REVIEW: Beyond Borders Presented by Dakshina/Daniel Phoenix Singh Dance Company at Dance Place
by Mariana C. Barros
Sunday July 30th, on what was a much welcomed cooler Sunday afternoon in late July, Dakshina/Daniel Phoenix Singh Dance Company presented a taste of its newest work along with two restored works by legendary dancer, choreographer, and activist, the late Anna Sokolow, in their latest performance at Dance Place: Beyond Borders.
Beyond Borders was a culturally diverse, sociological analysis and depiction of the many shades that human connection can take and the important role that community plays in human and civic resilience. In three acts, Singh’s and Sokolow’s works fused culture and storytelling with Graham-inspired movement that explored a wide range of relationships through an interdisciplinary lens of art and expressionism.
Beginning with excerpts from their newest work, Chakra, which is slated to premiere in summer 2018, Singh once again showed his talent for curating a talented group of diverse dancers and artistic mediums, using that diversity to benefit the works presented. Chakra featured four sections of bharatanatyam and modern dance-fused movements that introduced us to a community of characters. Through his use of character dynamics and choreography, Singh gave us a glimpse into a world in which he successfully communicated a wide range of complex relationships.
In the opening movement, we were shown characters interacting in some sort of jovial gathering. My knowledge of bharatanatyam is limited, but in my limited exposure to it, I have always been impressed by the technique’s incorporation of corporal sound into the music being played, much like tap dancing. Rather than following the different melodies in the music exclusively, the choreography seems to also be guided by the what the choreographer intends to insert into the musical conversation; foot stomps from the dancers effectively become the punctuation in the music. This again struck me in the steps performed in Chakra.
Another notable element of choreography in this first number was Singh’s impressive use of formations along with his use of the space. In the group numbers, the dancers comfortably weaved in and out of precise formations made of interesting geometric shapes. While the movement was mostly rooted in a grounded cores, extended arms and tall shoulders gave an ethereal, or perhaps aristocratic, quality to the movement. The costumes by Judy Hansen added to this royal aesthetic. Made of a lovely combination of orange, purple, and blue layers, they fit in beautifully with the upstage cyc and translated well between all the movements.
After the first group piece, a duet followed, featuring a man and woman. The same corporal language established in the first section was incorporated, but in a much more intimate dynamic. This trend continued through the rest of the piece. The duet was followed by another group piece, and then the piece ended with a final duet. This final duet featured an endearing young couple and a suspenseful final pose. This first work as a whole felt like a glimpse into an Indian folk legend filled with characters and heightened interactions. Lighting by Todd Mion also aided in immersing the audience into the world created throughout the evening.
After a brief pause, Dakshina’s rehearsal director, Karen Bernstein, spoke a few words on the works that were being presented by Anna Sokolow. Anna Sokolow, known for her dance and choreography as much as her activism, is known for centering her pieces around the complexities of human experience and relationships. There are similarities between Sokolow’s tone and point of view and Singh’s work. I can see why he is attracted to her work and continues to preserve her legacy in his repertoire. Their movements are similarly paced and layered, moving in and out of formations and subject matter frequently and smoothly.
The second act began with Sokolow’s Ballade. A quartet, this piece highlighted two dancers’ abilities, in particular, Helen Marie Carruthers and Julie DeGregorio. These two women absolutely shined in this piece. Carruthers’ technique was strong and evident, particularly in a duet featuring her alongside Singh. Though the steps were simple, she looked absolutely pristine, and I was completely captivated by her movement. One prime example was watching her take a tendu front back into first position then through a dégagé into a rond de jambe, where her foot was perfectly pointed and her supporting leg was turned out and stable. At the same time, her torso and neckline were beautifully aligned. The combination of the quality of her movement and Sokolow’s choreography are an astonishing match; simple steps, executed precisely. Likewise, DeGregorio looked stable and demonstrated strength and agility. These two women made their male counterparts in the work seem dim in comparison.
The last work of the evening, and its highlight, was Sokolow’s Homenaje a David Alfaro Galvin. This last piece featured paintings by the famous Mexican artist, David Alfaro Galvin. Much like Sokolow, Galvin’s work often focused on the same issues surrounding his activism for those that live on the fringes of modern society. Very much in tune with this theme, paintings by Galvin served as the backdrop for the seven sections that composed this last number. These seven sections all emphasized the importance of community in resilience.
The first movement featured the full company and offered a stark contrast to the mood expressed in the first part of the evening. Rather than a celebration of life, Sokolow’s work is an assertion of what it’s like to live a life. The work is not necessarily intended to entertain, it feels like it existed to inform, that it existed to make us look at hunger, fear, despair, etc. in the eye without being able to look away. Dance in this forum serves as the medium, not the subject. While Galvin’s paintings were displayed in the background, his words, along with others from his colleagues and contemporaries, were recited throughout the movements.
These monologues served as bookends between each section of the piece. In these short monologues, the dancers showed their acting abilities, in particular Juan Pedro Carrere and Franco Nicolas Mariotti. The mixing of interdisciplinary techniques and art forms made for a full, balanced presentation.
My favorite moment of the evening was during the fourth movement in this piece, a trio featuring the three women in the company. While a painting of three women wearing headscarves with babes in their bosoms was featured upstage, the three dancers moved in sync in a tight formation centerstage, wearing similar costumes to those featured in the painting. They brought the painting by Galvin to life. The dancers held their arms outstretched in front of them mimicking holding babes, which were bundles wrapped underneath their headscarves. Because of this limitation, the choreography was filled with expressive shoulders and synchronized movements. The three dancers moved as a unit, and exemplified women’s role in acting as a community nucleus.
Galvin’s paintings were captivating. I often found myself struggling to choose between inspecting the image and watching the work being done by the dancers.
Throughout the night I was impressed at how fully immersed I felt in these story lines. Both Singh;s and Sokolow’s works successfully portrayed the qualities of humanity that surpass language and culture, using dance as the conduit. Once again, Daniel Phoenix Singh, much like Sokolow did in her life, has been able to deliver a powerful message that highlights the world that surrounds him using a primitive, unifying language: dance.
For more information of their upcoming works, visit their website http://www.dakshina.org.