From the DC Dance Journalism Project
REVIEW: “Objects of Hope: The America Project review” by Contradiction Dance
at Anacostia Arts Center
By Raquel Lake
“When I think about America, what comes to mind?” Kelly King asked. This question was the start of King’s post-show discussion, and it also seemed to be the question that guided the creation of Objects of Hope.
America: it is a place, a people, a culture, a word that means so many different things to so many people. For Kelly King what comes to mind is the word ‘hope.’ In her piece, Objects of Hope: The America Project, King explored what hope and America look and feel like through the art of dance.
The doors of the black box theater opened, and the audience entered to a room lit with red and blue lights meeting at the center of the stage floor and one very visible object, the American flag, hanging from a hook on the wall. This symbol of America, our flag has become yet another divisive topic in the on-going conversation about all that is happening right now in the land of milk and honey.
I think two questions were raised in this piece, what is happening to the American people and what is happening to the American Dream. Objects of Hope became the vehicle for the audience to start the conversation with themselves about our America, our symbols and our American identity. Dance used adeptly to articulate the narrative of the complexities of being American.
The dance opened to a dark theater that lit up to greet one lone dancer in white (Alison Waldman). She faced the audience standing tall with her palm raised and a gaze fixed somewhere beyond the room. She was then joined by five other dancers all, too, dressed in white – white gauzy dresses, white shirts, white pants, or white skirts. One male dancer (Simar Bitar) wore a white top and skirt seeming, in my opinion, to confront our ideas of gender and identity. Our identities are often being placed upon us without our consent. The choice to dress a male dancer in a skirt was another clue that, as stated in the program, Objects of Hope would be “an interactive performance that asks us all to consider how we treat the other in our midst.”
At the onset, Kelly King asked us in the audience to put away our judgements or preconceived notions and be a willing participant in the conversation. Throughout the piece, intellectually and physically, the audience was asked to interact with what we were seeing. Once the dancers were on stage, all gazed ahead, performing the same movement of leaning to the right with their palms raised. Their gaze was so intent that I almost wanted to turn around and look at what was behind me. The gaze was broken when a dancer was bumped into by another, which resulted in the two dancing together, like two people awakened by the presence of the other.
These accidental interactions went on for a bit until one dancer (Sadie Leigh Rothman) asked the question, “Who wants pie?” What pie did they give us, why, apple pie of course! Apple pie, another American symbol, was so wonderfully introduced into the piece. This is when the audience became for the first time a more active participant in the performance. Once we were given our slice of the American pie, we were asked if we liked it. Without hesitation we all responded with a resounding, “YES!”
Sadie, who I began to refer to as Miss America, put on an apron and also sported an American flag bandana. She, decked out in all her America flair, went on to tell us about her own love of apple pie, the pie of America, of the people. She then picked up a nerf gun and loaded it and began shooting at a target on the door. When she successfully shot the target the next section of the piece started. Pac-Man music began, and so did the games.
All the dancers of Contradiction Dance on stage again moved about with plodding steps only stopping to play games like rock-paper-scissors with one another. Whoever won would yell “IN!” and got to keep moving while the loser yelled “OUT!” and performed situps or pushups to get back in the game. The games all end when one dancer loses the game by being shot by Miss America, who then takes off her apron while her victim is dragged off stage by the other dancers. Miss America, then left alone, pulled up a stool and began to talk about her own personal experience with gun violence.
What started to shine through at this point in the performance was the quality that each individual dancer brought to the piece and to the movement. Some dancer’s movements felt natural and fluid. There was also a definite improvisational element too; dancers seemed to be engaging with movement coming from within. While some of the dancing was overly dramatic, with exaggerated attention to the arms or the feet or the quality of the movement, it didn’t distract from the piece, it worked for the piece. Objects of Hope is ultimately about the collective us, so having all types of bodies and means dance together seemed to convey that idea appropriately. As an audience member, I began to feel the personal connection that each dancer had with the piece.
Other notable parts of the show were the performances by first time dance performer Neil Negri on drums and in a breakdancing solo. Another intriguing section was the penultimate ensemble piece, in which each dancer confronted their own words they associate with America. We heard words like arrogance, ignorance, big, hot dogs, privilege, and confusion land called out and accompanied with movement. Objects of Hope ends with an amazing visual display of dancers creating a flag, a reprise of the opening image of a flag. I left feeling a little less conflicted by my own American identity because of what I saw, what I learned, and what I experienced.
I was fortunate to see Objects of Hope: The America Project on its opening night at the Anacostia Arts Center. After the show, I was able to meet Kelly King, choreographer and artistic director of Contradiction Dance, who is passionate about using her art to help take action and start a discourse about the issues we face in America. This piece, which she began working on in 2008, truly displays her artistic expression and that of her dancers. It is fulfilling and thought-provoking for the audience too.
What I appreciated most about this performance was that it was never blatant or too obvious. It presented an idea but let us the audience decide our relationship to it. When the show ends with the dancers stood bathing in white light, gazing somewhere beyond us, they bow the lights go out and the conversation could begin.
Objects of Hope is performance art in every sense of the word. While dance is at the heart of it, it is dance in its most organic form. If you want to see long lines and sleek extensions, it has those traditional elements too, danced exquisitely by company dancers like Erin White, but this show more importantly has six dedicated dancers performing with thought for self and audience.
I asked dancer MissJessica Denson what she was trying to convey with her movements.
“I tried to convey honesty,” Denson responded. And what better way to start the conversation about America than with the truth.
Objects of Hope: The America Project will continue its run at the Anacostia Arts Center (1231 Good Hope Rd SE, Washington, D.C 20020) on October 8th, 13th, 14th, and 15th at 7:30pm.
Tickets $20 online (link to http://objectsofhope.brownpapertickets.com/), $25 at the door