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.

 

Review: Detroit Dance Race / December 21 / Greektown Detroit

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.

Foil / Chor. Chelsea Radgens Photo (c) Scott Lipiec

Foil / Chor. Chelsea Radgens
Photo (c) Scott Lipiec

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

Awakening / Chor. Jodie Randolph Photo (c) Scott Lipiec

Awakening / Chor. Jodie Randolph
Photo (c) Scott Lipiec

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.

Tussle / Chor. Alicia Cutaia. Photo (c) Scott Lipiec

Tussle / Chor. Alicia Cutaia.
Photo (c) Scott Lipiec

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.

MOLD / Chor. Lauren M-R Taylor Photo (c) Scott Lipiec

MOLD / Chor. Lauren M-R Taylor
Photo (c) Scott Lipiec

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

My Love Is Like... / Chor. Edgar Page Photo Scott Lipiec

My Love Is Like… / Chor. Edgar Page
Photo Scott Lipiec

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.

CHANGE / Chor. Joori Jung Photo (c) Scott Lipiec

CHANGE / Chor. Joori Jung
Photo (c) Scott Lipiec

CHANGE / Chor. Joori Jung Photo (c) Scott Lipiec

CHANGE / Chor. Joori Jung
Photo (c) Scott Lipiec

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 Epitome of Femininity / Chor. Stephanie Booth, Jessica Parks Photo (c) Scott Lipiec

The Epitome of Femininity / Chor. Stephanie Booth, Jessica Parks
Photo (c) Scott Lipiec

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.

Detroit Tap Repertory Photo (c) Scott Lipiec

Detroit Tap Repertory
Photo (c) Scott Lipiec