REVIEW: 5by5 Community Dance Performance

5by5 Community Dance Performance
Dance Place
September 8, 2018

By Val Oliphant

Five choreographers showcased five new works in 5by5 this past weekend at Dance Place, curated by Sylvana Christopher. The show was a treat for both the community and the performers, offering an accessible (tickets were only $5!) performance while enabling artists to experiment with new concepts and ideas. Yet, the afternoon felt raw and a bit slapdash, particularly when Christopher mentioned that she hadn’t seen any of the pieces she selected. That said, each choreographer had a unique style, from hip hop to theater dance, and curator Christopher gave them free reign in their performance.

The show opened with A Solo, a touching theater dance piece by Sara Herrera, reminiscing on joyful family memories as she unpacked boxes of childhood memories. As Spanish guitar played, she twirled around in the same yellow dress her mother wore in the ‘70s while trailing long chains of orange paper flowers, large silver earrings catching the light, a smile catching at the corners of her mouth.

In between dances, five different local musicians played a short song for us. Of particular note was Freddie Dunn Jr., who played trumpet over a chilling electronic track while a man repeated “there is nothing to fear.”

Inspired by Degas’ painting of the same name, Waiting… by choreographer Sandy Roachford, captured the small nuances of waiting as two women sat on a bench awkwardly ‘not’ looking at each other.

In Stripped Back, choreographer and dancer Devon “Steeltoe” Wallace and dancer Daquan “DQ” Williams infused their movements with such genuine emotion that the entire audience was moved, whooping and gasping where appropriate. DQ entered the stage wearing large over-ear headphones, dancing along in a traditional upbeat hip hop and street style while Steeltoe desperately tried to get his attention. When the music changed to Erykah Badu’s On and On the two men reverentially worshipped the headphones as the dancing became softer and more intimate. In synchronization their hip hop felt like contemporary dance, even when DQ spun around atop his head like a b-boy with his legs cocked in a stag shape. The two men infused flips and jumps with sorrow and struggle then, back-to-back, supported each other as they simultaneously sank to the floor.

Reminiscent of choreographer Christopher K. Morgan’s explorations of masculinity in The Measure of a Man, choreographer and dancer Juliana Ponguta Forero showcased the first in a series of short vignettes examining her identity as a Colombian woman. Based on a Spanish idiom about an iguanas’ third eye (a photosensory organ on the top of their head), Iguana embodied a burlesque meets Planet Earth vibe. Transforming into the reptile, Forero pushed her hands through her hair forming ten large spikes atop her head as she removed the bright pink flower from her hair. She pulled out the skin on her neck and stomach and splayed out in contorted backbends while tapping her high heel to the beat. Then she removed the strappy sandal, flinging it off with a kick. The audience laughed as she imitated a lizard sunbathing on a rock, forming unnaturally flexible poses and shapes with her body.

A contemporary piece, Who, Two examined the ways that even fleeting interactions with other humans leave a mark on us. Choreographed by Joan Nicholas-Walker, it featured music that sounded like something an insomniac would listen to in a desperate bid for sleep if they lived in a dystopian concrete city.  

Personal introductions of each artist from curator Sylvana Christopher gave a feeling of being at a high-caliber talent show featuring D.C.’s local dancers and musicians. The program continued with coffee and donuts after the show.

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Valerie Oliphant is originally from Arizona, where she studied dance and international studies at the University of Arizona, including a study abroad dance program in Ghana. She currently teaches pole and aerial dance at Jordin’s Paradise and myofascial release and stretching for Praktika Wellness. She enjoys writing about movement and dance for her personal blog, move your story, and for the the DC Dance Journalism project.

Photo credit: Robert Cannon