REVIEW: Rebollar Dance presents “Impacting Spaces”

Review: Rebollar Dance presents Impacting Spaces
by Rachael Appold

It is not often that an audience gets to see a triple collaboration of dance works that explore what it means to be human. But at the Atlas Intersections Festival 2017 on February 25-26, D.C. was given that chance. In a joint performance with Deep Vision Dance Company Inc. and RealLivePeople, Rebollar Dance staged a series of works which delved into the human experience on biological, physical, and social levels.

The night began with Matter, Energy, Human, a work choreographed by Nicole A. Martinell of Deep Vision Dance Company, Inc. A single dancer in a champagne-colored dress stood center stage in a spotlight before the stage went dark. When the lights returned, a group of five dancers (all wearing the same champagne dresses) appeared in a spotlight upstage right. This choice of lighting immediately hooked my interest, as it caused the dancers to appear as though they manifested out of thin air.

The dancers floundered in their clump, shaking and writhing as static played through the speakers. They broke free from their group, flitting around the stage and crashing gently into each other. The dancers occasionally picked each other up, linked arms and ran together, and altered each other’s movement. Their interactions were unhesitant and neutral, neither joyful nor forced. Watching this happen immediately forged an association in my mind between the dancers and atoms moving within the human body.

The work went on to feature a mix of technique, pantomime, and pedestrian movement. The dancers would execute leaps reminiscent of Isadora Duncan before pretending to laugh dramatically or leaning on one another. The movement styles, though different, did not take away from each other. Every bit of choreography seemed to belong, no matter how unusual. Perhaps this was done intentionally to mirror the diverse range of physical, mental, and emotional occurrences in the life of a human being.

I would later find out from Nicole Martinell that the work was about human interaction. During the talk-back session, Martinell stated that her inspiration for Matter, Energy, Human came from the book Everyday Immortality by Deepak Chopra. She was learning about quantum physics and wanted to explore “how physical phenomena unraveled in space.” She specifically wanted to demonstrate “how we fit together” through her work. These concepts were successfully displayed by the dancers’ constant collisions and linking.

RealLivePeople followed Deep Vision Dance Company, Inc. with a duet choreographed and performed by Gina Hoch-Stall and Scott McPheeters. This work, titled You First, With The Hope For Reciprocation, began with Hoch-Stall and McPheeters facing upstage while executing fluid technical movement. The dancers turned to face downstage and their movement vocabulary became more mechanical and acrobatic; they executed handstands, turns, and leg extensions with ease. The moment I grew weary of all the stunts and tricks I was witnessing, the music (a techno beat) quieted slightly and the dancers began to speak to the audience.

Hoch-Stall and McPheeters spoke over each other, quickly, taking the words out of my mouth. “What did you guys think of that first part?” “Pretty scary stuff, huh?” “That part was more technical.” The dancers also complimented each other: “Gina is so fluid!” “Scott is just amazing; he has this great movement quality.” Not only did the act of speaking out loud break the fourth wall in a surprising and humorous way, but their script was intelligently written. The dancers explained between exhausted breaths why their movement was so technical. They spoke in a metaphorical fashion, creating a tasteful impression of the professional dancer.

You First, With The Hope For Reciprocation ended with the dancers explaining the purpose of their piece: Hoch-Stall and McPheeters considered themselves, as Hoch-Stall said, to be “social winners; people who try really hard to be liked by everyone.” McPheeters explained that their need to win people over existed “only because we’re insecure in our own talent…we don’t feel good enough.”

The dancers then presented each other with improvisation challenges: Hoch-Stall was instructed to dance a solo that felt counterintuitive to what she was “supposed to do,” according to McPheeters, and McPheeters to perform a solo that was “finally good enough,” as dictated by Hoch-Stall. They also asked the audience to provide start positions; Hoch-Stall would begin upstage right and McPheeters would begin in the audience seating. What ensued was one solemn modern dance solo (performed by McPheeter), filled with organic and continuous movement, next to one humorous creative movement solo (performed by Hoch-Stall) filled with awkward jumps and skitters across the stage.

After RealLivePeople finished performing, the host of this triple collaboration took to the stage. Rebollar Dance performed Space Junk, a piece that connects the random matter and debris found in outer space to the disconnected thoughts in our heads.

The work, choreographed by Erica Rebollar and her five performing dancers, began with two glowing space helmets being placed upstage right while a video of the moon was projected onto the backdrop. Five dancers entered the stage in a clump, wiggling and shaking to an eerie composition by Charlie Campagna. As the dancers spread apart, their movement began to imitate that of astronauts walking in space; they floated through complex turns and lifts.

The piece ended with two dancers putting the space helmets over their heads and joining the other three dancers in a clump. Once in a solid circle, two dancers took turns climbing on top of the other three, peering out into the audience as if to look over a landscape. As this occurred, an audio of Neil Armstrong describing the Earth from outer space was projected. Rebollar stated after the show that she incorporated Neil Armstrong’s voice in order to “provide a new terrain” for the dancers.

Perhaps, the most engaging quality of their movement was their disconcerting shifts in focus. In an interview with one of the dancers, Amanda Blythe, I found out that Rebollar had instructed her dancers to “think of a place from their childhoods…when the thoughts of the dancers change, there should be a shift in focus.”

Elaborating on this further, Rebollar explained that the concept for Space Junk was born while she watched a documentary on space junk late one night. “I was watching a documentary about space junk at 2:00am,” Rebollar stated. “And I thought it sounded very beautiful and sad. Then I started connecting the concept of space junk with our own misdirected thoughts that go through our heads at 2:00am.”

Rebollar stated that she gave her dancers assignments to help contextualize the concept. She said, “I asked the dancers to think about their bodies in space being misdirected. I asked them to think of a familiar place in their childhood, to find different joint initiations…I wanted to throw in both objective and subjective movement.” As for the helmet props used during the piece, Rebollar explained that they were actually park lamp covers lined with LED lights.

I applauded Space Junk, not only for the graceful and complex movement illustrated by the dancers, but for the successful development of such an interesting concept.

Impacting Spaces is a three-company project which has been touring throughout Winter 2017. The collaboration features a performance in the hometowns of each company, with the most recent show being part of the Atlas Intersections Festival 2017 at the Atlas Performing Arts Center. This two-weekend festival features overlapping performances across different mediums in the arts. Erica Rebollar founded Rebollar Dance in 2003, with the goal of examining “dichotomies and fragmentations of physical behavior that explore boundaries of performance”. Impacting Spaces is the perfect tour to demonstrate this principle, as all three companies mirror this concept perfectly.