REVIEW: REBOLLAR AND FRIENDS: 40 AND UP!
by Mariana C. Barros
Aging can be a taxing endeavor for most, especially in a society that glorifies youth as the epitome of beauty and potential. Erica Rebollar, however, is not most people. Rebollar is a regular in the DC dance scene. She founded her company, Rebollar Dance, in 2003 and is known for incorporating various multimedia components into her shows while tying them together with common themes and artistic language. In REBOLLAR AND FRIENDS: 40 AND UP!, she once again brought together a diverse group of artists to explore creating work with the wisdom, dread, acceptance, perspective, and everything else that comes with age.
The show began in the lobby at Joe’s Movement Emporium, a theater just outside of the District city limits. Opening remarks were given by collaborator Sharon Mansur on her and Rebollar’s shared fascination with investigating the “rich potential and beauty of gaps, transitional, and empty spaces.” In In Between, an improvisational duet, Rebollar and Mansur explored the otherwise overlooked areas throughout the theater through movement.
Beginning with a single outstretched hand coming out of a side door in the lobby, Rebollar and Mansur playfully interacted with each other and at times the audience. One of my favorite moments in this piece was when Mansur bumped into the door and then decided to go outside and tease Rebollar through the window. Another memorable moment occurred when a pair of unsuspecting late-comers came through the doors and Mansur and Rebollar both sharply turned to look at them. Both of these moments illustrated the artists’ strong character insertion and ability to react while performing. Their character dynamic kept the audience engaged. I found myself wondering if I would be next to be noticed and brought into their game.
After a few minutes continuing to move through the lobby, Rebollar and Mansur (with the help of four “guides”) led us through the backstage hallways and then onto the stage. On their way through the hallways backstage, they each found benches where they continued dancing on their own. I was captivated by Rebollar’s movement on her bench. She had an incredible ability to follow along with the notes coming from the speakers. I could barely hear the actual music myself, but in watching her body react, I was able to see it. If I hadn’t been holding up the people behind me, I would’ve stayed longer to watch her during this moment.
Once in the theater, the guides instructed us to stay on the apron of the stage looking out into the audience. This view that is normally reserved for the performers only became accessible to the audience. It was a clever way to put their concept of exploring the rich potential of non traditional spaces into practice. Rebollar and Mansur danced in the center aisle of the house and behind the last row of the house. As they wrapped up their piece, they leapt from the risers onto the apron and scurried away as we in the audience found our seats.
Next came a solo, Dry Cleaning, by Giselle Ruzany. The number opened with Ruzany standing downstage left on top of a pool of plastic-wrap shaped into a large rectangle. There was another plastic garment bag hanging from a dry cleaning hanger on the opposite side of the stage from her. Ruzany first examined her image in front of her imaginary reflection, a scene too familiar to any woman used to criticizing her body and image in comparison to societal and commercial standards. I would imagine, and inferred from the context given by the show, that this only worsens as women get older and modern beauty standards continue to favor more and more youthful characteristics. After examining herself for quite some time, Ruzany moved on to wrap herself in the plastic and shape it into a garment – only to still be disappointed by what she saw in her reflection. This garment later encompassed her completely, and she danced throughout the stage while trapped underneath it. While she was moving through the stage, we could see her struggle to get out and occasionally saw an arm or leg extension escape from the plastic. Near the end, when she was finally able to escape, we saw her jump and reach for the plastic garment hanging from the hanger.
To me, this piece perfectly depicted the disappointment of looking into a mirror and the subsequent struggle of trying to fit into impossible standards, while dealing with all of the intricate complexities of life, and how suffocating it can be. And just when it seems as if you’ve been able to break through that cycle and be happy in nonconformity, even then, there will be unattainable goals that may look different, that may seem new, but they are made of that same empty, plastic material. When Ruzany reached for the garment at the end, she showed us that despite being free from the garment she was still trapped in the same cycle. Needless to say, I thoroughly enjoyed Ruzany’s performance.
After Ruzany’s solo came another solo by Rebollar herself, 90-second condensation of quick-twitch, fast-fire movements performed at warp speed, to a Rachmaninoff Prelude. This solo was a brief 90-second, lightning speed burst of energy and provided a quick break from the rest of the program.
