Review of SHARP Dance Company’s HUMANITY

By Ashabi Rich for Dance Journal | photo by Bill Hebert

On Friday, November 17th, the Performance Garage was once again energized by the vision of choreographer Diane Sharp-Nachsin in works centered around two themes: mental illness in the first half, and in the second, the trauma of living with, dying from, and surviving a genocide. Both subjects are dark stuff that too many humans have suffered with, and by which numerous groups have been sorrowfully devastated or annihilated due to greed, ignorance, hate, soaked in inhumanity.

The first half “MADNESS”, consisted of four works that brought the audience to face the torment of people whose minds take them on a journey of mental imbalance. The mind, unfettered and tossing about, has resulted in bodies encased in straitjackets and held in institutions made to contain their mental imbalances supposedly so that they harm neither themselves nor others. But living energy yearns for freedom.  All imposed ties that bind the living chafe and that which chafes strives to be loosened and discarded.

The scene begins starkly with a woman and a chair.  Sandra Davis seems to come out from a, perhaps chemically, induced stupor. As a strait-jacketed patient, she becomes ever more physically active as her awareness as a sentient being returns. Her movements reflect that creeping consciousness as she straddles the straight-backed chair. She arches, rising in relevés while seated in second position plies, tossing her body until she achieves standing.  She tumbles, contracts and stretches, struggling within and against her restraints until her efforts bring her release from the offending binding and, barebacked, she escapes.

A duet with Sophie Malin and Davis in the second work, “Beauty from Pain” seems an enactment of the inner and outer self, at times in harmony and in others, dissonant. The duet becomes many in “The Secret-Part 1, soulfully danced by the company before the taut haze of a translucent screen. The mad, it seems, find like an empathetic company and comforting companionship within their group and with each other; but the scene begs the question of whether these others are born of the imaginings of the one mad mind.

Huot’s clever projections give the impression that perhaps out of the one have come the many now present behind the scrim. Caroline Butcher, Davis, Kate Lombardi and Miquel Quiñones enacted Sharp-Nachsin’s powerful choreography in “The Secret-Part 2” continuing to depict mental disturbance. The audience, peering through what seemed a shadowy translucent curtain into the mind, somberly bore witness to what might be the frightening existence of the mad. Chaotic figures, personified imageries of psychosis, speeding up with frenetic energy, contorting and moving at sharp angles, rushing helplessly to the point of breaking with the self and reality. The effect of this piece is disturbing and powerful.

The second half presented the world premiere of “669”, a tribute to Sir Nicholas George Winton (born Wertheim), a British stockbroker and humanitarian. He was knighted in England 50 years after his heroic actions on the eve of WWII. “If it’s not impossible, then surely something could, and something must be done,” said Sir Winton. He organized 8 campaigns that saved 669 children from Czechoslovakia at the eve of WWII, most of them Jewish, when the Nazi-led genocidal campaigns against the Jews, Romany, African Germans and other ethnic groups arose in Europe. Today there are over 6000 descendants from the rescue now known as the Czech Kindertransport.

“Time” with the sound of a ticking clock depicts the parent’s anguish over the looming decision that will see each family pick only one child among siblings to save in the rescue operation. Nachsin’s work projects an unending wave of sorrow as the parents fall prostrate with the grief. They sleep and wake with debilitating sorrow, the force of emotions causing them to collapse and rise in an effective movement that translates the unspeakable future. The emotion is palatable, effectively muted in the beige and black costumes of overcoats, the piano music perfectly expressive. A change into beige tops and scarlet bottoms in the next piece seemed to signify a bleeding out of the life’s blood as the hour of separation draws closer. “Seduction” is brilliantly done as Linnea Calzada-Charma puts her circus arts training to effective use in sinuous and seductive movement using two scarlet cloths, extending down from the ceiling, sent to insinuate herself into the scene as the Nazi-influenced seductress sent to gain the favor of Nicholas and reveal the secrets of his efforts. In the end, he succeeded in turning her to support and aid the rescue campaign, the failure of which is represented by the (literal) fall of “the snake” which is left dangling at the bottom. Calzada-Charma’s work is strong, purposeful and skilled. She has gotten stronger since last spring when she worked with a suspended ring and this has made her work more remarkable.

The company “gets” Sharp-Nachsin’s choreography and vision. They are a company with a heartbeat. They get the whimsical, the fantastical, the drama and imbue it with their all. As per the new freedom of movement and role-shifting in the dance of the 21st century, at points, there are women lifting men as well as each other. SHARP packs a lot of great choreography and dance into a very enjoyable and fulfilling hour.

Choreographer: Diane Sharp-Nachsin, Linnea Calzada-Charma (“The Seduction”)
Assistant choreographer: Patrick Korstange (“Unguarded Moment”)
Music: Lily Danieva, Jeff Beal, Bjork, Jason “J” Andrew Rock, Sound Effects
Projection Artist: Lauren Mandilian Huot
Dramaturge: Caroline Butcher
Dancers: Caroline Butcher, Linnea Calzada-Charma, Sandra Davis, Kate Lombardi, Sophie Malin, Kyan Nazami, Leslie Anne Pike, Miquel Quiñones

About Ashabi Rich

Ashabi Rich, a Norristown native, began dancing in A.D. Eisenhower High School's extra-curricular dance club studying Graham technique. While attending Swarthmore College, she continued in modern dance through elective dance classes under Patricia Boyer who eventually established the department for Swarthmore’s major in dance. Ashabi later went on to become a dance major at Temple University studying with Hellmut Gottschild, Eva Gholson, and Patricia Hobson among others. While at Temple she performed with the East Indian Dance club (Kathak). She became a company dancer with Philadelphia raised ballet dancer John Jones (United Souls of America), and later spent six years with Robert “Baba” Crowder's Kulu-Mele African Dance and Drum Company. She has also been a guest dancer with Alo!Brasil, and taught at the Stephen’s School of Dance in Germantown.

Ashabi has studied dance under dance and drum icon John Hines, Faye Snow, Gilset Mora, Carmen Butler, Ione Nash, Dottie Wilkie, Onyin Harris, Youssouf Koumbassa, and Cachet Ivey. As a student at the American Dance Festival/Connecticut College, Ashabi studied under Clay Taliaferro, Walter Nix, Gay Delange, and Thelma Hill. Ashabi is a Certified Reiki II practitioner in the Mikao Usui lineage through Reiki Master Helen Blue and Grandmaster Earlene Green. She is a martial arts aficionado having studied judo, Praying Mantis kung fu, Wing Chun kung fu with Sifu Mo Bah Wei (Frank Wyatt), Shotokan karate (Teruyuki Okazaki), Akido (Yukio Utada), and Jujitsu-Shotokan karate (Andrew Lyn. Sr.). She is SAG-AFTR membership eligible from the movie-In Her Shoes (screen credit Asabi Rich.) and is a graduate of Temple University with a BA in English. Currently Ashabi is a graduate student at Temple University's Klein College of Media and Communication studying for an MS in Globalization and Development Communication.

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