REVIEW: Trajectory Dance Project presents “IDENTITY: Dancing the Self” at Atlas Intersections Festival
by Mariana C. Barros
On a cold March afternoon this past Sunday, the Atlas Performing Arts Center held back-to-back programs in most of all of their theater spaces for its last day of the Intersections Festival. Each winter, the Intersections Festival offers audiences in the area the opportunity to engulf themselves in our local theater and dance communities. Over the course of two weekends, over 15 works were presented under the movement category. The beauty of the Intersections Festival and others like it is that they call upon local companies of the nearby metropolitan areas to come to the District and share their perspective and storytelling with our audiences. This year, Trajectory Dance Project of Baltimore shared an interesting show for us in IDENTITY: Dancing the Self.
Trajectory Dance Project is led by Artistic Director and choreographer Alice Howes and is made up of a very diverse group of dancers. They are diverse in every sense of the word – age, style, race, and technique. This diversity played out in different ways throughout the show; at times it was interesting, at others it was less palatable. However, the most notable quality of the show was Howe’s incredible use of space in her choreography. Her formations never stayed the same for long. They were fluid, often expanding and then contracting, and constantly changing. Even though, with the exception of the finale, most of the pieces featured no more than three dancers, the stage felt full. Granted, the show was presented in the Lab II, a smaller black box. Still, I think Howe’s movement would fill bigger stages in just the same way.
The show opened with a trio titled, Ação de Graças (“Thanksgiving” in Portuguese), with music by Marlui Miranda and Raimundo Sodré. This number was an excerpt that featured dancers Melinda Blomquist, Meredith Sabil Sibley, and Alicia Williams. It began with all three dancers in a single file line on stage left from which the dancers left and explored similar phrases in canon. These phrases were filled with open arms, elevated chins, and other gestures of gratitude. Howe’s use of space caught my eye and engaged me from the very beginning. It was a good piece to start off with due to its brighter tone. However, I was a bit underwhelmed by its execution. Although the dancers were technically proficient with their execution of phrase work, their faces were blank. To me, they didn’t quite convey the same tone of the rest of their bodies in this opening piece; perhaps the Sunday afternoon timing of the show made it difficult for the dancers to perform fully from the get-go.
While the dancers’ storytelling in this first piece was not my favorite, I was amazed by the costumes. The dancers wore stunning red ensembles that fanned out slightly at the bottom, and flowed beautifully through movement. The lighting design by Tamyra Lewis was also noteworthy. Lewis managed to convey musicality in her lighting design in all the works presented. Lighting complemented the music and movement perfectly, like adding just the right garnish to a dish. Unfortunately, the same could not be said for the sound. Throughout the show, there were many issues with sound. In one instance, music from the next number played before the dancers had exited the stage. In another, the music played before the dancers had entered the stage. This is the nature of the live show experience, so I can forgive, but quite honestly it was distracting and removed me from storytelling onstage.
The opening was followed by a duet, DIVINERE, performed by Meredith Rabil Sibley and Alicia Williams to music by Evelyn Glennie. Rabil Sibley and Williams were my favorite pair to watch together. They moved very differently but had a similar driving energy. This made for an interesting character dynamic in their duet. Their two characters seemed to share a similar type of pain but had varying responses to this pain. Their varying sources of motivation were illustrated when the two dancers performed different phrases but often holding their hands in a similar fashion, as if holding an item in pantomime. After the show, it was confirmed that these “items” were never defined and were indeed each artist’s discretion. There were few moments of synchronicity, however the timing was not identical, and so those moments often felt short. Sometimes I thought they were moving in canon, but I wasn’t sure. Even so, the performers were much more committed and emotionally engaged in this piece, so it was easier to be forgiving.
The third piece, DESDEMONA, a solo performed by Kelsey Lewis, was my absolute favorite number of the show. It began with a monologue from William Shakespeare’s Othello and closed with a music excerpt by Evelyn Glennie. The choreography was balanced and Lewis’s interpretation exquisite. Lewis was grounded, even in her extensions and arabesques. She portrayed an accurate depiction of Desdemona: committed, courageous, and enchanting. Howes managed to successfully fill the stage again with just one dancer this time. This truly was the standout of the show.
Lewis’s solo was followed by another piece featuring spoken word, THE BODY IS NOT AN APOLOGY. This time, the three dancers, Meredith Rabil Sibley, David Singleton, and Alicia Williams danced to a recording of a poem written and performed by Sonya Renee. The movement quality of this section contrasted the most with the rest of the show. The piece was an exaltation of the body through the mirroring of the poet’s tone. The movement was syncopated and often froze in striking tableaus. Again, I really enjoyed watching Rabil Sibley and Williams dance together. Singleton stood out, not just for being the only male, but because he was noticeably younger than the rest of the cast. Though I wished his movement was more stable, it had a nice quality. The lighting by Tamyra Lewis immersed me in the story during this piece.
The second to last piece was a lighthearted solo performed by Alicia Williams. It was titled BY DAY MY LIMBS, BY NIGHT MY MIND and featured music by Wytold. This piece was inspired by Shakespeare’s Sonnet XXVII and featured a sleeping Williams and a blanket. The lights came up to a dozing Williams downstage right; she went on to sleep-dance throughout the entire stage with her blanket in tow. At times her blanket served as her cover, at others it was was her rock. This dance aimed to personify the brain’s activities while one sleeps. It did so humorously and effectively.
The show closed with a work in progress titled NAME GAME. It was the only piece to feature the full cast, and it used music by Wytold again. The dancers began at different times and each had their own phrases for most of the piece. There was a part when they came together but it didn’t last long. It was later revealed that they had composed phrases using their names. The phrases were a combination of literal spelling of their names, and a physical interpretation of how they feel their personalities are perceived by outside world. In the program it was mentioned that this piece was a work in progress. It’s an interesting approach and I was engaged and intrigued to hear about their process. I’m looking forward to witnessing how this piece progresses.
The last piece ended with an epilogue, DANCING THE SELF, which required audience participation. Howes got in front of the audience and explained how they composed the name game phrases, then guided us through the composition of our own.
Overall, the show was enjoyable. The dancing was solid. It was choreographically interesting and complex. It just didn’t quite hit the mark. In a way, I think this show fell victim to its setting. I felt that the small space restrained the dancers from fully extending in their movement. I think it would have been better served in a larger space and with another tech run. However, I do see a strong foundation in the company and appreciate Howe’s choreography and vision. All in all, I look forward to seeing another show by Trajectory in the future.