REVIEW: “5 by 5: An Original Dance and Music Concert” presented by Sylvana Christopher

From the DC Dance Journalism Project

5 by 5 An Original Dance and Music Concert
Review by Raquel Lake

Dance happens wherever it can. More importantly, art happens whenever and wherever possible. Whether it be at a school or a theater or even a church, all the performer needs is an audience. Such was the case for the show 5 by 5, which took place in St. Columba’s Episcopal Church on Saturday, November 19. 5 by 5: An Original Dance and Music Concert was presented by choreographer Sylvana Christopher and was an ambitious collection of work meant to feature five artists and five pieces. What we got to see were multiple artists presenting intriguing, original dance and music for a captive audience.

Inside the church, a brightly lit room with rafters holding red, yellow and orange cloths was where audience and performers all gathered to experience Sylvana Christopher’s first production. While we faced a stage that contained only a grand piano, dancers stretched and watched fellow performers. It created a very intimate feel with everyone in one room together. The show began with a brief introduction by Christopher about 5 by 5, her idea to put together an event that would showcase different artists from the dance and music worlds. It was clear to me that Christopher cares deeply about the arts and supporting them.

Once introductions were over, the show began. The first performer was guitarist John Lee. He sat in the middle of the stage caressing his metallic guitar and began to play. He used a button to make it sound strangely distorted. It sounded more like a sitar than a guitar. After a few minutes, he dropped the button and began to strum a heartfelt melodic piece. He played an original piece called “Before” that included twinges of melancholy and sweet light notes he strummed on his acoustic guitar. While his foot tapped to his own beat, I felt as if we were being transported through the clouds.

Next up was Grace Cannon’s piece entitled Getting to Know You featuring Kate Kight. The two dancers walked on stage in funky leggings with different patterns. The dancers’ faces, painted like cats, made up the rest of their costume. When the music began, the cats began to play. This first dance of 5 by 5 showed how dance can be fun. The two dancer-cats played and danced while taking full advantage of the space. Dancing alone, as partners, or mirroring each other’s movements, I watched modern dancers demonstrate how precise technique can be communicated in not just complex movements, but simply and playfully. The dancers bumped hips and danced to the beat. They focused on each other the way a cat would, the way thoughtful dancers do, too. In the end, we see the two cats lay on the floor in a happy heap.

Cannon’s cats-at-play was followed by Heather Doyle’s The Last Time I Saw You. Doyle’s piece was the only performance art piece of 5 by 5. It featured many props and took considerable time to setup, which was also part of the performance. We watched as she wrapped around the chairs that were brought on stage and the piano and piano bench. The string had construction paper clothes pinned to it, and each piece of construction paper had a different word written on it. Each page was a different color and featured words like ‘everything’ and ‘heal.’ The last prop brought on stage was a fan. I waited to see the words blown around the room, but that never happened, wishful thinking I guess. The sad sound score, a track of six women reciting Fleetwood Mac lyrics, perfectly matched the dance vocabulary of the piece. She writhed and undulated upright around the stage until ultimately the floor became her sole realm. Hypnotic movements left me mesmerized while my curiosity wondered what she was trying to tell me. At one point, she took off a layer of clothing and pulled her hood up all the way over her face and just moved around. The movements were precise with punctuated pointed toes and outstretched arms followed by a collapse to the floor. The regrettable aspect of this performance was that due to technical difficulties it ended too soon. The dancer was left with no more music to dance to. Doyle’s sound score was not properly downloaded for her performance. A lot of preparation and we were left with no resolve.

The show went on because it must go on. Taking the stage next was musician TJ Turqman with his original song entitled “Pictures.” Turqman, a bass guitar player, restarted the show with a groovy funky bass heavy track. The jazzy bluesy song made you tap your toes and wiggle in your seat. Turqman, too, bobbed his head and worked his shoulder to the groove he played. It truly made me want to get up out of my seat and be danced around the room with a partner.

The next piece was dance, and it featured Taariq Muhammad. His piece Creating Darkness was one of my favorites. His music featured a poem that he interpreted with each well-thought-out movement. Creating Darkness is Muhammad’s first piece of choreography. This young dancer truly has a bright future ahead of him. He was powerful and commanding, and he can just plain dance. His movements were expressive and dramatic, and he truly told us a story. I appreciate dancers that can show strength and grace, fluidity and power. Muhammed delivered all those things and more. Whether he was reaching to the heavens for answers or spinning to find his way out, the lines he made were mesmerizing. Once he took his black shirt off to reveal the white one underneath, whatever darkness he created was now gone. Christopher was smart to include dancers like Muhammad in 5 by 5; he gave the show the punch it needed.

We were not let down by the next performer’s commanding performance either. Samantha Sobash was the next dancer to take the stage performing her piece Implicit Affection. The picturesque quality some dancers are capable of adding to movement was present in Sobash’s piece. She reaches, she spins, she kicks, and she falls to the floor, all while keeping the rhythm. While she kept the beat throughout, that was not the point, but it was a nice feature. I liked her command of the music and her command of the stage. We all watched while she moved around the floor, sometimes like a spinning top busily moving with possessed purpose. After a final lap around the stage, she walked off, done with her affections.

Next was Deux, a piece choreographed by Nancy Havlik. Her piece featured two compelling dancers, Ken Manheimer and Sandra Roachford. They were accompanied onstage by fellow performer and upright bass player, Daniel Barbiero. The three performers complimented each other perfectly. I enjoyed watching the two dancers interact often while not touching. Even though there was space between them, I felt the strong connection they had with each other. A dancer is not just a movement artist, a dancer is an actor. These two performers understood that relationship and used that knowledge to present their bond. She would reach, and he would pull. He would tumble while she would spin. Whether dancing together or apart, the invisible force they created became real right before our eyes. Deux was a sweet little piece that showcased the talents of all three performers. On their toes, the dancers twirled around reaching for the stars. Down low, they tugged and pulled, demonstrating the yin and yang of all things. At the end, they both sat quietly resting on each other while watching their musician play.

Gena Photiadis, the sole pianist of the day, took the stage to play her original work “My Way.” Photiadis self-described “My Way’ as her “epic romantic piece.” She delivered a piece that felt very personal and heartfelt. It was refreshing to hear a song that sounded hopeful. Art is not all about our sadness or despair, a lot of great art is about love. You could hear and feel the love that she poured into her work. The piece was elegant with happy notes that danced in your ear. It was a piece that I would listen to again to recreate good feelings. This was the last solo music performance of the concert and was a great final one for the night.

One last time Sylvana Christopher took the stage to introduce the next piece, as she had done throughout the night. This time she introduced her own work, Then She Fell. This piece also featured a trio of performers: Maggie Lockhart, Sylvana Christopher, and guitarist John Lee. Then She Fell was another favorite. The dynamics of the conversation between the two dancers was riveting. Lockhart starts the piece dancing alone while Christopher is frozen in place. Lockhart set the tone with great poise and presence. Once the two dancers were both moving, their back and forth built great tension. They mirrored each other’s movements and gave us depth and height. The lifts were well-placed, too. Lockhart danced with deliberate lines and accentuation, Christopher danced with lyrical focus and attention. Lee’s music set tempo and helped tell the story of what the dancers were doing in space. Then She Fell was successful in presenting a narrative that makes you think.

All these compelling performances were packed in the one-hour show 5 by 5. Christopher plans to do more pieces like this in the future. If 5 by 5 can work out the kinks, keep showcasing great dancers, and thoughtful performances, I see great performances ahead.