Review: I Am Guilty / 8th Detroit Dance Race / Greektown, Detroit

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Rachael Ahn Harbert in ‘I Am Guilty’. Photo (c) Scott Lipiec.

By David Benoit Mohan
 “I am guilty”
Choreography by Rachael Ahn Harbert
Performed by Rachael Ahn Harbert (dancer) and Matt Daher (percussionist) at the 8th Detroit Dance Race held at artLabJ, Feb. 22, 2014, 7:00 p.m.

I had the privilege to attend last night’s performance of Rachael Ahn Harbert’s piece, “I am guilty,” a poetic essay on the societal imposition of guilt upon those who violate those cultural norms which in themselves have no moral value.

The dance truly started before the music began with the staging of the “crime-” that of the dancer eating a slice of cake, downstage centre, the implication being that the consumption of sweets is forbidden to her (because of her profession). 

This. Now. Photo (c) Scott Lipiec

This. Now. Photo (c) Scott Lipiec

 

In the distinctive mise-en-scène, percussion instruments line stage right, from snare and base upstage, to toms at centre to cymbals downstage. They are played in that order by a male protagonist in red flannel pyjamas. The female dancer is upstage left, standing in a zinc bucket against a white square pillar, red paint on the palms of her hands. She  realises that she is caught “red-handed,” in breaking the code of her micro-culture, and stands trembling in her bucket, child-like in a white dress. Guilt thunders down upon her, the state of her heart echoed in the percussion’s tremulous and cacaphonic dissonance. In a series of eloquent contractions, the full horror of what she has done becomes internalised, with attendant revulsion and self loathing. The guilt is overpowering. She forcibly silences the strident drums of remorse, that she may think with clarity.

It is then that revelation occurs. In an almost Kantian metaphor, she realises the superficiality of anti-normative culpability, wiping the red stain off her hands onto her white dress, and understands that she has no need for “self-contempt and inner abhorrence, [sic]” not having violated the moral law. What followed was a satirical farce born out of this new-found illumination. Mocking the expressions of former guilt, with heart resounding in the lightness of cymbals, she is able to resolve her erstwhile conflict.

The last choreographic idea was pure genius. The dancer becomes aware that the percussionist is slowly approaching the remnants of the cake. This can be interpreted in two different ways, and the fact that Ms. Harbert is able to fully develop each of these themes in closing the piece is testament to her intelligence and skill as a choreographer:

1.) There are still remnants of the cake, representing decisions in her future life as to whether or not she will continue to follow societal norms which have no intrinsic merit

2.) There develops a mother-child relationship between herself and the percussionist, as she tries to stop him from eating the cake.

Vying. Photo (c) Scott Lipiec

Vying. Photo (c) Scott Lipiec

Is she blindly reverting to the micro-environment’s imposed values as she tries to prevent him from committing an “artificial” crime? If so, there is inherent hypocrisy, as her dress is still smeared with the red paint of guilt.  

 

 

 

In the final sequence, both she and the child-figure of the percussionist run towards the cake, each either with complete disregard for the other OR, which is more likely, in competition with each other.

Who will get there first? Photo (c) Scott Lipiec

Who will get there first? Photo (c) Scott Lipiec

Regardless of which view one puts upon the ending, both are hopeful interpretations, as in both instances, de-individualism has given way to actualisation.  It was a brilliant piece, and as with the rest of this artist’s oeuvre, it evinces a high calibre of talent in the genre of experimental dance theatre. Rachael Ahn Harbert’s star is rising.

David Benoit Mohan, B.A., M.S., M.D., D.A.B.F.M., D.A.B.I.M.
Chevalier, Ordre des Palmes Académiques (Republic of France)

Review: 7th Detroit Dance Race / Dec 20 / Greektown Detroit

ChelseaRadgensBy Chelsea Radgens

Friday, December 20th 2013 7pm

Once again, artLab J has created a diverse dance showcase that makes an enjoyable night for any dance lover. From students to professionals, the 7th Detroit Dance Race was a great sample of local artists.

Alma College Dance Company started off the show with a piece, choreographed by Alma College senior Chelsea Radgens (myself), called “Foil”. Dancers Mackensie Garlow and Morgan Markowicz complimented each other beautifully in a work that is meant to represent two sides of the same coin; Markowicz embodied chaos with fire in each high-powered step, while Garlow remained controlled and poised through each sustained pose. As far as I could tell, the show was off to a good start.

