Student Author Program – Review: Kariamu and CompanyFeb 4th, 2013 | By Steven Weisz | Category: Reviews
by Marissa Bottino for The Dance Journal
Photos by Bill Hebert
This review is part of the Dance Journal’s Student Author Program. Marissa was mentored by Dance Journal writer, Kat Richter. Marissa is a senior dance and English major at Muhlenberg College. Marissa performs and choreographs for various Muhlenberg and professional dance concerts. She also works as a lead writing tutor at her school and has been published in the Lehigh Valley Dance Exchange blog as well as previously in The Dance Journal.
Round with corporeal tradition, intellectual embodiment, technical mastery, and pure joy Kariamu and Company’s ‘Traditions Concert,’ Same Father, Different Mother filled Conwell Dance Theater with, as lyrics echoed, ‘the love of dance’ on Saturday night.
Diggin Lalibela, performed by students and alumni from Eastern University’s Dance Department, strongly demonstrates training in Umfundalai technique, the contemporary African dance technique created by Kariamu Welsh. A soft spotlight illuminates the strong, captivating stance of choreographer, Saleana Pettaway. Wearing baggy brown tunics and color-accented pants, four dancers join. Rhythms and breaks heavily drive the movement, yet the musicians were not on stage. It was unexpectedly fulfilling to see the non-company members embody the technique. Memorably, hands clasp together in front of the body as straight arms, bodies bent towards the earth, and circling isolated shoulders resemble digging or pulling. This incites encouraging yelps, ‘ayyyyy yao’ and ‘yes!’ from fellow dancers and audience members.
Suits is the epitome of ‘cool.’ Choreographed by C. Nemal Nance, this piece takes risks, and demonstrates each performer’s personal ownership of polycentric mastery. A singer and five other suited-up males decorate the space in pedestrian demeanors. Charismatic, Stafford C. Berry smiles upstage center. A ballad version of music from ‘Sweeney Todd’ rises as Berry expands his arms at the word “fly.” A man facing Berry convulses with articulate contractions and chest pops as if Berry’s force controls him. This smooth segment makes the music shift alarming. Bursts of leg extensions and shaking hands obey the demands of the driving hip-hop beat. The men plié in attitude, and chug while throwing arms and focus upwards. One male takes off his suit jacket— his attacking, athletic movement especially impressive against a soft purple background. Energy infects the audience, as an organic free-style circle forms on stage.
Welsh’s RAAAHMONAAAH Revisited abstracts the 1985 police bombing of the MOVE community on Osage Avenue. John Berry entirely embodies the booming opening poetry. His voluminous projection calls upon the ensemble dressed in black, one red and one white. Holding masks, they cluster center stage, screaming just before the lights blackout. While grounded, open-chest windmills are striking, the most compelling and disturbing gesture of the piece is the fist-to-mouth that releases into a silent, slow motion scream— the volume and drained quality of Nance’s the most notable. Moments of unison lose the story, but when Ramona’s alter-egos lay over her, emotion takes over.
Unique to Saturday’s performance, the Umfundalai Certification Ceremony acknowledged four educators as physical and intellectual transports for the art of Umfundalai. Although unessential to the show itself, and perhaps taking the audience out of the concert’s essence, the ceremony enriched the tradition, making the audience part of the humble joy of Welsh’s “children.”
The newest work, Same Father, Different Mother, premiered in England in 2012. Although smooth jazz music was not necessarily the wrong music choice for the piece, it did not enhance the emotional volume of the work either. Dancers went from loosely slapping their thighs to bouncing around like rag dolls or stumbling infants, comforting and rejecting one another: one man turns away; another forces a hug. They put on their hoods slowly. With the exception of an audibly weeping Berry, the remaining four cluster downstage. The ending feels empty.
Brady Hill’s Style Stepping is “ready to party.” Matching the funky music, dancers wear glittered tops and white blazers. With glittered Converse, this piece has the potential to feel more like competition than concert dance but the performers were physically invested and believable. The music cuts seemed abrupt, but the transfer between Africanist aesthetics and groovy movements did not.
Welsh’s Taking Flight, accompanied by Robert Hayden poem, “Runagate, Runagate, Runagate,” exemplifies artistic sensibility in mind/body integration. Articulate language informs articulate movement. The repetitive train in the poem becomes sagittal chest undulations and continuous steps. The costumes are beautiful – yellow with dark blue patterns. This piece demonstrates the dancers’ physical virtuosity with high legs, controlled extensions, and suspended jumps. Interspersed predictably between virtuosic segments of the journey, the group increasingly consoles one another to keep on the journey; perhaps to keep dancing.