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

Review: ArtLabJ 3 Solos / October 26 / Greektown, Detroit

artlabJ3solos

By Roberto Warren

The program consisted of three solo works by Wanjiru Kamuyu of WK Collective, Rachael Ahn Harbert, and “radical child”, performed by Alexander Dones.

The first piece, “Spiral”, performed by Wanjiru Kamuyu, was actually a reconstruction of a work originally created in 2005. The work explores the affects and effects of the imposed Western patriarchal idea of beauty standards while interrogating the acceptance and assimilation of and to these standards through old and new values that arise as a reaction to that dominant cultural context.

Wanjiru Kamuyu. Photo (c) Scott Lipiec

Wanjiru Kamuyu. Photo (c) Scott Lipiec

Ms. Kamuyu enters wearing a leotard, and a full Victorian-era skirt. Hung from the ceiling are bird cages with nude Barbie dolls in them. There is also one nude Ken doll in one of the cages. Talk about Western symbols of beauty. The skirt is iconic. A symbol of patriarchal Western beauty. Moving slowly, like a cat, with high extensions, she seems content with this image she has. But then she begins to clutch at the skirt as if to question herself. She pulls the skirt up and examines her feet and legs. Are her feet good enough? Are her legs good enough? She then begins to explore her social and emotional space. Test the waters of the Western illusion she is beginning to realize she has been living. She even develops a swagger, spiraling her body left and then right. Flipping her hand across her shoulder as if to brush off any negative commentary about her “image of perfection” and then turning to look at her shadow on the wall as if to reaffirm her image to herself. She bows to her shadow. She embraces herself. But then reality begins to set in. The movement becomes jagged and percussive as the conflict builds. With a fury and rapid fits of rebellion she fights her way out of the skirt…that symbol of Western “beauty”… But she can’t seem to break away. Is it Afros or hot combs? She smiles at the audience…or a potential suitor. “Hi how are you? Do you think I am beautiful?” Then the skirt comes off. She begins to discover herself. But no sooner than that happens she goes through Western-defined sexual rejection. The lights go dark and the real struggle and questioning begins.

Wanjiru Kamuyu. Photo (c) Scott Lipiec

Wanjiru Kamuyu. Photo (c) Scott Lipiec

Under the skirt she has been wearing ruffled bloomers. Another Victorian-era symbol. Under the symbol there has been another symbol. A cacophony of whispers and laughter ensues in the soundtrack. Yes…there are critics everywhere. But this is then overridden by the angelic voices of an African children’s choir. A reminder of who she really is…and slowly…she begins to accept that.

The second piece, “Stand Still”, danced by Rachael Ahn Harbert was a preview of an evening-length work in the making. Ms. Harbert starts out by introducing herself to the audience…literally….and then she gets 14 volunteers from the audience to join her in the dance space. They become part of her dance landscape, which also consists of mirrors, two large and rectangular, and one small and round. All on the floor, along with a 3-minute hourglass. She then gives each of the 14 audience members onstage a small round mirror to hold. And because the piece is called “Stand Still”, she instructs the audience members to do just that.

Rachael Harbert. Photo (c) Scott Lipiec

Rachael Harbert. Photo (c) Scott Lipiec

In the first section of the piece, which she called “Death”, wearing a flesh colored top and shorts, she somersaults onto the floor, landing on her back, and uses her finger to monitor her pulse rate at her neck…and while the 3-minute hourglass runs out, she dies. Watched by 14 impassive onlookers.

In the next section of the piece, which she called “While You Were Sleeping”, she binds her 14 onlookers. In the center of the Art Lab J dance space, there are three poles. Seven of the onlookers stood on either side of the center pole, and between the two end poles. She strings a black rope around all three poles, gliding around, behind, and between her onlookers, totally immobilizing them. After all, when you are told to “stand still”, you are verbally being immobilized. You are being prevented from moving in space. But the ropes and poles also resembled telegraph wires. It could be said that if you are being told to “stand still” you are not to communicate with your fellow man. But at the same time, the people doing the immobilizing are free to move around, behind and through you.

