By Tara Giangrande for The Dance Journal | photo credit: Frank Bicking
Following its premiere at Powelton’s Community Education Center last fall, Putty Dance Project brought iStand: Stories of an American Civil Struggle to the Painted Bride Art Center for a one-time performance on Sunday, October 9.
Intentionally timed to coincide with the impending presidential election, the relevance of the topic at hand was clear. Choreographer Lauren Putty White developed iStand in collaboration with her husband, composer and musician, Brent White in response to the unrest that followed the death of Freddie Gray in her hometown of Baltimore.
A racially diverse cast of dancers that included Amanda Edwards, Joe Gonzalez, Sarah McWilliams, Colin Heininger, Sarah Warren, and Chloé O. Davis moved through several suites dedicated to different modes of political action. Each section embodied Putty White’s personal journey in confronting the recent incidences of police brutality. At the same time, the program set forth a menu of the many ways in which people might respond to such civil conflicts: iPledge, iFear, iFall, iFight, iStand, iPray. Interjecting video interviews with friends of the company offered an opportunity to reflect on the extent that one might go to protect their own values. What do I, and what should I, stand for? Would I transform into a predator before allowing myself to become prey?
A series of gestures executed in a systematic, yet suggestively defiant pledge of loyalty to the nation gave way to chaotic isolation as dancers lashed out at each other in suspicion and fear. Sirens incited scattering followed by desperate leaping and clinging for protection. In a viscerally stunning solo, Joe Gonzalez embodied the resolution to fight in his throbbing chest. As his pulse slowed and quickened between moments of bodily collapse and spiritual resolve, I found myself holding and releasing my own breath along with him, only to gasp audibly when he placed his hand over his heart in final surrender to commands from police.
Chloé O. Davis delivered an equally gripping performance along side a trumpet-playing Brent White in the iStand segment that served to anchor the show. Moments of self-doubt were tenaciously fought off as Davis grooved around the stage. Pointing down to her rhythmic feet and then forming a fist with her hand, she emitted a smirking confidence that said she was determined to stand her ground.
Subsequent examinations of prayer and continued faith in American democracy indicated hope for improvement, with the reminder that change is only made possible through action. The Q&A session following the performance connected this message powerfully to current realities, as guest speakers with voter registration forms stressed the importance of the upcoming election. Artfully expanding upon personal experience to illustrate the implications of racial injustice and mounting civil unrest for all American citizens, iStand succeeded in calling its audience to conscious participation in our collective struggle.
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