By Michelle Quenon
On Saturday, December 21st at seven o’clock in the artLab J studio, the 7th Detroit Dance Race was about to begin. With just two rows of chairs for the audience to sit, the setting was very intimate, creating a vulnerability for both the performers and the audience members; a sensation that is most often missing in bigger venues such as a theatre. That being said, watching the pieces performed in the artLab J studio was a very refreshing experience. The choreographers all tailored their pieces to be seen at a close visual range, and, after the audience got over the initial closeness of the performers, the intimate setting transformed into a warm and exciting atmosphere full of encouragement and appreciation on the part of both the audience and the performers.
The program started with a piece choreographed by Chelsea Radgens entitled Foil. As the title suggests, the two dancers–Mackensie Garlow and Morgan Markowicz–were indeed foils of each other. This idea was reflected beautifully with the music, as the duet between the two string instruments mimicked the movements of the dancers, separating them visually and audibly but still connecting them as one undoubtable entity. The intermittent segments of unison dancing aided in heightening the stark contrast of Garlow’s poised lyricism and Markowicz’s vibrant virtuosity. The piece was well performed and very interesting to watch.
Following Foil was a piece called Awakening, choreographed by Jodie Randolph and danced by Megan Scheppelman and Nikki Steltenkamp. Right from the start, the piece was very engaging. The calm fluidity of the dancers gave the piece an almost hypnotic
feeling and both dancers were able to make their movements expansive without breaking the delicacy of the piece. Also, the connection between the two dancers, along with the connection they held with the audience contributed to a spellbinding performance from start to finish.
The third piece of the program, Tussle, was choreographed by Alicia Cutaia and performed by herself and Russ Stark.
Both dancers moved beautifully and with much technical precision. There was much creative partnering that held the audience captivated and even drew audible sounds from its members at certain points. For the most part, the interactions between the two dancers were languid and tender, though there were subtle hints at a “tussle,” performed in the same tender way. Movement-wise, the two were in perfect harmony, though the lack of a strong emotional connection between the dancers, whether intentional or not, was unclear. This aside, the piece was still very captivating to watch.
The program continued with a piece choreographed by Lauren M-R Taylor called MOLD.
The piece started out with some very interesting formations by the four dancers, and moments of stillness were used very effectively. The dancers were very engaged with one another, and as they all began to break away from their solos and come together, there was a real sense of camaraderie that developed among them. They became–as the title of the piece suggests–a mold.
The next two pieces of the program were performed by the Body Rhythm Dance Theatre and choreographed by Edgar L. Page. The first piece, Words I can’t unsay, was tensely calm and sexual, with the dancers displaying an intense physical and emotional connection with one another. This was contrasted greatly with the second piece, My love
is like…, in which a solo performer, Ta’rajee Omar, took over the space with a deeply introverted solo of frustration, anger, and loneliness that had the audience bouncing between intrigued discomfort and enthralled mesmerism. It was powerfully expansive and yet exceedingly vulnerable at the same time. Omar never seemed to stop moving, and she contorted her body into positions that reflected her discomfort while still managing to keep everything as rich and languid as if she were moving through water. The piece was very captivating and definitely a crowd favorite.
After a brief intermission, the program continued with CHANGE, the artLab J dance choreographed by Joori Jung and performed by Edgar Page and Rachael Ahn Harbert. After a short video illustrating the want and need for change in the perception of the arts in Detroit, the dancers began to play with double entendres, as Harbert continually held out her hand and asked Page for “Change?” The duet that followed was slow with unconcealed weightedness and drudgery, though there were undoubtable moments of hope. Overall, the peace was very well executed and thought provoking.
Following CHANGE was I said, “there are no people here,” choreographed and danced by Jennifer Harge. Harge began by facing away from the audience and moving her feet in a box pattern, as though ballroom dancing with herself. The music–choral singing–along with the choreography produced a heightened sense of loneliness. At one point, Harge stopped dancing and looked out at all the members of the audience. At such close proximity, a frank acknowledgement from a performer can leave the audience feeling uncomfortable, but Harge’s clam, sincere gaze, along with the beautiful voices of her soundtrack, had the opposite effect. She then proceeded to pick three people out of the audience to dance with her onstage. As she quietly went around to each of her newly gathered performers, showing them each what to do, their movements began to mesh together, rendering the title of her piece irrelevant and leaving the audience feeling very inspired.
The program continued with a piece entitled The Epitome of Femininity with choreography and performances by Stephanie Booth and Jessica Parks. Both dancers were clad in relatively androgynous costumes–spandex shorts and grey tank tops. Their dancing was beautiful, sensual, powerful and deliberate, displaying athleticism and grace. The minimalistic music and costumes aided the dancers in stripping away all preconceived notions of “femininity,” and bringing a refreshing take on a usually overworked subject. The connection the dancers held with the audience was very amusing. While working their way in and out of strenuous poses with apparent ease, they shot looks at the audience, as though daring its members to contradict them and their displays of femininity.
To conclude the program, the Detroit Tap Repertory performed River and Winter SOLEstice. River was danced to surprisingly slow music, though the intricacy of the steps and the complicated rhythms were all clearly present. The second piece, SOLEstice, was an enjoyable and upbeat dance to holiday music. It provided a very fun ending to the program.