When I first saw the list of shows that loveDANCEmore would be reviewing this spring, I immediately “called” reviewing A Bag of Nuts because I love Justin Bass’s choreography. This show met my high expectations.
Upon entering the Rose Wagner, we were greeted warmly and directed through a door across the way, down a flight of stairs, and into Studio A/B. The lighting and the atmosphere were warm and soft.
Justin Bass introduced the event in a good-natured and straightforward manner.
Act I was "Walnut", which Justin described as being revamped from when it was first presented a year ago. The performance featured only small tweaks the second time around, and was as delightful as I remember it from last year.
Last year, Justin said he purposely choreographed this work to challenge areas that each featured dancer struggled with. I thought that was a great idea, and I loved how it contrasted with the common approach of featuring dancers’ strengths – both great approaches in their own ways.
"Walnut" began with the dancers informally stretching on the stage, a concept also employed in NOW-ID’s NOWHERE a couple years ago. "Walnut" progressed with choreography that incorporated the stretches, and I was glad for the way that created continuity.
The piece included solos, duos, and trios, and the three dancers flowed in and out of unified choreography. I especially loved the concept and execution of the dancers repeating a short series of movements with varying timing, so that sometimes they matched up, and sometimes they sped ahead of each other or lagged behind.
Elyse Jost had a pretty neutral vibe throughout "Walnut". Her demonstration of control with transitions from quick movements to moments of stillness and balance was impressive.
Elle Johansen seemed intense, ranging from annoyed to angry. The way she holds and moves her neck is uniquely hers. In this choreography she demonstrated attention to artistic detail with spinal undulations that were at times flowing, and at times rigid with resistance.
Tiana Lovett exuded a feminine boldness, or maybe even haughtiness; this was perfect for her excellently contrasting solo choreography, which alternated between straightforward movement and more coy gestures. A fellow audience member noted that Tiana’s interpretation made walking a worthwhile inclusion in a modern dance piece.
Act I ended with a unified snap of the fingers and fall to the floor. From the back row, Justin started the applause.
After a five minute pause, which I thought was the perfect amount of time, Act II began.
Justin’s choreographic style was the common thread that connected Act I and Act II, which otherwise didn’t seem directly related but nevertheless meshed together within the show.
The music of the second half of the show was especially noteworthy, featuring songs I would describe as sassy, spliced together with excerpts of speaking by current U.S. Republican political figures. This was well-done as far as the flow of the audio, and how the choreography flowed through the audio transitions.
In solos and duos, the cast of six performers took turns dancing in the center of a semi-circle created by the rest, who sat and watched attentively, occasionally raising a hand as if in question, or raising both hands as if in indignation. In transitions between featured dancers, the others got up and walked to a different spot in the semi-circle, which I liked as a way to keep things connected. The choreography featured a mix of awkward and sassy and demanding and proud.
The last piece within Act II included all six dancers in moments of unity and divergence. The last bit of audio was along the lines of “I think how you laughed at me just now is indicative of how the media treats women. I’m just going to ignore that. I'm bigger than that.”
I imagine some audience members wondered what Justin “meant” by Act II. I can’t speak for his true intentions, but I wonder if he was less trying to make a specific statement, and more just pointing some things out and having a chuckle.
At the end of "Walnut" last year Justin did a Q&A session, which I found to be very interesting. I wished that we had gotten to do one this time too. It’s tough for artists to know when to shut up and let the art speak versus when to let their fans in on what’s behind it all.
Overall, A Bag of Nuts was an enjoyable evening. I was pleased that the show was both interesting and aesthetically attractive – sometimes a tricky balance to find. I look forward to seeing what Justin Bass comes up with next.
Kendall Fischer currently performs with Myriad Dance. She has also enjoyed recent opportunities with SBDance, Municipal Ballet Co, La Rouge Entertainment, and Voodoo Productions, among others.