Momentum: New Dance Works at the Southern reviewed by Caroline Palmer

Momentum: New Dance Works Southern Theater July 17-19 and July 24-26 Thurs.-Sat. at 8pm Post-show discussion each Friday Review by Caroline Palmer

Momentum: New Dance Works at the Southern reviewed by Caroline Palmer

It’s been a difficult week at the Southern Theater and probably few have felt the fallout of Jeff Bartlett’s sudden removal as artistic director more than Chris Schlicting, Maia Maiden and Ellena Schoop who share the bill this week in the Momentum: New Dance Works series, a co-production with the Walker Art Center – and had expected Bartlett to run the show. Schlicting expressed as much in a short “curtain speech.” He stood at the bottom of the aisle and calmly addressed the audience (which included several Southern board members), calling Bartlett “a dear friend” and adding, “A relationship with the Southern is a relationship with Jeff.” The week had been challenging, he concluded, and dedicated the evening to Bartlett.

After this brief acknowledgment of the dance community’s collective shock and confusion, the show went on, and each performer provided a poignant reminder of why the Southern Theater exists. It has nothing to do with the business model, the strategic plan, or box office receipts. These are all necessary to run an organization, obviously, but without the artists and their limitless creativity, risk-taking, and truth telling, there is no reason to turn up the stage lights.

Schlicting’s “love things” transformed the space into a pink paradise. A baby pink gauzy curtain framed the proscenium, pink streamers lined the walls and each seat was wrapped with a smart pink bow. Piles of pink flowers decorated the stage and the performers wore varying shades of the color. Schlicting and the performers – Jessica Cressey, Joanna Furnans, Justin Jones, Hannah Kramer and Morgan Thorson – eased their way into the choreographer’s lanky, swooping, idiosyncratic style. They seemed to grapple with the very air around them – flinging their arms, gnarling their fingers, and falling into unison for repetitive sequences. Elliott Durko Lynch’s eclectic sound score completed a scene that seemed, at first, like a 1970’s prom crossed with a Robert Wilson play (perhaps taking place in Studio 54).

As the piece developed, the focus fell on the individual performers. Cressey worked her shiny velour top and mini skirt to create a deconstructed disco walk. Jones flashed jazz hands in his whipsmart movement. Kramer and Thorson tenderly hugged. All fell in and out of their communal moments, shaking their limbs, contorting their faces. It was clear, after a while, that the party was over and everything wasn’t so shiny and pink anymore. Cressey collapsed and tried to crawl away but each time she was pulled back into center stage. The dancers circled together, silently dodging one another in the half-light.

Schlicting’s work, at times, seemed a bit random, a collection of thoughts and flashes of a memory around a theme that didn’t always gel. It gathered momentum, however, as it delved into the darker moments and gave the performers space to explore their relationships, not only to each other, but to their subconscious selves.

Maiden and Schoop’s inspiring “The Foundation, et cetera” opened with a call and response between the artists as they descended the steps onto the stage. They touched on the generation gap, the clash between the past and present. Ask questions, they urged – demand to know who, what, when, where and why – and how does who came before you matter to who you are and what you will become. Kenna Sarge’s sharp video of spoken word artist Tish Jones echoed this theme, setting the stage for a work that skillfully referenced history (specifically the Black Panther movement in the early 1970’s), traditional African dance, and the evolution of hip-hop, and commented on the world we live in today, speaking from a Black cultural experience but also posing questions anyone can and should ponder in the generational crossroads.

Dancers Lindsey Hunter, Aneka McMullen, and Roxane Wallace joined Sarge, Maiden and Schoop for interludes of powerful hip hop and African movement, sometimes blurring the genres. Spoken word artists Tiyo Siyolo and Selfish deftly shaped the theme some more, addressing politics, societal generalizations, the relationship between first impressions and back-stories, and ultimately hope. Overall, the work presented a journey that was both personal and communal.

The choreographers exited the theater as they entered, with words. “You can’t ignore the voice of today or the struggle of yesterday” they concluded. And what is the answer to the questions behind who, what, when, where and why? For Maiden and Schoop it’s “why not?” The possibilities are endless. -- Caroline Palmer

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