Review: Real Stories by Real Live People

By Debra Danese for The Dance Journal

Mental health, organ trafficking, and “ghosting” were just a few of the subject matters that were touched upon in RealLivePeople Presents fourth performance series. Held at thefidget space, the diverse line-up was curated by the local contemporary dance company, RealLivePeople.  Artistic Director, Gina Hoch-Stall, joined forces with both established and emerging choreographers who complement the company’s mission-exploring human experiences through intense physicality.

Supported by the Philadelphia Cultural Fund, Saturday evening’s program featured seven works by six choreographers. Each piece was unique in content and substance. However, a common underlying theme of the performance was the examination of humanity and investigation of identity and self- awareness. Music was often interspersed with recorded dialogue which allowed the audience a deeper glimpse into the artist’s intentions. A work by Hoch-Stall opened the program and featured six dancers from Ohio State University, where Hoch-Stall is pursuing her MFA. The piece was interspersed with quick directional changes, shifts in weight, and stop motion. The performers were all strong technicians with Erin Yen and Hazel Black particularly standing out.

Amanda Edward’s Letter IIMama delved into what she calls, “the taboo nature of discussing black mental health.” Edward’s provided a glimpse into her own struggles with mental health through her recorded poem that provided a backdrop to the piece. It also served as an open letter to her mother. The quartet of female dancers all had distinct personal movement styles that blended well together. One dancer, in particular, stood out because of her obvious connection to the material. Each of her movements was executed to its fullest potential and seemed to fill the space surrounding her. I later discovered that dancer was Edward’s who allowed herself to be openly vulnerable in front of the audience to share her story.

Another strong work in the program came from Ama Gora with The Lost Girls Are Black. The duet was broken into three phases and focused on the devaluing of the black female body. It also criticized the uninvestigated reports of missing American girls and Libyan refugees. News excerpts shed light on several cases involving organ trafficking. One such story questioned why Tom Brady’s missing jersey garnered more news coverage than missing persons. Dancers Jasmine Brown and Rhamzi Burks performed with strong intention and seemed invested in both the movement and topic matter. Gora’s choreography was filled with physicality and alternated between fluid and sharp movements. The result was a powerful and thought-provoking piece.

Additional choreographers included Scott McPheeters, Hillary Pearson and Chelsea Murphy, who gave a rowdy performance in response to being ghosted by a “softboy.” The program ended with a solo by Hoch-Stall entitled It’s Hard to take your body off. Hoch-Stall placed obvious trust in the audience using her body as a canvas for self-examination. She established an easy connection with the audience which she relied on for the success of her piece. Her efforts were well-received as she both danced and spoke of her personal challenges and achievements.

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