The Social Sessions: Chapter 1 – Building Homes…..Literally

Photo of Caroline O'Brien by Thomas Weir.
Photo of Caroline O’Brien by Thomas Weir

by Gregory King for The Dance Journal

Realizing the need for an outlet where artists could give back to the community, Culture Clutch’s co-founders Rachel Glashan Rupisan and Caroline O’Brien launched an initiative, providing such a platform to socially conscious artists. From a hefty submission pool, the Temple University Dance graduates carefully selected a diverse group of artists whose works were multi-dimensional in their exploration of “home” and its effect on the human spirit.

Opening the program was the multi media presentation title Home, images of performers Rebekah Rickards and Ronald Parkers flashed across the screen in interactions that gave insight into a relationship on the verge of possible ruins. Seemingly taking place in a home in disrepair, the facially emotionless duo found ways to connect…if only briefly. A moment with Parker sitting in a chair, holding a picture-less frame left me melancholy, as I watched Rickards climb through the frame, working to invade the empty prop as if she were begging to be a part of the picture.

As the artists peeled back the layers of their creative inquiry, elements of dependency, belonging, and trust were demonstrated in uniquely abstract ways.

Choreographed by Kayla Herbs, suspension in a free fall revealed Herbs and Sarah Braviak working to support each other as they created delicate structures that required balance and strength. Although there were some shaky executions, the acrobatic duo was constantly weight sharing even if their transitions weren’t always smooth.

In Under Maintenance, performer Alexis Dispenziere held her body low to the ground as she repeatedly gestured with her arm as if she were unscrewing a light bulb.  In moments of whimsy, Dispenziere trembled her pelvis, allowing her costume to echo its vibration. There was a pull, constantly taking her towards the downstage left diagonal but the intention was unclear.

Mason Rosenthal’s prop heavy performance art piece, One Way Red, was a welcomed change of pace, adding much needed theatrics to the mostly movement-centered line up. While I believe the piece could have benefitted from further investigation to reveal its intention, Rosenthal was keen on taking the audience on a journey.  Comedic in her delivery, performer Dani Solomon appeared to be in an apartment as she emptied her backpack onto a table creating animated stories with its contents. After her simulated puppet show, Solomon slid under the covers of a makeshift bed that was prepared downstage. In possibly the most successful scene in the piece, Solomon worked to free her restrained leg from a blanket. The caged leg appeared to be in attack mode, as she resourcefully worked to pull herself away from the blanket’s confinement.

Choreographed and danced by Evalina Carbonell, Fuerza showcased all the elusive qualities of its creator. With her back to the audience, Carbonell splayed her arms, reaching for something unseen. Circling her torso, she appeared to grow into the space before softening her elbow, withdrawing her arms towards her subtly fluttering body.

The pleated skirt she wore expanded with each battement as she used her legs to carve soft curves in the space between herself and those watching.

She performed a gestural phrase as a precursor to her duet with the floor.

Standing, Carbonell was precise, grounded……solid. But on the ground, she exuded an inexplicable comfort, sliding with ease, organically balancing the sturdy pulse of the accompanying musical compositions of Dustin O’Halloran and Rodrigo Solo. Never a moment of jerky transition, it was as if Carbonell controlled the floor. Watching it was apparent that the floor breathed with her – it was familiar, it was home.

Reminiscent of other choreography showcases saturating the Philadelphia dance scene, I found myself wondering what could have set Social Sessions apart from the others. Maybe an outdoor space, allowing the works to become an extension of the environment would have helped the audience make a stronger connection to the arts and community.

A great vehicle for audience and community engagement, Social Sessions serves a greater purpose, as the proceeds will aid in the building of homes through Habitat for Humanity.

About Gregory King

Gregory King received his MFA in Choreographic Practice and Theory from Southern Methodist University. In addition, he is certified in Elementary Labanotation. His dance training began in Washington DC at the Washington Ballet and later at American University. He went on to participate in the Horton Project in conjunction with the Library of Congress. His training continued at the prestigious institutions such as The Dance Theatre of Harlem and The Alvin Ailey School. Gregory has performed with The Washington Ballet, Rebecca Kelly Ballet, Erick Hawkins Dance Company, New York Theatre Ballet, Donald Byrd /The Group, The Metropolitan Opera Ballet, New York City Opera, and Disney’s The Lion King on Broadway.

His desire to integrate social activism into his choreography began with his graduate thesis, where he used the platform to push the conversation about homophobia and heterosexism. He is a lover of movement exploration and describes his aesthetic as a classical base with a theatrical flair.

He has taught at Boston Ballet, Boston Conservatory, Boston University, Bowdoin College, Dallas Black Dance Theatre and Texas Ballet Theatre. Additionally, he has served as a teaching artist in public schools in and around Dallas, as Resident Guest artist at Temple University and Assistant Professor of Dance at Dean College. Recently, Gregory received the Excellence in Teaching Award from the National Society of Leadership and Success. He is currently a Visiting Professor of Dance and Consortium on Faculty Diversity Fellow at Swarthmore College where he teaches Modern and continues to use his choreography as a means for social change.

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