On Tuesday night, local dance company BIODANCE presented "BIO/DANCE & Social Justice" at Geva Theatre Center's Fielding Nextstage in a program devoted to works that highlighted the struggle against inequality on the basis of race, gender, sexual orientation, and more.
The opening piece by Donna Davenport, "Lined Up for Injustice," began with the dancers speaking the words, "That's just the way it is -- sorry." What followed was less a fluid dance and more a series of isolated and disconnected movements. These motions, which clearly conveyed interpersonal strife and feelings of discord, were conceptually interesting. But as dance, the choreography was clichéd and unimaginative.
The solo dance number "Development to Liberty," choreographed and performed by Davenport, was more impactful. Davenport gradually went from adhering strictly to predetermined salsa steps to moving in less inhibited, more individualistic ways. Themes of body image and dealing with societal pressures as a woman were woven subtly into the dance.
The most affecting performance of the evening was "(drowning)," with both music and choreography by genderqueer artist Lev Earle. According to the program notes, the piece drew from the stories of LGBTQ children who had been driven to homelessness by families that had effectively thrown them out because of their identities.
Earle's stirring sound installation evoked anxiety, uncertainty, and change; an ominous drone was implied throughout. In the choreography, abstract movements such as the flailing of limbs connoted psychological violence and the subsequent torment that it causes. Compared to abstraction of "Lined Up for Injustice," the lyrical "(drowning)" was also more poignant precisely because it was less concerned with advancing an overt narrative and instead allowed the dance to speak for itself.
The following piece, "Daily Reflection," was in effect a sermon of self-empowerment in dance form, performed with intensity and conviction by the choreographer Kelly Johnson. Missy Pfohl Smith's "In/difference," like "Lined Up for Injustice," suffered from disjointed choreography that featured little continuity from one dancer's movement to the next. While some of this is inherent in the modern sensibility of the style, there was little cohesion to bring the staggered, fragmented movements of the individuals together.
In general, the evening's choreography was much more powerful when the dancers were in unison. Perhaps this has something to do with the coherence and clear articulation of such movement to the audience. But ultimately, the underlying motifs of unity in the face of intolerance and collective advocacy for equality, which were implied during the whole program, were communicated more clearly when there was unanimity.
The decision by BIODANCE and its Artistic Director Missy Pfohl Smith to focus on the issue of social justice is to be applauded. It would interesting to see related themes developed and explored further in additional choreographed works performed by the company.
This time around, one got the sense that BIODANCE was torn between utilizing a performance art aesthetic and more of a pure dance focus. Aspects of theater disrupted the flow of choreography and took the viewer out of the emotional moment. That said, I look forward to future BIODANCE performances.
BIODANCE will perform again on Saturday, September 26, at Geva Theatre Center. 7 p.m. $8-$12. Appropriate for ages 13 and older.
With more than 500 performances taking place Thursday, September 15, through Saturday, September 24, there's a lot to take in. We'll help you get started.
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