by Danell Hathaway
Having reviewed last season’s Daughters of Mudson, I came to the 2014 performance last weekend with much expectation. The 2013 show lingered with me long after I left the Studio Theater at the Rose Wagner. and this year’s iteration didn’t disappoint, leaving me pleasantly surprised, often amused, and a bit bewildered — which is a good thing…
The minimalist design of the Rose Wagner Studio Theater maintained a sleek, progressive atmosphere, but the addition of strip lights refined the look of the concert while creating the intimate environment patrons of the series have come to expect. The collection of works presented here were curated by Ishmael Houston-Jones from loveDANCEmore’s works-in-progress series at the Masonic Temple in the last year. Despite simplistic beginnings — relationships, self-discovery, boredom, transitions — the material shared relatable themes. It was clear the topics addressed weren’t cutting edge but through skilled execution and a sense of play, the dances created space for meaning and purpose to sink deep into the complexities of the human experiences.
Erica Womack’s Dear Son opened the show, serving as a perplexing work, simultaneously alienating and bewitching. Two dancers exchanged intimate, repetitive gestures focused on the cavity of the belly, coupled with a series of supportive and concerned touches. The dancers shared companionship as they whirled in sweeping unison, rendering spiritual solemnity. Excerpts of “This Little Light of Mine” were sung intermittently which furthered a ritualistic undertone. While the audience was encouraged to hum along, it distracted me to hear a few brave souls in the crowd sing the tune. I questioned the context of the piece of music but settled on the most logical connection presented by the choreographer and new mother: bearing witness to the pain, joy, and surreal yet primal act of childbirth. I was unable to relate to the subject matter personally but was intrigued by the structure. I did desire to see less drapery in the costuming and more emphasis on the physical body as the choreography placed an emphasis on transfiguration.
When Efren Corado Garcia appeared next in heels and a biketard for My Little Man. By my side, eyes fixed on me, he moved, I braced myself for an alter ego, gender-bending caricature carousel ride but instead was presented with a stunningly personal and poignant portrayal of acceptance and empowerment. Imploding stereotypes surrounding gender-exploration, this three-part installment instead offered honest slices of Garcia’s self, not particularly masculine or feminine, just a succession of lightning fast vignettes encapsulating the story of his moving body. A warm-colored light flipped on mid-dance to project a soft silhouette as Garcia stroked, caressed and revealed himself with obscure but striking vulnerability that lingers in my memory. In the final section, amidst a soaring sound score, Garcia stripped 3/4 of his biketard away, as if to shed the old aspects and reveal something more powerful and confident. As Garcia scanned the audience with minimal movement, he offered himself with a “take it or leave it” stance as the lights faded.
The Beatles or The Stones? choreographed by Brooklyn Draper gave a glimpse into what I’d imagine as the Mad Hatter’s road trip, complete with obtuse quarrels, oddly placed text and an awkward, family-photo motif that became an anchor to the dance. While solos showcased a breadth of engaging movement, I felt a little left out of the jokes and was unable to attach to a clear through-line helping me unpack and translate the many movement tropes within in the piece.
The superbly crafted and masterfully executed This is the Beginning of Boredom (inspired by Andy Warhol) by Ching–I Chang was easily my favorite of the evening. A dancer carrying a suitcase and wearing an Andy Warhol wig and Ray-bans mysteriously stumbled from the audience, discreetly unfolding a series of directions. The solo became a duet with a similarly accessorized dancer and the two completed a series of random actions revolving around cans of tomato soup, spoons, suitcases and a roll of paper. At one point I laughed out loud as one dancer tried to stuff as many spoons and cans into her knee folds as possible. I applaud the dancers ability to seamlessly talk with each other and the audience while maintaining a certain air of tongue-in-cheek ease. I found myself feeling as if I was back in the Warhol’s 1960’s Factory observing muses muck about with the creative process.
The final piece of the evening was an endearing and jocular exchange between Sam Hanson and Michael Watkiss in Watkiss’s With(out) Sam. The two loosely bantered about dancing together throughout high school and college, what dance education has “done” to Watkiss and also addressed the sordid world of dance belt talks. As Watkiss jammed to RJD2, stripped to nothing but a dance belt and performed a string of twisting and disjointed motions, re-dressed and recited a children’s story, the piece evolved into more than just a haphazard homage to their friendship but became an auto-biographical template. Engaging and empirical, the piece seemed to suggest we wear, slough off, reconfigure and transform our own history, as we identify and mark those moments that define us.
The Mudson series and particularly the Daughters of Mudson performances continually offer a much needed alternative to most of Utah’s traditional dance performance paradigms. As the season continues to mature, I expect to see more innovation and risk-taking while maintaining the refreshing format from inception to completion.
Daughters of Mudson took place on June 13th & 14th, 2014 at the Studio Theatre Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center Salt Lake City, Utah.
Danell Hathaway co-directs the group Movement Forum and teaches dance at Olympus High School.
This article is published in partnership with loveDANCEmore.org.