In the last section of the piece, “Hall Of Mirrors”, she used the mirrors on the floor to beg the question, if you are looking at the floor, you see the floor, but if there is a mirror on the floor, and you are looking into it, are you seeing additional space? Can you move in that space? Indeed, and with her 14 “onlookers” holding mirrors, were they also seeing additional space?

Alexander Dones. Photo (c) Scott Lipiec

Alexander Dones. Photo (c) Scott Lipiec

The third piece of the evening, “play” was performed by radical child. Danced by Alexander Dones. With music by Samuel Beckett and Richard Wagner. What happens when you listen to the voices in your subconscious mind? And how are those voices compounded by what you hear in your conscious mind? Mr. Dones turned himself inside out. He dove headlong into this labyrinth of confusion, moving powerfully about the room. The voices took him into the air, onto the floor, into turns, put smiles on his face, frowns, and periodically caused him to hook himself in his mouth and pull his head back in supplication. If you pay attention to and react to everything your hear, your actions become frenzied. One action leads to another, and they don’t always lead you down a logical path. Life can be like that. And Mr. Dones showed that.

Kudos to Joori Jung and the staff at ArtLabJ for allowing such cutting-edge dance work to be presented in Detoit.

The evening's 3 Soloists. Photo (c) Scott Lipiec.

The evening’s 3 Soloists. Photo (c) Scott Lipiec.

 

 

 

Essay: On Performing in ‘Rite of Spring’ / August 22 / artLabJ

By Harriet Berg

There is an ancient saying: “Tell me what you dance and I will tell you who you are.”

Last week as part of the Detroit City Dance Festival, I participated in worldwide celebration of the 100th birthday performance of Igor Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring,” the seminal work of modernism of the 20th century.

As I stood on stage with the incredibly talented dancers of the Art Lab J Company as the brilliant choreography of Joori Jung unfolded, I felt the magnitude of the music, the images it evoked with the wild percussive sound, trumpets blaring, flutes singing. Nijinsky’s radical choreography, Nicola Roerich’s costumes and scenery based on ancient Russian legends. I felt the presence of the all the other companies who have participated in this yearlong celebration, whose choreographers chose to create their personal vision of this Rite, all linked through time and space to this company on the stage of the Boll Theater at the YMCA in downtown Detroit.

In her choreography, Joori Jung challenges the nature of male-female relationships and acquiescence to injustice in taut, articulate, gymnastic contemporary dance executed by a confident, well-trained company of Detroit dancers. At a time of so much bad news around Detroit, this “Rite of Spring” shows the city’s artists pushing up through the frozen ground of despair to celebrate their deep connections, not only to dance history, but to the regenerative power of the community of dance worldwide.

Detroit Dance Race: artLabJ November 2-3, 2012

A terrific and well-curated collection of dances was shown last weekend in the artLabJ Theater, the new dance/art space in Greektown opened just this summer by Joori Jung. There was much polished creativity at work here, lots of beautiful movement and a nicely balanced diversity of style and content. Below are some snaps from Friday evening. Keep an eye on artLabJ – lots going on there! All photos: Scott Lipiec.

Lydia Alexis Porter and Laressa Batson in ‘Dream a Little Dream’ by Big Red Stowall / Big Red Wall Dance Company.

Carson Reiners, Choreographer & Dancer: ‘Not Nobody. Yesbody’

Miranda Wilking, Melanie Wilking, and Sarah Greenwald. They choreographed their own work, ‘Crystallize’, and appear as ‘Finesse’ – teen performers who are also raising money for their college funds!

Erika Stowall and Liz Kreutziger in ‘Vested’ by Kristi Faulkner / Kristi Faulkner Dance

Aaron Smith, Marianne Brass, and Joori Jung (center) in Joori’s own piece, ‘Dream City’ / artLabJ Dance

Melanie Verna in her own work, ‘Old Time Tumbler’