Dinomato at Sugar Space

You may have seen an excerpt of Ching-I Chang’s “Dinomato” at the recent “Daughters of Mudson” showcase. The piece was reviewed in SLUG and for the blog alongside 15 BYTES.  As a producer of Daughters of Mudson it’s uncharacteristic of me to write about the piece–– it’s certainly hard to be neutral about something one had a stake in. While it wasn’t my creative work nor my creation, it did have my name attached to  it. That said, I have to confess that upon the first viewing I agreed more with Karin Fenn’s criticisms than I did Danell Hathaway’s praise for the excerpt Ching-I presented as part of the group showcase in the Rose Wagner. In it’s original, excerpted viewing, I felt alienated from the narrative. The title indicated to me that the piece explored boredom, and my knee-jerk reaction was that it was unfair to ask the audience to be subjected to boredom for no apparent reason. My opinion shifted after seeing the work in its entirety at Sugar Space this past weekend. The full version of Ching-I’s work left me noticing small details, the tenderness and harshness which can be shared among dancing partners, and the nature of bewilderment.

“Dinomato” takes its inspiration in part from Andy Warhol and his use of iconic imagery and bland repetition. The audience gathers outside and our narrator, Efren Corado Garcia, appears to tell us what may unfold. He lifts paper to reveal the interior of a small alcove in the theater where we see Temria Airmet and Tara McArthur wearing white dance garb and Andy Warhol wigs while they rearrange cans of tomato soup. Already this felt more fresh for me as a viewer than the previous iteration at “Daughters”. Because we were shown a small glimpse through a window, it felt we were let into a secret that before felt distant and unexplored. I was drawn into the fractured narrative that would unfold and was physically close to my peers in the audience as we were led into a space too small to hold us. Efren soon handed us photos of dinosaur skeletons as a welcome gift and led us into the more forgiving space of the theater. The seats were sparse and in the round, as the audience chose carefully their vantage point Tara and Temria traced vague imagery onto opposite walls with their bodies.

An improvisation followed with each dancer performing solos based on emotive words chosen at random by audience members from a stack of paper. I have a name for dances of this sort, BOSSWIP: Based on Secret Words Written in Private. My dance professor in college invented the term and I’ve tended toward being critical of dances which presume that we should know or care what imaginary terms had helped craft the movements we were seeing. Yet, something about the visual design and the allure of the trio of performers transcended my expectation of what the improvisation would look like. It was clear that Tara drew a card that said “desperate”. Her sad and desperate dance drew me in. On the other end of the spectrum I had no idea what Efren drew but his precise and smooth impersonation of a potato being peeled made me want to know.

Once again the audience was led somewhere new, this time the lobby where Tara and Efren danced a sad duet featuring an upturned couch and the sense that one performer was leaving the other. The walls were covered in curious figures made by Ching-I, as well as two large faces on the wall, one full of color and texture, the other empty. Efren led us past the record player and behind the black traveler. Being a dancer walking through the traveler was a familiar feeling, but the curiosity still built as we emerged on the other side to Temria throwing soup spoons off of a loft onto the floor. Back in the stage space there was more dancing, more soup, more posturing and more text about topics to which the audience wasn’t exactly privy.

I left fundamentally interested in the three curious figures who led me through Sugar Space in a way I’ve never seen it despite having viewed a good bit of dance there. I left wondering how and why they made the dancers made their choices to interact with one another which is, for better or worse, something I think about nearly every day with everyone I see. I left imagining whether the little universe they’ve created is something that Ching-I will continue to explore, and I hope that’s the case.

Dinomato from Jeremy Bigelow on Vimeo.

Ashley Anderson is the director of loveDANCEmore programs through her non-profit, ashley anderson dances. 

Daughters of Mudson 2014

If you missed the show, check out Daughters of Mudson 2014 from loveDANCEmore on Vimeo.

Having reviewed last season’s Daughters of Mudson, I came to the 2014 performance last weekend with much expectation.  The 2013 show lingered with me long after I left the Studio Theater at the Rose Wagner. and this year’s iteration didn’t disappoint, leaving me pleasantly surprised, often amused, and a bit bewildered — which is a good thing…

The minimalist design of the Rose Wagner Studio Theater maintained a sleek, progressive atmosphere, but the addition of strip lights refined the look of the concert while creating the intimate environment patrons of the series have come to expect. The collection of works presented here were curated by Ishmael Houston-Jones from loveDANCEmore’s works-in-progress series at the Masonic Temple in the last year. Despite simplistic beginnings — relationships, self-discovery, boredom, transitions — the material shared relatable themes. It was clear the topics addressed weren’t cutting edge but through skilled execution and a sense of play, the dances created space for meaning and purpose to sink deep into the complexities of the human experiences.