The next number featured was an excerpt performed by Helanius J. Wilkins from his evening-length project /CLOSE/R set to a cover of Prince’s “When Doves Cry.” Dressed in a loose white button up and barely anything else, Wilkins portrayed graceful vulnerability and demonstrated the most technical movement of the evening. With powerful legs and tall stature, Wilkins filled the stage with ease. His movement flowed easily from step to step. The piece as a whole felt a bit monotonous until the very end when he picked up roses. This part changed the tone but did seem to come out of nowhere, most likely attributed to the fact that the solo is part of a larger work, and thus we could have missed some of the context.
The last number in the first act was a duet by Malcolm Shute, performed by Shute and Rebollar, titled Eurydice. It was inspired by Greek Mythology and set in the Underworld after Orpheus (Shute) goes to retrieve Eurydice (Rebollar). We witnessed the two lovers intricately maneuver through a set of delicate lifts and weight-sharing exercises. The choreography had interesting elements, like the opening moment where Shute’s hand came from behind a still Rebollar, perfectly portraying Orpehus’ feelings of desperate longing to find Eurydice. As a whole, this piece felt very long. We watched what seemed to be the same lifts over and over again, and it held the same tone throughout. Notably, the dancers looked at each other throughout the piece. Though versions of the story may differ, the one fact that goes unchanged is that Orpheus cannot look at Eurydice, otherwise she’s bound to the underworld forever. While I understand that they were doing a number of lifts that needed communication, it was a bit unnerving. I did notice that they put an emphasis on the final look which sent his partner away, but I couldn’t help but note the discrepancy in his looking at her throughout the piece.
After a brief intermission, Jack Kirven presented a half monologue, half dance performance piece, Best If Used By, which was the most poignant and raw of the evening. In his monologue, Kirven shared with us his backstory growing up in rural Georgia as a gay young boy. He later ended up in the adult entertainment industry, where dance had seemed to fit into his life throughout. Currently, Kirven makes most of his income from being a personal trainer, and he demonstrated his impressive physique in barely-there briefs and his physical skill by doing 100 pushups which the audience counted as he completed. He captivated the audience by presenting his story honestly and unapologetically, focusing on where he found his worth and effectively encouraging us to find our own. Kirven may be over 40 years old and his life experiences tell it, but looking at him, I could see he’s got so much life inside of him. I look forward to seeing where his next chapter leads him.
After Kirven’s solo came another solo by Sandra Lacy, LOST, which was humorous and creative. Featuring music with directions, it depicted the navigatation through the intricacies of life while trying to figure out your own course and maintain an emotional balance. Next, Dan Kwong’s The Healing Blade featured a circle of life story about his experience having to take care of his father during the later years of his life. Kwong incorporated the swinging of his Japanese Katana sword to punctuate certain words in his monologue and used it to cut through stems of flowers held over the head of a kneeling Rebollar. This piece incorporated the most diverse forms of art, and Kwong’s storytelling was absolutely captivating.
Carol Hess’ Partial Recall II was a contemporary tap solo. With her energy and green tap shoes, this was a welcomed deviation from the rest of the show. The show then closed with an audience participation number that was a collaboration between Rebollar and Maida Withers and provided a lot of information on Rebollar and her life. This final piece brought the show full circle by bringing everyone together back on the stage.
While all the pieces were each filled with their own artistic value, the show felt really long, running about 2 hours and 15 minutes, and I felt drained towards the end. I think it had more to do with programming, as many of the pieces carried the same tone and they were mostly solos. Individually, I enjoyed the pieces and felt they were of high quality. All together, and with no warning of the time of the length of the show as a whole, I felt eager to get out of the theater once it was over. Programming is really the only pillar that was lacking.
That said, Rebollar has an incredible way of bringing theme and people together in collaboration, and that speaks volumes about who she is as a person and as an artist. In REBOLLAR AND FRIENDS: 40 & UP!, her community building was evident, and she gave a varied group of artists a platform to bring their unique strengths and experiences to the stage. For more information on her upcoming works, visit her website at www.rebollardance.com.