REVIEW: Orange Grove Dance: The 1 Mile Radius Project at Joe’s Movement Emporium
by Christina Lindenmuth
Whenever I take a trip somewhere new, passing through unfamiliar neighborhoods begs the question: What must life be like for the people who live here? Driving from Northern Virginia to the small town that is Mount Rainier, Maryland on April 14th, I found myself in a quaint little art district with a pizza shop, a liquor store, small homes across the street from large homes, and art galleries all in one place. I knew I had a show to attend, but I was secretly wishing there was time to explore the cute little city I had just stumbled upon.
Little did I know that The 1 Mile Radius Project at Joe’s Movement Emporium would give me the opportunity to do just that. An interactive dance and film experience put on by Orange Grove Dance, The 1 Mile Radius Project sought to open our minds to all of the splendor we might take for granted within our own “one mile radius.”
The doors opened at Joe’s Movement Emporium, and the audience was led into a large open space with an abundance of stimulation. There was red tape on the floor: a circle in the center with what appeared to be sunbeams stemming out in different directions. To the left were bike wheels suspended from the ceiling among three makeshift screens with ever-changing projections of trees, rivers, campfires, and sidewalks.
Straight ahead were three larger screens, depicting different people in different everyday situations. Below each screen was a table with an old rotary dial telephone, and people were lining up to “dial a number” as the program instructed. Upon dialing a number, I was able to listen to the audio that went along with the video projected above me.
To the back of the space was a chalkboard wall where we were encouraged to “draw our radius” with a piece of chalk. People would stand in one place and draw a circle as far as their arm could reach on the wall. One woman drew hers, and upon stepping back to look at her circle, she turned to me with wide eyes and declared, “It’s bigger than I thought.” And with that being said, the message behind all of this started to come to me. I looked at the chalkboard wall and saw all the different circles, in different colors and sizes, overlapping like a hundred venn diagrams, and representing each person’s imprint on the space within which they live. The sunbeams of red tape on the floor weren’t sunbeams at all, they were our radius, I realized, and each beam represented a different corner of the community.
I stood for a second, chewing my pen in my Sherlock Holmes state of mind, and all of a sudden the lights went down and we heard ticking and winding. About 20 people from among us became entranced and weaved through the rest of the crowd like moths to a light. Had the dancers been with us this whole time? I was flabbergasted.
The videos became more intentional, showing scenes of people dancing in different places, and the live dancers carried on with their dynamic improvised movement. The film appeared old and fuzzy, reminding me of old home movies. The screens flashed footage of dancers on rooftops, in tight alleyways, and even one guy dancing in a tree. We witnessed a live duet on the staircase above us, and before I knew it the lights had come up and the audience followed the dancers outside of the theater and all the way out the front doors.
Once outside I felt like I stepped onto a movie set, or an alternate reality, where an unknown force was hypnotizing people. A girl in front of me pulled herself up onto a bike rack and began bending and twisting, a man behind me was climbing a brick wall upside down like some sort of modern-dance-Spiderman, and to my left were two girls hesitating to cross the street as they switched positions in a grid-like pattern. On a hill of grass in front of me, a quartet performed slow and suspenseful choreography, tracing circles with their arms.
A man rode past me on his bike with speakers playing the same repetitive tones that we heard inside. The music was coming from several other sources as well, not matching up and overlapping in the distance. The audience members were quiet with curiosity and started dispersing and following different groups of dancers. Everywhere I looked I could spot dancers: soloists in a doorway or on a corner, a duet by the light post, a trio in between shops, and a girl chasing the musical bike as it rode up the hill.
We migrated down the next few blocks where the dancing became a bit more integrated with the surroundings. The dancers placed themselves on interesting landmarks around the neighborhood, turning an ordinary curb, or a driveway, or a wooden fence into an attraction. It brought life to the objects; it made me aware that with each moment we are living at any given time, we are forming relationships with the things that occupy the space around us. A seemingly ordinary bench might hold significant memories for so many different people – a break up, a breakthrough discussion, the start of a relationship.
A particular duet caught my attention. A man and woman laid on their backs together in the grass, pointing at the sky. After a few moments of sweet stargazing, the couple would stand up, abruptly pivot and lay back down and repeat their movements. I watched them do it over and over. This to me, along with the emotionless expressions on all the dancers’ faces and the repetitive droning music, painted an eerie picture of an isolated, mundane existence.
As we walked a bit further down the block, we could see the dancers slowly gathering in front of a bike shop. They all stared blankly in the same direction, tracing large circles with their arms. Eventually their circles all matched up in unison, and the show began! There was winding and pivoting and bouncing and reaching, different levels and tempos – an excellent finale to this experience.
Except it wasn’t quite over. We continued on to two different locations, where the same music played and the dancers split up into solos and duets again. I could have done without this part of the show. Besides the short ensemble piece in front of the bike shop, the dancing throughout the experience seemed almost an afterthought. I would have preferred if the dancers each developed a character, or several characters, with a range of emotions as they moved through the neighborhood. Instead, the style of dancing gave the performers a cold, impassive quality that brought a darkness to the experience.
Orange Grove Dance artistic directors Colette Krogol and Matt Reeves won the Audience Choice Award at the Maryland Choreographer’s Showcase earlier this year. From there, the idea of exploring the unique little art hub that surrounds Joe’s Movement Emporium was pursued by flyering and contacting people in the area through social media to share their stories and experiences.
“Space is a container for memory,” Krogol explained, and the space called Mount Rainier peaked her curiosity enough to want to uncover the memories within. The residents are humble, prideful, open-minded, and creatively active. There was a sort of feel-good attitude radiating from everyone as they spoke about this project and the community. Even the dancers themselves expressed their new found gratitude for all the places they’ve called home, thanks to this experience.
This is why I believe the choreography was misleading. I walked away with a completely different response; zero feel-goods for me. Instead, I had a feeling of detachment, a feeling of unwavering loneliness brought on by the spellbound dancers who rarely changed dynamics, or interacted with any warmth towards each other. I felt like the message had a much more universal meaning, using the town of Mount Rainier as a small example to address a larger concern: sometimes we get so caught up in our own isolated lives that we forget to love each other.
Perhaps this performance was designed that way on purpose, so that each of us could take from it what we needed. I love the message I took from it, and the show was well-received among many. There are even plans for a 1 Mile Radius Part II already in the making, which I will most certainly be attending. The interactive experience was enthralling and innovative, a well executed idea that will leave a lasting imprint on my memory. I have high hopes for this project and what it could accomplish in the future.