So far, I’ve been very lucky to see some big international dance companies float through town. It has been a treat, and I’ve enjoyed every minute of it. However, the real reason I joined the staff at The Back Stage Beat, was to also get in sync with the heartbeat of Atlanta dance. This week I got the chance to do just that. A short while ago, I got an e-mail from an ex-student of mine from a year-long (which turned into a three-year-long) stint as a guest artist at Western Kentucky University. It so happens he is now dancing in Atlanta with Brooks and Company Dance. I couldn’t miss it.
Shorts 6, was the show of the evening and was performed at The Fulton County Arts Council Southwest Arts Center. The program consisted of brief dances and short films. You should know by now that I am a sucker for multi-media collaboration, so this alone perked my interest. Not to mention the fact that this was the first time I’ve gotten to see one of my fledgling students dance professionally.
Shorts 6 was exactly as advertised, three little films and eight petite dance pieces. The films were lovely. Little Tybee Passion Seekers by Christopher Chambers was a collage of old Hollywood and other movement clips like Fred Astaire dancing on the walls, Baryshnikov making his magic on stage, old movie dance ensembles and people in Bunny costumes. It was random and wonderful and set a really nice tone for the opening of the concert. The next two films were in the second half. Words by Will Hoffman, Daniel Mercandante and Julius Metoyer III at Everyone Inc., was a collection of everyday observations. Moments in an average person’s life flickered in front of us, leaving the audience feeling relaxed and happy. The third film, and my personal favorite, was Just Another Day by Juel Lane. It was a little more substantial; it had a story and used dancers as the characters. In the first scene a female dancer wiggled and stretched to get out of bed and do her morning rituals. The second scene involved a male dancer moving in and out of the aisles in Whole Foods, sorting through produce, sliding down the freezer section, and finally snacking on a tasty looking apple. The third section was to the iconic song, Whatever Lola Wants Lola gets. A beautiful young dancer walked into a dress shop and did her choreography alternating from store to dressing room. The final dancer was set in an airport making his way to the baggage claim. In the finale the performers came together in an empty parking deck, they interacted and ended up on an elevator going down. Coming from a movement background, I connected with this one the most. The choreography was flawless and the dancers executed it perfectly.
It is finally time to talk about the actual live work that was presented in the concert. I have to say, when I am presented with an evening of short pieces I get a little nervous. Generally, it takes time to develop a theme, tell a story or invoke an emotion. Some of the pieces in this concert had more meat on their bones and seemed like complete thoughts, the ones that didn’t left the audience wanting more. This could be a good thing, if you want theater goers to come back and see another concert.
Works Cited by Alix Miller greeted us gently with very simple classic modern choreography. Not without its quirks, however. Michael Jackson’s classic move from Thriller was worked in, and at one point, a dancer jumped around with an air guitar.
Kitsune, by Kristyn McGeehan, started powerfully with a lone woman in profile. The lights came up as she wrapped her arm around her neck, almost aggressively, keeping her face hidden from the audience. She then extended her body into a long, never-ending arabesque. A second dancer, whom she couldn’t see, joined the stage like a spirit guide trying to nudge her towards a more peaceful future. At the end, the right path was found and the invisible entity was sensed and appreciated.
The next dance piece to cross our path had a harder, more rock and roll edge to it. In Touch, by B. Carr, four women with their hair down, in tight black tops and boy shorts, emerged from the corners of the stage. I enjoyed that they were confrontational to the point of staring at the audience walking slowly backwards for a disturbingly long period of time. I find it irresistible when a choreographer is willing to tiptoe over lines of polite southern etiquette and make the audience feel a bit awkward. To break the tension one dancer would disconnect from the line and reconnect with another dancer, almost waking them up from a trance. The conclusion had all four performers pointing intensely above the audience. This was one of the works that left me wanting more. I hope this is a stepping stone to a more epic piece.
With On the Outside Looking In, danced and choreographed by Deborah Chambers, we got our first punch of color. Red! I personally connected with the orchestration by Clint Mansell. The movement vocabulary was well thought out, interesting and Chambers was articulate with her body. There was also a clear and crisp moment for me when she just ran in place. I have a strong affinity for performers who move with more than their arms and legs. Ms. Chambers worked with the connections and all the moments in between.
Ending the first half was an excerpt from Glimpse into the Dark Woods, by Kristyn McGeehan. This piece will be premiered in its entirety this November. The work featured my ex-student from Western Kentucky University, Stephen Loch. It started off with the group frozen in a tableau. A fairy-like character wound her way into the arms of a man in a ballroom stance, and a nymph crawled onto a dancer in a red dress. Loch, who I later learned was the Fox, moved with strength and fluidity across the floor and into a duet with the woman in red. He seemed to be her guardian and guide through the forest. I felt I got to enjoy a hors d’oeuvre before a feast. I can’t wait to see this piece in all its glory.
The second half started with Fado by Paulo Manso de Sousa. The fish bowl, the container of this dance, was a picnic. Inside the picnic was an interesting salad of relationships between five dancers. The movement quality was nice. It was on the more sexually charged side of the proverbial coin but tasteful at the same time. As an audience member and choreographer, I tend to steer away from unison phrases, but here it was worked in well with the ensemble as soloists broke away and danced in another part of the stage. At the end a single dancer, stage left, ripped open her shirt and stood vulnerable as the lights went down.
But a Whimper, by the director of the company Joanna Brooks, was next on the roster. This, by far, was my favorite piece of the night. She is a seasoned choreographer who works on more sophisticated levels. Four dancers in jumpsuits, two in grey and two in black, were positioned on the sagittal and transverse planes. In other words, the grey clad dancers were mirrored on the ground, foot to foot, with the standing women in black. Almost as if the physical dancers were moving on the transverse plane while their shadow stood tall. Another scenario could be we were experiencing the action from underneath a glass floor. This is what I mean by working on “more sophisticated levels.” They started by simply walking in this mirrored fashion and continued the theme into more advanced choreography. This was a perfect example of a short piece done well. Brooks took one idea and explored it to the fullest. It was delightfully surprising and provoking. It was a complete thought and left me wanting to see more of her work.
The final piece in the concert was Fibercosm, by Rose Shields. It started off with a shirtless man dancing with a long piece of fabric. His movement was simultaneously soft and athletic. Soon the sheet was magically attached off stage and he could apply some resistance as though he was holding onto a rope hanging from a tree or trying to drag something heavy. Another dancer connected with him at the end of the textile, and three more joined them with another piece of cloth. I believe if you are going to use props, you really have to use them well, and I think this goal was accomplished. The dancers crossed, pulled, wrapped and leaned their way in and out of knotty formations. At one point they created a pinwheel with a dancer caught in the middle, like a fly trapped in a spider web.
I am happy to have had the chance to see Brooks and Company Dance. I wish them the best of luck and a successful future. Upcoming projects and performances can be found at www.brooksandcompanydance.org. I highly recommend that Atlanta come out for the full length version of Glimpse into the Dark Wood in November 2011, as well as anything else this company has to offer. In traditional dance lingo, I wish Joanna Brooks and her dancers a giant MERDE.