Duets exploring female relationships seemed to be a theme of the evening, as also demonstrated in “Awakening” by Jodie Randolph of Pure Existence Dance Company. Gorgeous, extended lunges abound, dancers Megan Scheppelman and Nikki Steltenkamp expressed the influence and loss of a friend in this pleasing piece. Or perhaps this dance was about the two sides of one person, and how one can wake up if a part of them leaves. Whatever the interpretation, Pure Existence Dance Company is usually a favorite for me. Randolph creates a very distinctive style that demonstrates the immense strength, control, and emotional talents of her young dancers. The music, costumes, and even the steps themselves, are arguably minimalist to convey a relatable message in a lovely form.

Continuing the duet theme, Eisenhower dancer Alicia Cutaia contributed “Tussle”, focusing on a distinctly romantic relationship. I’m sure any dancer in the audience would not hesitate to comment on the expressiveness of Cutaia’s feet; they were quite gorgeous, to be put plainly. There was also no doubt about the trust that Cutaia had in her sturdy partner, Russ Stark. Lifting her effortlessly throughout the piece, this was a couple that one did not feel worried to watch. He was always there, tossing his partner with ease and awareness. There was even an audible gasp from audience members when Cutaia’s leg got a bit too close to the ceiling, but with help from her careful partner, she of course did not hit it. “Tussle” was a nice change up from female duets while still exploring the relationship between two people.

Lauren M-R Taylor switched it up with her subtly theatrical work, “MOLD”. This work utilized four dancers who alternated between supporting one another and pushing past them. Taylor utilized counterbalance to parallel the balancing act that is appeasing others versus staying true to oneself. Other dancers pulled and prodded at themselves, struggling with how to express themselves and overcome challenges. One of my favorite moments was a long sustained hinge that ended with the dancers on the floor on their backs. Each of the four dancers was controlled, demonstrating the large amount of body awareness and core strength that the dancers must have. Aside from the dancing itself, “MOLD” was a story, which transitioned nicely into the next piece as well.

Body Rhythm Dance Theater presented two pieces from the work “5 conversations about the same thang”, both choreographed by Edgar Page.. The first piece “Words I can’t Unsay”, was a overtly sensual duet. Dressed in a nightgown and underclothes, dancers Christopher Woolfork and Janel Davis (Indigo Colbert for the Saturday night show) explored the sexual side of a romantic relationship. When paired with the next piece , “My love is like…”, it seemed to tell the story of a married couple and the husband’s mistress. “My love is like…” then seems to be a woman’s solo, offering up a different, sympathetic look at the other woman. Soloist Ta’rajee Omar was emotional and danced with an impressively consistent amount of energy through a multitude of layouts, turns, and quickly changing positions. The following intermission allowed the audience to digest the pieces, while allowing the messages to sink in.

After intermission, artLab J performed “CHANGE”, a duet between Rachael Ahn Harbert and Edgar Page.  As per usual artLab J style, the piece was refreshing in its simplicity and lovely message. Dances Rachael Harbert and Edgar Page moved together compatibly and the artists’ emotional intent was clear throughout the piece; both dancers are blessed with incredibly expressive faces. “CHANGE” was also a multimedia presentation, as the piece opened with a video of various artLab J dancers asking people for change during Detroit’s Noel Nights. Though they didn’t get any change from the people in the video, “CHANGE” gave the audience hope for Detroit.

Equally comforting was Jennifer Harge’s “I said, there are no people here”. Movements were simple and easy to take in, though this piece had a surprise. Harge began asking people in the audience if they’d like to dance with her, and though this is an unconventional move, I felt completely at ease and blissful watching Harge as she calmly and gracefully instructed three audience members. Though Harge’s title evokes a sense of cynicism, as Harge and her three random audience members walked off the stage unified, it was quite uplifting indeed.

Next up was one of my favorite duos from last year’s Detroit Dance City Festival: The Umbrella Co. from New York.  Stephanie Booth and Jessica Parks performed one of the most athletic pieces in the show, “Epitome of Femininity” with a sense of coolness and confidence. The choreography was very based in modern dance, though it clearly was inspired by elements of yoga and pilates as well. Every step was clear and concise, and the dancers’ chemistry was engaging to watch. One of my favorite things about The Umbrella Co. is their impeccable use of breath. Synchronized breathing, especially in moments of silence, allowed a new layer of togetherness and energy to transpire, leaving the audience in a state of breathlessness. It was a joy to see The Umbrella Co in the summer, and it was delightful to be granted an opportunity to watch them again.

Finally, The Detroit Tap Repertory switched things up with “River” and “Winter SOLEstice”. Though the dancers are young, they are every bit as professional and talented as any of the previous acts. I don’t know very much about tap, but they are definitely impressive to watch. The dancers wholly engaged the audience with playful faces, and as the last bit was a Christmas medley, it was perfect for the time of year; I know I left with a huge grin on my face, and warmth inside my soul.