Emerge, an evening of works choreographed by Rodolfo Rafael, was presented at the Rose by RDT’s Link Series last Thursday. The evening was intense, beginning with driving music and a sharp spotlight isolating a group of dancers. One dancer shook as she struggled to bear the full weight of another standing on her shoulders. The supported dancer tipped back into the arms of the group as the lights dramatically cut out.
The intensity did not let up. Dim lighting, dark music, and prowling, smoldering dancers all said this was an evening of contemporary dance that takes itself seriously. This severity eventually grew monotonous but “Shotgun,” a work with girlish primping and lightly suggested Latin dancing, happily interrupted the mood.
Though different in tone, “Shotgun” was similar to other works from Emerge, featuring technically challenging and potential-filled movement phrases which seemed as if the shell had barely been cracked. Many works also made use of implied narrative elements that were disconnected from the movement, as if the two weren’t yet married into a unified whole. I found myself wondering what the characterizations brought to the work. Perhaps the dancing would be better served without them.
By far the most provoking work of the evening was “Avert,” an exploration of the devastating emotional outcomes of conversion therapy, a scientifically unsound but shockingly legal practice that erroneously believes homosexuality is a curable disease. “Avert” featured a sound score comprised of Arvo Pärt’s emotional string arrangements and audio excerpts from the film “For the Bible Tells Me So” that heartbreakingly described the absolute pain of being a gay person in an unsupportive religious environment and the trauma of surviving what amounts to torture while undergoing this “treatment.”
Paired with the potent score were heavy images of limp, helpless dancers being dragged across the stage and convulsive, disjointed references to shock therapy. Except for a brief solo by Elle Skye, the gravity of the text often overtook the dancers. Set to the tragic story of the chasm caused by a parent’s refusal to accept their gay child and the child’s subsequent suicide, Elle’s weighted, loose yet expansive dancing matched the grief of the story, giving even greater solemnity to the moment. “Avert” was largely overwhelming, in great part due to the painful stories shared. But a dance dealing with such a subject should leave an audience neither comfortable nor satisfied.
Creating an evening’s worth of dance as a budding choreographer is no small feat and is an effort to be honored.Though some moments were less refined, images of the evening are still stuck in my mind, especially from the works “Blink” and “Walls.” A single dancer, the entrancingly fluid Josie Patterson, surveyed the open space of the stage. Bright spotlights exposed images of dependence as shadowy observers haunted the perimeters. Creamy gestural phrases interrupted bound, static shapes. Both works revealed an eye for vignette and arrangement of the body that was intriguing, at times even striking. As Rafael continues to make work, these avenues are well worth his further exploration.
Mary Lyn Graves performs with Ririe Woodbury Dance Company among other freelance performance & teaching