'Mashramani' features the excellent dancers of Rochester, N.Y.'s FuturPointe.
For giving us Generation Dancing by the NuMoRune Collaborative at the end of a crappy week of excessive snow and arctic chill, I heartily thank Chris Walker, assistant professor in the UW Dance Department.
I was genuinely moved by the performance, and I applaud Walker for assembling a collection of works that fit so well together and speak to his experience as an artist and Jamaican immigrant. A generous collaborator, he has surrounded himself with people who elevate his work with their own.
Walker opens the show in the solo "In Honour of Locks with Keys and Coupons to my Heart," by Neila Ebanks. Bare-chested in a wide white skirt, with a purple chiffon layer that initially shrouds his face, he tentatively takes a few steps, feet turned awkwardly in, one foot then scraping up against his standing leg. His movements get larger and stronger, but he still retreats, wrapping the sheer fabric around himself. Walker is a commanding presence, with long, sinewy limbs, and his focus can transform a seemingly mundane movement into something exhilarating.
I discovered UW student Sarah Mitchell's lovely dancing at the fall UW concert, so I was excited to see that Walker features her prominently in many pieces. She first appears in "Troubled Water" with Sofia Snow and Katherine Stanley. In simple black dresses they are, all three, dynamic movers. They begin the piece in silence, often with one arm crossed behind, one crossed in front, like toreadors. Sometimes two form a shape together and the third dancer pounces, perching on them. Snow and Stanley, arms on each other's shoulders, punctuate the moment with alternating pas de chats.
Later, Walker's solo for Mitchell, "Tanuponyuhmaala," is set to Kathy Brown's version of "Summertime" and celebrates Mitchell's strengths. She is a purposeful and nimble dancer, shifting balances and directions, and then suddenly springing up in a shoulder stand. She forcefully grabs her own arm and flings it around.
In "One & Two Gather 2010," Walker reunites Mitchell, Stanley and Snow, but this time Snow performs "Angel Hair," her spoken word piece accompanied on guitar by Ashlyn Akins. Snow describes a fierce sisterhood, and Mitchell and Stanley, who share a similar look and strong technique, move together, at times mirroring one another, at times exploring the push-pull of their relationship.
Those last two pieces are part of Walker's larger premiere work, Frustra -- E Pluribus Unum, described as a suite of works exploring migration and immigration stories. In "The People Who Came," students from the dance department and First Wave Spoken Word and Hip Hop Arts Learning Community, along with live musicians, share tales of identity and culture -- what is lost and what is claimed through immigration. Solid dancing and sincere spoken word reveal truths, and elements as simple as a gesture, a word, or Shoshanna Moyer's beautiful line in a deep penché arabesque, resonated with me.
"Backflip 2010," which originated as a structured improv, features three performers, all with bravado and the skills to back up their attitudes -- Niko Tuna Crackers, Eric Lima and Chris Spears. At first the three are dressed in stifling, ill-fitting suit coats and stand in front of squares of light. They shed these layers and pull on different sweaters and jackets. Each is a master of physical comedy, Tuna Crackers lurching like Frankenstein with too short sleeves, Lima wrestling with a necktie or droopy pants -- and Spears, whose loose limbed antics can't be contained by any type of clothing. The trio quickly puts on their own clothes, ignoring society's expectations of them. They alternate with astounding hip hop solos.
"Secondary Screening" examines the confounding bureaucracy and baffling paperwork encountered when entering a different country. Wearing street clothes in shades of blue, the dancers are confronted with endless forms and frustrating waits.
Before intermission, in "Mashramani," we are introduced to the excellent dancers from Rochester, N.Y.'s FuturPointe. Initially I thought choreographer and dancer Guy Thorne's piece, inspired by his memories of Carnival in Guyana, was a little trite. But the dancers and their boundless energy won me over.
The five ('Jelle Gage, William Knighten, Melinda Phillips, Heather Roffe and Thorne) return to close the evening in Walker's "Dubwise," set to Proceed's hypnotic dub music. The dancers step over a golden stair platform, later pushing it across the stage and dancing around it. Thorne nonchalantly stands on it, coolly assessing the action around him, as Gage and Knighten share a sexy clinch before she unwinds her long leg to spin around Knighten by his back.
Thorne is a superstar, beaming bright in his yellow t-shirt. At the risk of sounding gobsmacked: his dancing literally made my heart swell with joy. Whether he is playing it cool, peeling an orange, or moving smoothly before bursting into an exuberant jump, he is able to make his compact frame seem huge, the lines of his arms and legs extending on and on. Effortlessly musical, he plays with his phrasing, impishly holding a balance and working it until the last possible millisecond. I could watch him dance all night.
Sometimes choreographers trade in pure entertainment to make a statement, but with this program Walker and his team succeeded at both making me think and letting me sit back and enjoy the movement.