing with many patients suffering the consequences of societal illness, it amazes me how quickly this brilliant New York choreographer, now in Detroit, has understood the spiritual essence of this city—its problems and its redemption, the suffering of its individuals and its realistic potential to succeed. There are no illusions here, just truth. It is a piece that needs to be presented in every serious theatre in the city, not only for its vital content, but because Detroit is ready for an inspired experimental dance theatre like ArtLabJ. I would like to make a special mention of one of the dancers, Rachel Ahn Harbert, whose talent is definitely one to watch in the coming years.
In closing, I quote one of those who also attended the premiere of this piece. In her words, “Modern dance has finally arrived in Detroit. I have waited for ten years to see this. I have seen this only in New York or California.” My question to you, dear readers, is “Why NOT in Detroit?”

David Benoit-Mohan, Chevalier, OPA


This Weekend March 9: Michigan 5 / Choreographer Showcase at the Berman Center

Courtesy of Sari Cicurel / The Berman Center For The Performing Arts

The Berman Center for the Performing Arts will host, “Michigan Five: Choreographer Showcase,” Saturday, March 9, 2013 at 8:00pm, highlighting the most outstanding and creative dance talent from colleges and universities through-out the state.

This year, the “Michigan 5”are:  Oakland University, Hope College, Western Michigan University, Grand Valley State University and the University of Michigan.

Greg Patterson, Director of this year’s ‘Michigan 5’

“Michigan 5” is led by Greg Patterson, associate professor of dance at Oakland University and founder and artistic director of the Patterson Rhythm Pace Dance Company.

Patterson is thrilled to announce this year’s guest choreographers: Oakland University’s Thayer Jonutz and Ali Woerner with the set design created by Jeremy Barnett , Matt Farmer from Hope College, Western Michigan University’s David Curwen, Shawn Bible from Grand Valley State University, and from the University of Michigan, Jessica Fogel.

Elaine Smith, Managing Director of The Berman Center for the Performing Arts, looks forward to the return of this dance showcase to The Berman stage. “Every month, The Berman Center for the Performing Arts offers audiences the finest music, theatre and entertainment programs. This showcase of the universities is excellence in dance, “said Smith.

Program Notes:

Thayer Jonutz / Oakland University

Oakland University, Thayer Jonutz:  Things Happen Because I See

This collaborative project was choreographed by Oakland University’s Thayer Jonutz and Ali Woerner with the set design created by Jeremy Barnett. The piece explores human interaction in a variety of public spaces.

Ali Woerner / Oakland University



Matthew Farmer / Hope College


Hope College, Matt Farmer: due e una 

The piece is a soft duet between two women (music by Arvo Part), and is influenced by the weight of oppressive darkness.

David Curwen / Western Michigan University



Western Michigan University, David Curwen: the lie

A  strong modern work choreographed by WMU dance alum, Jacquelyn Nowicki,  Music is by the Kronos Quartet, Music title: UNIKO.II.Plasma, Western Dance Project Dancers: Sam Assemany, Darryl Barnes, Jalisa Brown, Connor Cornelius, Alex Laya, Emily Rayburn, Sarah Rot, Alli Zajac


Shawn Bible / Grand Valley State University

Grand Valley State University, Shawn Bible: Sacrificed

A contemporary pointe dance filling space with drums, silhouettes, and physicality. The intense process of ritual dance and sacrifice is portrayed.”




University of Michigan, Jessica Fogel: Hath Purest Wit: Anagrams for Eight Dancers and Thirteen Letters 

Jessica Fogel / University of Michigan

The concert begins with a pre-show interactive lobby performance installation that transfers to the stage in choreographer Jessica Fogel’s Hath Purest Wit: Anagrams for Eight Dancers and Thirteen Letters.  The interactive performance installation in the lobby invites you to translate what you see into words or sketches. What you see and interpret in the lobby is re-imagined onstage, not just through movement but also through music and text. Making and experiencing art form part of a buoyant, flexible, ongoing process.

Tickets to “Michigan Five: Choreographer Showcase,” on Saturday, March 9th at 8:00pm, are $21 Admission, $16 JCC Members, $12 for students and groups will pay $11 for tickets. For more information visit   or call the box office at (248) 661-1900.