Michael Garber Dance Collective in review


Hospitable. Intimate. Convivial. Sugar Space’s presentation of Artist in Residence MGDance Collective and guests Porridge for Goldilocks & Body Logic Dance Company was a show of friends. Michael Garber – the MG of MGDance – was the consummate host. He even had refreshments available for attendees; popcorn and water infused with herbs picked from his garden that morning. I savored more than my fair share of the treats while enjoying pre-show drumming by Wachira Waigwa-Stone.

Samantha Matsukawa and Eliza Tappan entered cautiously from stage left for Matsukawa’s Thing, Thought, Thorn, Thumb. Peering at the audience they tentatively approached a large circle of socks center stage. Matsukawa turned on the record player attached to two large speakers. To a scratchy soundtrack of the Americana crooning of Will Rogers the dancers wove in and out of the sock ring. Each new pair of socks they put on was an impetus to reset movement qualities. Their facial expressions traversed between inquisitive and solemn, an earnestness that felt increasingly performative by the end of the work. This ironic gravitas created a distance between the piece and the audience – I felt as though I was watching an inside joke. During Home on the Range they kicked and shuffled until inevitably falling on the ground, a satisfying moment of predictability. Abruptly the dancers begin swimming around the ring of socks, sweeping the floor of it is detritus and ending next to each other, downstage, in a pile of knit footwear. This eruption of directness is an enjoyable surprise, along with the end of the piece where Matsukawa pulls the plug on the speakers.

As Garber cleared the stage of socks, a buzzing from stage right grew into shouts – “Those are MY feathers!” Out burst the five person MGDance Collective in an eclectic array of costumes; green velvet dress, sequined American flag hat, and hot pink punching gloves. Like Matsukawa and Tappan, the dancers noticed the audience; making comments on the people sitting there and their outfits. This part felt underdeveloped until the dancers began to get (appropriately) Strange(r). The more childlike the game the more I believed these characters were kids at play, cooing as if at babies to the audience member next to me, and waving airplane arms around the stage. “When you’re strange!” the Doors wail, and strange the dancers mostly successfully were. The piece concludes with a dance breakout foreshadowing the movement vocabulary we would see during the rest of the show. Arcing of the limbs through space carved the outer edges of the dancers’ kinespheres. Garber’s specific body part initiations – the head threading through space, pulled the body along, and a hand lead the dancer to the floor, foot pulling the dancer back up. Interruptions of technical virtuosity infused the work; one moment I saw Katie Meyers as a child playing in a costume and the next she was someone with years of ballet training extended in an almost arabesque – reaching toes and fingers beyond their length. Also foreshadowing the rest of the show was the chemistry between Meyers, Keanu Brady, Amy Freitas, Joshua Mora, and Monica Remes.

Porridge for Goldilocks, choreographed and directed by Amy Freitas, began their improvisation performance with a series of solos in a diagonal line across the floor. On second thought, I’m not sure these dances could be called solos, truly they were duets with Wachira Waigwa-Stone who had returned to the stage to play in the corner. Dancer and musician took turns leading, each artist finding their groove alone and then together. Leading the charge, loveDANCEmore’s own Emma Wilson; energy expanding through her joints, elbows leading up and chest open to the sky, she was a swirling, growing energy spiral. Matsukawa’s deep, circular back bends built on the energy trail that Wilson left behind. Keanu Brady was a standout, his flow interspersed with moments of rigidity that punctuated Waigwa-Stone’s music, creating a rhythmic conversation. Brady’s joy of improvising filled the space and even his shadows seemed interested in what he was doing. Waigwa-Stone slowed down as the piece rolled to a close, a musical inhale that supported Stanton Rodriguez’ long angularity and sustained movement. If the first piece performed earnestness and the second fun, this piece embodied both qualities. No pretension, just pure love of dance.

Porridge for Goldilocks was followed by Body Logic Dance Company in Garber’s Samundar. The six women turned, rond-de-jambed, and rolled their way through the spatial pathways that looked like two French braids of hair crisscrossing the stage. Eiby Lobos, Desiree Simons, Melanie Francom, and Serena Webb moved beautifully within the structure of the piece, highlighting Freitas and Remes’ facility with Garber’s movement vocabularies. Remes found moments to showcase her leg extension and line and Freitas’ gentle happiness lit up the stage.

Circulus kept Freitas’ glowing stage presence in the forefront. Brady and Remes were witnesses in corners, holding the space for her solo. The music was a slow melody, evolving, interrupted by static. Mora and Meyers each carried a spotlight to illuminate Freitas’ leisurely volutions. The spotlights created their own story; a dance of stillness, revolution, and radiation for Freitas My focus shifted from spotlight to dancer and back. Freitas also played with a shifting attention, sometimes dancing to her reflections on the walls, sometimes burying herself in the private universe of her sensory experience. I was entranced. Circulus is a piece that begs to be seen more than once.

Before I was quite ready to move on to a new idea, we did. Though I wanted more Circulus, the overall digestible length of each piece was one of the strengths of the show. Another strength – Stéphane Glynn’s documentary about MGDance Collective – shown between Circulus and They Too Have Their Story. Rehearsal scenes and interviews with dancers were interspersed with narration by Michael Garber, all brilliantly directed and edited. I left the documentary with a more nuanced understanding of the Collective, and the what-how-why of the show. I would have liked to see documentary first, followed by the three MGDance Collective pieces in a row. These works felt like four chapters of the same book and would have stood nicely together rather than dispersed throughout the concert.

Glynn’s documentary described the negotiation between flop and energized release as characteristic of Garber’s dance style. The dialogue between these contrasting movement qualities permeated the concluding piece, They Too Have Their Story. The dancers careen in and out of duets, trios, and group work, movements quick and sustained in turn. In one moment they buckled onto the floor, breathing heavily. In another, they lift each other; push, pull, shove in points of (dis)connection. The chaos of the piece expands and expands until  – collapse! A flash of intention; the dancers walking methodically downstage, gazing at the audience. Backing up, they unbutton their shirts and take them off to reveal white tank tops underneath. Accompanied by the music of Michael Wall, the dancers’ presence in this moment was palpable. Wall’s music blazed when the dancers found playtime in the nanoseconds between the beat and the space around it. These particles of the work lit the smoldering choreography into a flaming mass of energy. Reeves and Freitas’ duet in the final piece was alternately motherly and sensual. Joined by Joshua Mora the duet became a trio of comrades. Arms swinging in alternating rhythm, they traveled in and out of each others spaces, packing this brief section with meaning. As the piece built momentum towards an ending Sugar Space began to feel small; runs, jumps and rolls overflowing the stage. Aptly closing the show MGDance crumpled on top of each other in a sculptural ode to their title of ‘collective.’

Liz Ivkovich is an MFA candidate at the University of Utah.