An ambitious new project by Utah Valley University graduate Miriam Gileadi presented its debut offering this past weekend, utilizing the bare-bones stage of Sugar Space Arts Warehouse for an intimate introduction with Mr. Blue. Performed by its architect and seven other dancers, the one-act work was the product of an award granted by the Body Logic Choreography Festival last year. Gileadi has energetically parlayed this sponsorship into an opportunity to unveil a new enterprise of her own, Gileadi Dance Co. (GDC).
Mr. Blue is a short work in six sections, billed through GDC’s promotional materials as an exploration through a variety of mediums of “the inner mind affecting outer expression” and the “ripple effect of an impulse,” as well as an address to “the pivotal issue of socio-political awareness and the importance of speaking up and standing out.”
The six women and two men were costumed in a collection of white button-downs, suspenders, vests, trouser pants, and ties — a variation on the typical formula dancers use when they want their costuming to declare loudly, “These are regular people just like you!” put together with a slightly formal twist and a side of androgyny. Lighting design was minimal, which was fitting for the exposed space. Sonically the production interspersed brooding ambient electronic music with moments of speech, song, breath, soft murmurs, and fevered laughter.
Beginning with a welcome, Gileadi requested that we consider the social agreement of our position that evening — the space we share, our role and hers, whether or not we are really listening — her direct surveillance of us a mirror to our own observation. As she voiced the dictum that we “must keep up to be kept up,” a line of dancers interrupted from stage left to take turns manipulating her body from speech into movement. From there the group explored the “ripple effect of an impulse,” following first Gileadi and then each other. The dancers moved with vigilant eyes and increasingly violent locomotion as individual instincts converged and were imitated, adapted, and manipulated.
At a peak moment, a dancer added her voice to the fray. She cried a ragged indictment of some old absconded transgressor, and the others followed suit, pacing fretfully and bubbling over in a world of their own concerns. Ultimately a cue reconvened the dancers downstage where they undressed, revealing nude undergarments — notices of an inner truth freshly “naked” in the world. While the use of simultaneous stream-of-consciousness vocalization to create a sense of internal conflict and isolation, and the literal uncovering of one’s body to convey the disclosure of one’s true thoughts and feelings are not particularly innovative or unique devices in modern dance, the strategy was effective in illustrating its point.
A solo danced by Adam Jensen had him wracked by an internal shaking alarm as he gasped half-thoughts of “the stories you have been told” and “I have to, I have to do it all.” His limbs whipped his body in every direction, wide eyes trailing invisible demons, until he finally collapsed to the floor from a dramatically sustained backbend.
At this point the tenor shifted as Jake Winkelkotter entered to lift Jensen’s body, and soul, from the floor, followed by Nora Price and Tara Jo Meredith. The two men danced a duet of communication through touch. First they studied each other by hand, then with other muscles and bone. The women’s pairing took on a different tone, more spirited and almost combative at times. Both duets were a conversation, actions and reactions moving the exchange forward. Here as throughout the performance, the dancers’ phrasing mostly progressed through and against a backdrop of sound. Occasionally though, the movement would drop into a groove with the music’s rhythm. These moments in synch provided satisfying punctuation — I wished there were a few more of them.
Twosomes transitioned to a three as Gileadi re-entered with a softly sung melody that led them back to a downstage line. They began again as separately moving entities, but when the trio came together there was a new sense of team and teamwork, an assembling and shared manipulation of phrases. That feeling was underscored in a very literal fashion as a track of the performers prerecorded and layered voices discussing the building of Mr. Blue itself came over the speakers.
The final transmission of Mr. Blue was the simplest and actually my favorite. The eight dancers of the company all returned to the stage, one by one finding their partner and holding them, singing to them. Their soft humming croons took them away, each couple a little planet orbiting off through the curtains.
I didn’t necessarily feel that the work fulfilled the portion of its stated intention on speaking to issues of sociopolitical awareness or the courage of “standing up and speaking out” to shape one’s community. Mr. Blue certainly explored people coming together and “experiencing this world from an internal place…figuring out how to connect from there,”* but engaged those ideas on a more individual and interpersonal level. Still, the general sentiments of “Aren’t things better when we understand each other?” and “Don’t you feel better now that you’re not alone?” are ones that I hazard a majority of people could empathize with easily. And the didacticism of that message is certainly heartfelt and agreeable if not especially stimulating or extraordinary.
Gileadi’s choreography was able to lend the concept a nicely structured measure of balance. Movement flowed easily and sequences followed classically effective structures of tension-building and resolution. Kaleidoscopic groupings filled up space and were able to sustain dynamic levels of action, although I never really reached the edge of my seat. A challenge, especially in projects that rely heavily on the experience of process, exploration, collaboration, and experimentation, is that it can be difficult to translate compellingly the excitement of those internal discoveries to the audience. Although for GDC, finding the path from inner to outer expression is the name of the game, so I have no doubt this enterprising group will continue searching for that bit of magic.
Gileadi also currently performs with both Body Logic and SB Dance, and has traveled to Israel for a summer program of study with the Batsheva Dance Company. I mention her study at Batsheva because the primary language of that ensemble, a conception of movement theory known as Gaga, would seem a likely influence on Gileadi’s current work. The idea in GDC’s mission of the “internal mind inform[ing] the external body” is one that fits right in with the foundational position of Gaga that a greater understanding of internal sensations and controls necessarily leads to an expanded ability to release and function outwardly. Even from my limited experience with the practice, I noticed reflections in Gileadi’s choreography, in the spirit of the shifting textures and mechanisms, wild elastic articulation, dynamic force, and underpinnings of exploration and receptivity that are so characteristic of Gaga teaching.
Gileadi Dance Co. is scheduled to participate in the upcoming spring Mudson showing with a work entitled “Communa.” The name appears to suggest a continuation of themes set forth in Mr. Blue. Those curious to follow the development of this fledgling project can find GDC and new works in progress by other Utah dance artists at loveDANCEmore’s event at the Marmalade Library on March 6th.
*Quotes for this article were taken from GDC’s website, marketing materials, and program notes. This one originated in a promotional video for Mr. Blue.
This article is published in collaboration with lovedancemore.org