REVIEW: I.C. Movement Project at Strathmore

From the DC Dance Journalism Project

Review: “Through the Glass Ceiling” by I. C. Movement Project
by Raquel Lake

Ok, so let’s get the usual review stuff out of the way. On Sunday, August 7, I attended a performance by I.C. Movement Project, and they performed the piece entitled Through the Glass Ceiling. The performance was held at the Studio Theater at Strathmore, and it was a 2:00 p.m. show. This was the second showing of the piece; the first was the night before. I was really excited to see the dancers with one show under their belt. The dancers are now very familiar with the work, how to perform it, and how to emote and connect with the audience and not just dance the choreography. I found a good seat up front and was ready to see all the action. I wasn’t disappointed because in one word the performance was “great.” Great choreography performed by great dancers. Accompanied by lighting, costumes, original score. Check, check, and check; all of those elements were great, too. So now with the formal stuff out of the way, let me tell what made this performance a nice way to spend a Sunday afternoon consuming great dance and ultimately great art.

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I came to review the piece with no expectations or preconceived notions. I didn’t even read my peer’s preview of the piece because I wanted fresh, untainted eyes to see how the performance would move me. The lights went down, and I was excitedly thinking, “I am about to see a ballet!” When the lights came up on the black flat space, I saw four women all dressed like proper ballerinas wearing pointe shoes in a class standing around the lone male figure- the instructor. He, on the other hand, was dressed very plainly and casually. The dance class began with these beautiful women all performing the same robotic movements. They reminded me of wind-up dolls performing on command. Beautiful dancing soldiers whom he guided at random. Lifting legs higher for better extension; fixing bad form or flawed movements that only seemed perceptible to him. He was fully in-charge of his class and immediately artistic director and choreographer Ivy Chow’s narrative rang loud and clear.

Ultimately, this piece is about a particular why and where of the ballet world, and in a broader sense, society’s gender inequality. Where are the women? Why is there not an equal representation of female artistic directors and female choreographers?  As we watch a woman try and break the glass ceiling to become president, Chow, too, is trying to break through the glass ceiling of ballet. In the question and answer session held at the performance’s conclusion, she read us astonishing facts about how women are underrepresented in key ways, but make up the majority of the actual dancers in the ballet dance community. Chow also spoke about how men are trained differently, and even nurtured more, than their female counterparts, which may be causing them to become more creative dancers and more confident in their ability to lead other dancers later. As Chow points out, because the community does more from the outset to facilitate men, this may be one reason men become future artistic directors and choreographers. The same nurturing is not done, to a large extent, for women. I was not aware of all these facts and ideas before, and I appreciate being informed.

After the instructor of the piece dismisses his beautiful dancing soldiers, he lays down to sleep. The whole mood changes as a masked woman comes on stage and leads him on a journey to bear witness to the ballet world from a different perspective. She presents him with the current life of the female dancer. The life of dancers not unlike the very dancers he trains. As he and the masked dancer exit, three dancers come on stage. They dance in canon. One following the other’s movement like a choreographed ‘Row, Row, Row Your Boat.’ They followed that by leaping and racing to catch the other, very reminiscent of the competing that dancers have to do. In the ballet world in particular, to become a prima ballerina is an intense and highly-competitive world. Chow effectively demonstrated the many pitfalls and hardships that female dancers go through.

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What I truly and thoroughly enjoyed about this piece was that it’s not about solely about ballet. All the things I associated with ballet didn’t come to mind. I never felt like the movements were too rigid or creatively constricting or, honestly, ballet-specific. There was freedom in this piece. I watched amazing dancers dance.  The dancers were impressive. Their skills impressed upon me the wonderful qualities of the balletic movements. Yes, the vocabulary was pure ballet, but the dancers used their full capabilities as well-trained ballet dancers to articulate this notion: we are dancers who just happen to do ballet. That’s an important thing to note. Sometimes certain forms of art make audiences feel they cannot relate. That it may not be worth seeing a piece if they cannot understand it. Ballet sometimes is thought to be the dance of the more cultured audience. An audience that knows what to expect and receives it. Through the Glass Ceiling, in my opinion, was able to make the usual crowds feel satiated and pleased, as well as, open a new dialogue with audiences not as familiar with ballet.

Chow’s thoughtful examination of the subject matter and how to perform it for the masses, I feel is the reason. Like many great artists before her (and hopefully after), she is trying to start a real dialogue with this piece. Why aren’t women equally represented in the entire world of ballet? In order to have a real discourse, you need everyone to contribute. Not just women, but men, too. It was fitting that in the piece, another male dancer is introduced. His performance was quite amazing. Watching his performance drove home the notion of the dancer as an athlete. I contend that dancers are the athletes of art. With Kung Fu-esque movements, he and fellow female dancers gave a rousing performance demonstrating the real need for all sides to work together and the great results to be had when this is allowed to happen. Just as I was absorbing what I had seen, I was presented the very last piece before the end. This section of the ballet was beautiful and haunting. It featured three dancers tethered with a rope at their ankles that had ballet shoes attached. Eventually, each woman removed the ropes and their own shoes to dance unencumbered. They help instructor and audience see what women go through, the damaging effects of the ceiling.

The piece ends with the instructor awake and able to change things. He and the now unmasked woman dance together as couple and as two fellow and equal dancers. They are then joined by the other dancers so at the climatic end, the stage is filled with six more dancers: five women and the other male lead dancing harmoniously and happily on stage together. The class is taught very differently, now that the instructor has a new found perspective. Through the Glass Ceiling ends with all dancers in a line performing percussive moments, while at various points clapping their own hand into their palm, literally breaking the ceiling. Clap, clap, clap, clap. Each movement punctuated by composer George Shaw’s captivating and wonderful original score adding to the crescendo of sound of the ceiling breaking. Once it was broken, the dancers leap to the audience and the lights go out.

I.C. Movement with artistic director Ivy Chow at the helm will absolutely bring dance and art what it needs: thought-provoking dance, thought-provoking art. She understands dance and the the power it has as an art form- to challenge audiences and bring about discussion. Through the Glass Ceiling is a piece that challenged me to think about not only how I consume art I love, but how do I interact with the ideas it puts forth. I feel challenged as an artist to be more thoughtful about the impact I can have and the difference I can make. Through the Glass Ceiling is worth seeing for the pure dance fan, ballet lover and or anyone seeking to understand how art so wonderfully and purely can make a difference.

[All photos by George Shaw]