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.

b sides & rarities

Movement Forum surprised me last weekend at B-Sides and Rarities, a one-night engagement  at Sugar Space. I wish I’d come at seven (they did two shows in one night) and everyone in the cast lamented that I’d missed the earlier show. But I certainly didn’t feel cheated by what I saw, in fact I left feeling encouraged in a way that I haven’t in a long time.

The program notes were printed on an 8 ½ by 11 sheet that the audience was encouraged to write on and throw onstage during the performance. The dancers and three musicians began warming up on stage, the lights and conversation dimmed and everyone adjourned from the middle of the space except for Michael Watkiss, who stood with an unusual presence for several seconds before beginning a gestural solo which seemed to develop the character his costume began: holey dress pants and a too-nice button up.

Watkiss’s dance took a long slow turn for the introspective as he looked at his body up and down, cataloging the possibilities and searching patiently for some unexpected resonance in the folding and unfolding of his joints. The other dancers stood around him like a gang in the shadows out of some dance musical film from the fifties. They began to take turns narrating his solo in a sort of dialectic exquisite corpse. Now he’s a father. But he’s a dead beat dad. Now he’s twenty-six. There’s some kind of mental illness. Now he’s having an affair. Now he’s thirty. I’ve seen this kind of text-based work before, but rarely have I seen it with such tenderness between the performers. The framing and reframing that the other performers provided was excellently timed. It really made me think about truth and fiction and how the artifice of performance was functioning. I can’t tell you how his abstract dancing moved me in a different way that it might have out of context, but I know that it has stayed with me and I’m still digesting it. I’d also like to take the opportunity to comment on how much Watkiss’s dancing has developed since I last saw him perform in May. Something is happening; during his training at the U he managed to preserve a rare sense of interior monologue in his dancing, but now he’s taking it into space with a clarity and humor I didn’t know he was capable of.

The progression of the evening was rambling in a charming way, they didn’t have any real concrete plan, which is not an easy thing to pull off, especially with a cast of almost twenty. There were some impressive interludes of explosive dancing to the amiable music of the live band (Alex Aponte, Trevor Price and Randal Topper), including a bombastic little number that looked a little bit like a Tere O’Connor dance falling out of an airplane (danced by Sherisa Bly, Corrine Penka and Eileen Rojas). The cast also undertook a sort of movement roast of departing and founding director Graham Brown who dived, leapt and tired himself with his usual inimitable athleticism. His dancers barraged him with loving jibes and crumpled airplane’s whose comments from the audience had already been turned into a series of experiments ranging from a hilarious deep lunging routine led by sassy Corinne Penka and an awkwardly funny send up of the late king of pop whose initials are M.J. (danced by Sofia Gorder and Jersey Reo Riemo).

Before it was all over there was a brightly surreal trio with blind-folds and another stunning performance by Watkiss, this time joined by the equally witty Danell Hathaway, who will direct the company when Brown moves to Maryland to pursue graduate school this fall. Watkiss told us of a fantastic encounter with a giant talking spider (a dream? an acid trip?). As Watkiss was disarmed by this invisible figment of his subconscious, Hathaway playfully tried to undress him, he batted her off, much as one might an annoying insect. Here were performers dancing with a real sense of metaphor, and making it up as they went along. Some deep, but very playful investigation was happening that night and I was grateful to be invited inside of it.

Sam Hanson