Erica Womack’s Dear Son opened the show, serving as a perplexing work, simultaneously alienating and bewitching. Two dancers exchanged intimate, repetitive gestures focused on the cavity of the belly, coupled with a series of supportive and concerned touches. The dancers shared companionship as they whirled in sweeping unison, rendering spiritual solemnity. Excerpts of “This Little Light of Mine” were sung intermittently which furthered a ritualistic undertone. While the audience was encouraged to hum along, it distracted me to hear a few brave souls in the crowd sing the tune.  I questioned the context of the piece of music but settled on the most logical connection presented by the choreographer and new mother: bearing witness to the pain, joy, and surreal yet primal act of childbirth. I was unable to relate to the subject matter personally but was intrigued by the structure. I did desire to see less drapery in the costuming and more emphasis on the physical body as the choreography placed an emphasis on transfiguration.

When Efren Corado Garcia appeared next in heels and a biketard for My Little Man. By my side, eyes fixed on me, he moved, I braced myself for an alter ego, gender-bending caricature carousel ride but instead was presented with a stunningly personal and poignant portrayal of acceptance and empowerment.  Imploding stereotypes surrounding gender-exploration, this three-part installment instead offered honest slices of Garcia’s self, not particularly masculine or feminine, just a succession of lightning fast vignettes encapsulating the story of his moving body. A warm-colored light flipped on mid-dance to project a soft silhouette as  Garcia stroked, caressed and revealed himself with obscure but striking vulnerability that lingers in my memory. In the final section, amidst a soaring sound score, Garcia stripped 3/4 of his biketard away, as if to shed the old aspects and reveal something more powerful and confident.  As Garcia scanned the audience with minimal movement, he offered himself with a “take it or leave it” stance as the lights faded.

The Beatles or The Stones? choreographed by Brooklyn Draper gave a glimpse into what I’d imagine as the Mad Hatter’s road trip, complete with obtuse quarrels, oddly placed text and an awkward, family-photo motif that became an anchor to the dance. While solos showcased a breadth of engaging movement, I felt a little left out of the jokes and was unable to attach to a clear through-line helping me unpack and translate the many movement tropes within in the piece.

The superbly crafted and masterfully executed This is the Beginning of Boredom (inspired by Andy Warhol) by Ching–I Chang was easily my favorite of the evening.  A dancer carrying a suitcase and wearing an  Andy Warhol wig and Ray-bans mysteriously stumbled from the audience, discreetly unfolding a series of directions. The solo became a duet with a similarly accessorized dancer and the two completed a series of random actions revolving around cans of tomato soup, spoons, suitcases and a roll of paper.  At one point I laughed out loud as one dancer tried to stuff as many spoons and cans into her knee folds as possible. I applaud the dancers ability to seamlessly talk with each other and the audience while maintaining a certain air of tongue-in-cheek ease.  I found myself feeling as if I was back in the Warhol’s 1960’s Factory observing muses muck about with the creative process.

The final piece of the evening was an endearing and jocular exchange between Sam Hanson and Michael Watkiss in Watkiss’s With(out) Sam.  The two loosely bantered about dancing together throughout high school and college, what dance education has “done” to Watkiss and also addressed the sordid world of dance belt talks.  As Watkiss jammed to RJD2, stripped to nothing but a dance belt and performed a string of twisting and disjointed motions, re-dressed and recited a children’s story, the piece evolved into more than just a haphazard homage to their friendship but became an auto-biographical template. Engaging and empirical, the piece seemed to suggest we wear, slough off, reconfigure and transform our own history, as we identify and mark those moments that define us.

The Mudson series and particularly the Daughters of Mudson performances continually offer a much needed alternative to most of Utah’s traditional dance performance paradigms.  As the season continues to mature, I expect to see more innovation and risk-taking while maintaining the refreshing format from inception to completion.

Danell Hathaway co-directs the group Movement Forum and teaches dance at Olympus High School.

This article is published in partnership with 15 BYTES. Daughters of Mudson took place on June 13th & 14th, 2014 at the Studio Theatre Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center Salt Lake City, Utah.