REVIEW: Dance Metro DC presents Chandini Darby and Kyoko Ruch at Dance Place
by Taryn Brown
The Dance Metro DC’s 2017 Choreographer’s Commission Grant Award recipients were Chandini Darby and Kyoko Ruch. The two women presented innovative, fresh, and visually striking work at Dance Place on March 18th and 19th. Each choreographer was awarded $5,000 to produce new dances within an atmosphere of professional development and creative freedom. They were chosen by an independent panel of dance professionals from the DC area dance community.
According to Rebecca Cohen’s interview on Dance Place’s blog, the two emphasized “exploring themes at the intersection of personal history and our socio-political milieu.” Although completely different in approach and performance, the two choreographers did seem to share an interest in analyzing identity and geographical self-realization.
In Chandini Darby’s Stances and Stanzas: a warrior poem, we were treated to a collection of pieces that emphasized loving oneself and each other. Other themes included the balance between organic intuition and geometric structure, the innate power of youth and truth, and contemporary Black Lives Matter ideology.
The strongest sections were those that utilized costuming, movement invention, and a tight unity with the sound score. These included the opening Zenith, the poem entitled One, and the funky section named The Revolution Will Not Be Televised. All three of these sections contained a timely urgency within a sophisticated presentation.
Zenith encapsulated Darby’s choreographic style with its seemingly natural collage-form that blends petite allegro, Afro-modern, classical modern, and funk. The dancers wore fabulous yellow skirts with bows at the front of the waist and slits on the sides that allowed for a full capacity of movement. Their skin-tone halters and cap sleeve tops completed an amazing costume that provided clarity of movement design and added exuberance to their youthful beauty.
In One, we witnessed Shannon Graham deliver a poem as an eloquent female preacher. Graham (who also wrote the work) schooled the audience in her fast-paced delivery of content that urged us to find faith in the highest poet of all. Following this spiritual elocution, several people from the audience yelled “amen!” and utterances of “don’t you know it” were heard from the seats behind me.
In The Revolution Will Not Be Televised, a trio danced in camouflage shirts, berets, black booty shorts, and black boots. They pointed at the audience with a directness that made me feel accountable in supporting their resistance. I realized during this section that the language of dance can be confrontational and aggressive. It worked, in that we all seemed to sit a little higher towards the end, and the audience roared with clapping upon completion of this section to music by Gil Scott Heron.
There was much more to Darby’s opus, including homemade video projections, sound bytes with famous African-American voices, solos, duets, and group dances. The piece also included various projections on the stage floor that ranged from highways to parking lots and a basketball court. The overall work was electric, and the audience shot up out of their seats with an instantaneous standing ovation.
The second half of this shared show featured Girl on Girl, created by Kyoko Ruch. The work began strongly with striking costumes and set design. Five dancers wore diaphanous shirts with ecru stockings on their heads and feet. Their movements were so fluid that it seemed that their bones were made of a liquid substance. The music provided a pulsing sense of wonder and suspense. I had the feeling like I was reading someone’s diary or dream journal and seeing exactly what they wanted me to see.
Suddenly, the upstage curtain opened and we saw hangers dangling high in the air along the back wall of the proscenium stage. The hangers descended quickly and a soloist (Abby Leithart) entered the stage. She wore a different costume than the rest. It was a simple dress. The quintet went to the hangers that were now over sculptural boxes (created by Harry Mayer) upstage. They changed their clothes and put on hats that had colorfully dyed fake ponytails attached to them.
This was the setup of Girl on Girl. From there, the work slowed to an adagio pace for roughly 30 minutes. The dancers danced inside the boxes, remained still for abnormally elongated periods of time, and performed minimalist hand gestures and hip pulses.
Eventually, Leithart was manipulated and turned into one of the quintet “creatures.” Her clothing was changed and she too donned the corresponding outfit hat. In a powerhouse solo following her transition, she rolled and released with such grace and beauty that I became mesmerized by both Ruch’s choreography and Leithart’s execution.
The piece ended with the dancers singing “Donna, Donna” by Joan Baez. This song had been played with Baez’s voice earlier on in the dance. The stage picture at the ending included the boxes stacked at center stage with the dancers on them in directly harsh white light. To me, the ending looked like a fashionable psychiatric ward image.
Girl on Girl featured an amazing array of technical talent within all of the dancers. I only wish they had moved more. The amount of minimalism and adagio pacing hampered the piece. The design elements were strong. The dancers were strong. But the choreography and structure were hindered by its drawn-out time. Perhaps this dance would be more suited as a dance for the camera or as a gallery installation.
Both of the choreographers featured as 2017 recipients of the Dance Metro DC Choreographer’s Commission should feel proud of the work they created at Dance Place this March. The shared show clocked in at just over two hours, but the audience seemed to stay engaged for both halves. It was pure joy to see just how diverse the DC dance scene is within one evening. Also, there was an electric feeling of innovation in the air.
The audience was ready to take in whatever the choreographers threw at them. As Stephen Clapp, Director of Dance Metro DC, said before the show, “Every day is arts advocacy day.”