REVIEW: “The Kind of Thing That Would Happen” by Agora Dance at Dance Place

From the DC Dance Journalism Project

REVIEW: “The Kind of Thing That Would Happen” by Agora Dance at Dance Place
by Mariana C. Barros

“Art is not truth. Art is a lie that enables us to recognize truth.”
-David Shields, Reality Hunger (taken from show text)

In The Kind of Thing That Would Happen, choreographed by Artistic Director Olivia Sabee, Agora Dance presented the audience with a full theatrical experience exploring literal questions on art, performance, poetry, and perception. Sabee incorporated many thought provoking poems delivered both as recordings included in the score or lines delivered by the performers as they danced. Through its use of spoken word and dance, Agora Dance aimed to blur the lines between dance, poetry, and philosophy and presented them in a language that we can all understand: heartbreak.

The evening’s show was propelled by recollections of a former love and the subsequent spiral of existential dilemma-bearing questions that typically accompany memories of love lost. “I miss him,” ended the first journal entry of the evening. This was the first of many memories that manifested themselves as different tableaus reenacted on other planes throughout the stage. Many times these scenes featured simple yet beautifully-executed pas de deux shared by the lovers. While some of these duets were whimsical, others were filled with passion or disconnect; intentionally planted to mirror the natural progression of real-life relationships. Other times, these tableaus dove deeper and personified the inner workings of the mind when the self consults with the past, emotion, and fact to create or recall a memory.

“In any story, but especially a true one, it’s difficult to separate what happened from what seemed to happen. What seems to happen becomes its own happening and has to be told that way.”

– adapted from Tim O’Brien, The Things They Carried (taken from show text)

The four cast members, Catherine Roth (company co-founder), Hannah Joo, Melissa Lineburg, and Robert Rubama were a joy to watch with an impressive versatility carried out in their performance. All cast members shared a solid foundation in ballet that was evident even in the most contemporary phrases. Sabee’s genius shined through in her diverse use of space and different planes throughout the stage. With the help of lighting design by Annie Choudhury, even moments where separate phrases happened simultaneously still succeeded in conveying their individual message. The movement flowed seamlessly from scene to scene in a film-like whirl. Though I was in the very last row of the house, at times I felt as if I were watching the movement unfold through a camera lens zooming in, out, and through the stage as the scenes lived on by way of words written in the pages of a journal.

The choreography itself balanced between textbook ballet technique, modern surrealism, and pedestrian inspired contemporary movement. This diversity in movement created layers that allowed each scene to carry distinct physical vocabularies that still fit into the overall story. Layers played a big role in the architecture of this show: layers in ideas, dance techniques, and characterization. The main female character was divided into three roles: the present self, past self, and the true or objective self. This split created an interesting dynamic in the group pieces where perspective was brought into the third dimension. This played out most prominently in the pieces that involved the full cast when we saw the three selfs interact with the love interest, then disperse into their own movement-based interpretations of the situation.

A notable stand-out of the night was the striking set – a one bedroom apartment equipped with a kitchen and filled cupboards, designed by Ben Levine. Striking not only for its size, but also for the attention to detail Levine administered onto it. The kitchen held some of my favorite moments between Roth & Rubama, particularly a duet that began with a journal entry about eating on the floor to escape the heat. Relatable and beautifully mundane moments like these were the portal which helped morph the larger-than-life questions into a digestible, painfully-human reality. One question “What happens when we can no longer freeze the shifting phantasmagoria which is our actual experience?” led me to think about if it even matters when the person you love has moved on.

“It is clear that the function of the poet is not to say what has happened, but to say the kind of thing that would happen, what is possible in accordance with probability or necessity.”

– Aristotle, Poetics (taken from show text)

Though the fusion of spoken word and dance is nothing new, and quite honestly seems to be a recurring denominator all over the DC dance scene lately, and perhaps I’ll add that the questions raised were not unlike many of the same that have inspired art across genres for decades – still, Agora Dance’s fragmented and layered interpretation of such managed to make the ideas and methods explored in The Kind of Thing That Would Happen seem modern and newly discovered. I’m eager to see what Agora Dance has in store for its upcoming season.