by David Benoit-Mohan, Chevalier, OPA
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.
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.
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