by Erin Womack
The Penguin Lady Presents, a night of choreography by Natosha Washington, premiered to a full crowd at the Rose Wagner Black Box Theater. The show begins with a personal and heartfelt message that thanks the audience for coming to partake in an evening of dance, and asks us to connect with and acknowledge the seventeen dancer’s humanity, unique stories, and individuality.
The first piece of the night, Black Sheep, is danced by the Penguin Lady herself and is the standout piece of the evening. Washington’s monologue is both hilarious and revealing as it echoes the vulnerability and strength of both the movement and mover. Acknowledging struggles of race and body image experienced as a black dancer in Utah, Washington stands tall, emerging as confident and powerful. The music by Tracie Morris serves as a reminder of the persistent struggle and static on the quest to self-realization and self-validation. At one point she looks amusingly at the audience, cups a breast, then flaunts her backside as if to say, ‘Yes, I am here. This is me. Get used to it.’
House of Timothy also stands out among the concerts nine works for its compositional and dramatic clarity. This piece highlights a tumultuous relationship, and both Monica Campbell and Nathan Shaw dance with nuance and maturity. It is impossible to look away as these two flawed individuals air their dirty laundry on stage, and really why should we? People have taken notice of this piece since it was honored by the American College Dance Festival Association and, like many of the pieces on the program, was a re-creation of a past work.
Early on the audience is told that the concert is inspired by the stories of the diverse and close-knit cast, some of whom deliver narrative text throughout the concert. At times this is clear and at others, the compositional structure and choices fail the telling of these stories, and the intent becomes murky. In IV we see Nathan Shaw and Tyler Kunz dance a tender duet that is important and relevant for the obvious reason that two men are highlighting a romantic relationship on stage. They perform the piece with honesty and integrity. However, the addition of Jennifer A. Beaumont and Monica Campbell distract this relationship and confuse the intent. Perhaps their presence made sense when the personal narrative of the piece is taken into account, but as someone that does not have access to this narrative, their addition felt unnecessary.
The final piece of the evening, Exit From Eden, showcases sweeping vast movement and statuesque partnering. Lush gestures often give way to meaningful looks into space, the performers searching for answers to their questions as well as new questions to answer. Partaking in these seventeen performers stories was a lovely way to spend a Thursday night in Salt Lake City and I recommend attending this weekend; to dance is to speak, and I am glad for the chance to listen to the Penguin Lady.
Erica Womack teaches at SLCC, holds her MFA from the University of Utah and lives with her family in Sugarhouse.
This review is published in collaboration with loveDANCEmore.org