An hour before the curtain goes up I am sitting in the house of the Illusion Theater. I’m watching Young Dance have a company meeting and warm-up, reviewing the order of the show and taking a few deep breaths together before their 2nd annual spring gala. Young Dance is a modern dance company of 35 boys and girls between the ages of 7 and 18. A tender and sweet energy permeates the theater. The younger kids’ eager and nervous energy is channeled into chattiness. Really nice teenagers lead by calm example. I am going to write more specifically about two pieces: Welcome by Voice of Culture (a collection of artists dedicated to the study of West African Dance and Culture directed by Kenna Camara-Cottman), and ROTATOR a collaboration between Morgan Thorson and Chris Schlichting.
Voice of Culture and Young Dance both perform in Welcome. The dance begins with VOC company member overlapping several traditional African dances. Four dancers slowly accumulate on the stage facing away from downstage. As the slowly accumulated, they slowing exit, leaving Ms. Kenna alone on the stage beckoning up-stage right. C’mon, c’mon, c’mon. A group of mixed-aged dancers emerges and runs to center stage. I don’t know if they missed their cue, or if it as a campy joke. Either way, it is perfect.
Rectangular formations perform a dance and then exit stage left as a new group enters. Sometimes the shortest are in front, sometimes the tallest are in front. The audience claps to the singing drums. According the the program the dances of the evening are: KouKou a fishing dance from the Tomah people, Kassa a harvest dance from the Malinke People, Tribah a ceremonial dance from the Landuma people. and Fanga Alfafia an adaptation of a welcoming dance from the Kpelle people. The last section shows both companies freestyling on stage together. Welcome embodies rather that represents it’s content. People of all different ages bodies and schools coming together in dance as a community.
The traditional dances in Welcome were taught to Young Dance not only by Ms. Kenna Camara-Cottman– the director of VOC– but also in a peer-to-peer style where young member of VOC (Selema Al-Ahad, Averie Mitchell-Brown, Deja Stower, and Jasmine Harris) taught the Young Dancers. There is an affinity between VOC and Young Dance, each placing high value on youth developing as whole people. VOC has been a guest at Young Dance for several years, and I hope this multi-year partnership continues to grow.
The lights come up and they are bright. White light from above shows everything, there are no shadows on the stage. The lighting, like the dancing is plain, direct, with nothing extra.The choreography has percussive moments. Feet insistently touch the floor. Arms criss-crossing. A taste of the vernacular. Repetition, subtle variation, and changing facings. Pairs of dancers stag leap, stag leap, stage leap up the stage. There seemed to be a personal geometry to the spatial patterns. An irregular balance. The movement is specific, the movement is physical, the paths are exact. Without an external rhythm, the unison is tight. There is no soundscape other than the sounds of the movement, the buzz and the pop of the lights. The absence of music underscores an absence of preciousness about the youth of the dancers. The challenge of the dance reminds me of my own experience as a Young Dancer– craving difficult things and the pleasure of moving, of doing something hard. I am proud of the dancers, and their appetite for movement (to borrow a phrase from KVL).
ROTATOR is costumed in dark gray tones, accented with contrasting theatrical spike tape. Unified in color scheme and visual texture with individual details. The darkness of the costumes and the tone of the stage made it possible at time to image the dance as a painting of thin colored lines passing through space. This first choreographic collaboration between Morgan Thorson & Chris Schlichting, ROTATOR retains distinct elements from the recent work of both choreographers. At the same time, it stands on apart as a singular work of choreography with continuity of movement and intention throughout.
I graduated from Young Dance in 2008. In the past 6 years the Level Ones have grown into High Schoolers. I saw boys and girls I remembered as 4 feet tall have grown into young adults. It was like going to a Bat Mitzvah. I’m kvelling. This evening I felt freed from judging, and ready to perform the role of supportive audience member. It reminds me that sometimes I perform acts of self-sabotage when I go out to see a show. I prepare my “critical lens” and seek flaws, instead of just monitoring my own subjective experience. During Found in Translation, I remembered growing-up in Young Dance. Learning to be confident and comfortable as myself. I remember the experience of getting better at something through hard work and practice, and inventing choreography. I am excited that Young Dance is thriving, thriving, and growing at 26 years-old.