From the DC Dance Journalism Project
REVIEW: “Don’t Leave Me” by Dance Ability at The Building Museum
By Sylvana Christopher
Break Out, Reframe, Believe
Dance Review by Sylvana Christopher
Dance Ability’s Don’t Leave Me
The Building Museum Oct. 16, 2016
Dance Ability’s “Don’t Leave Me” choreographed by Alito Alessi in collaboration with an architect at The Building Museum Sunday Oct. 16, 2016 was a treat for the senses.
It was a beautiful night and the show was at 6pm early enough that I could bring my baby Jasper. It was a small stage set in a grand space. On a raised floor were several large wooden cubes with all sides open except for one. Visit this DC landmark to experience the immensity and sense of height and width a grand indoor space can occupy.
Dance Ability was comprised of beautiful dancers ranging in age, gender and size. They each moved efficiently inside and around these cubes. The movement of the cubes kept transforming my notion of what it means to be boxed in perfectly shifting metaphors throughout the piece. The score included bits of recorded text and mutterings from the ensemble. My expectations of the piece were to see dancers dancing in wheelchairs, blind dancers being carefully partnered or persons more noticeably disabled per a marketing photo of the Dance Exchange’s Access & Ability Workshop. To my surprise there was only one wheelchair and it appeared only once for a duet that I will talk about later.
Overall the piece was piece was very interesting and imagistic or photographic. The boxy shape juxtaposed with the dancers round and multi surfaced bodies provided tangible contrast. The dancers artfully arranged the cubes in a myriad of ways to illustrate various relationships to each other, the world and the little boxes we put our selves in. An image that sticks out and cycled back at the end was of a dancer emerging from a center cube majestically stretching her arms out the top like wings of a swan or phoenix as if to say I am not a disability or label I am a beautiful creature and a human being…don’t box me in…I can fly just as high! Remove the labels. Shift perception of boxes.
Two females danced together skillfully using the wheelchair as a means of transit to traverse through a extra large life size open cube as if to say in another way that there is always a way out or in to these boxes we create that supposedly define ourselves and our abilities.
At one point the two cubes were stacked and dancers were lining themselves within them. Somehow the mid level cube was moving which felt very dismembering of torso and trunk. A female dancer who I met in the Dance Exchange workshop was doing a beautiful solo in white danced freely with her whole body, turning jumping and level changing very unconstrained movement. That was very interesting section to me. It is a lot of work to be free because there are so many hangups we hold onto about our bodies – so if the people in the cubes represented any of the emotional or mental baggage or awareness that we carry then it made me appreciate the integration of the body and its parts.
Other sections that stuck out to me: there was a section with dancers spinning cubes while there was a dancer soloing. I had reached an almost cosmic understanding or feeling about these cubes with which we organize things; our bodies, our space, our stuff, our streets, our cities… It reminded me that the cubes are spinning like everything else in this world and the dancer or human being is free to reimagine the labels and the cubes and not feel constrained by those various worlds within worlds.
Two females did a striking duet with in an extra large cube made of wood large enough to pack up a room. The one dancer wheeled the other in and out of the cube which was being held by other dancers Alito being one of them. The tipping of this cube strengthened the idea that we must shift our perception to understand how truly being inclusive works and continue the fight for social justice. Alito dances like a prophet dedicating his career to the expansion of modern dance. He is offering us the chance to change the way we think about disabilities. Watching the two dancers come in and out of the cube with the wheelchair reminded me that we can always go out of where we are and go into a new place but sometimes we do need help to do that and that is ok.
The same size cubes were assembled into a vertical checkerboard with each the dancers inside. In this a maze it was interesting to watch the dancers negotiating whose parts got to go where and how they would share this intimate space. Then the held the edges together and lifted the whole structure and rotated. This was a major feat and looked quite difficult.
Jasper & I were very engaged with the performance and the boxes as well as the amount of air space and light available at the museum. He tried to crawl onto the stage at one point to which the dancers made eye contact and smiled at him though not loosing their total focus on the score at hand. I love that they were able to recognize another human who may not have been the typical modern dance audience member of a quieter larger variety. Overall we had a great time and I am very interested in finding out more ways to make modern dance more inclusive and accessible beyond the scope of people of Caucasian background, people with four limbs who can walk, see, hear, talk with people who are able to live life with a mixture of those abilities. For inclusion workers today creating art like myself I think the main takeaway is to find what people are able to do.