Review: EXERTION, an evening in the life of a dance artist

by Olivia Wood for The Dance Journal

On Friday, June 28th, Jenna Silva and Company presented EXERTION, an evening in the life of a dance artist at Mascher Space Co-op in Philadelphia. Silva and her fellow artists, Nia Simmons, Amanda Connor, and Faith Williams are recent graduates of The University of the Arts, class of 2017. The work is a series of four distinct pieces that explore what it means to forge a career and to identify as young artists. It was very apparent that the dancers share a training background, as their fluid, highly technical movement style was prevalent throughout all four pieces.  Perhaps the most striking aspect of this performance is its noteworthy level of maturity and sophistication, uncommonly seen in artists so fresh.

Reboot (restart/revive)
The opening piece, choreographed by Simmons, is a solo performed by Silva. The following quote accompanied the title: “It can be a slow process of beginning again but it’s okay…” With this, the audience is introduced to the struggles faced by artists. This motif was emphasized by the ebb and flow of the movement. There was a notable wind-up and release that pervaded the choreography, carrying Silva in a sharp diagonal pathway across the space. Silva danced toward and away from her entrance point as if to demonstrate the fluctuation of success in the life of a performer. Simmons’ smooth, spiraling, and sweeping choreography conveyed a three-dimensional, human sense of vulnerability, which was heightened by the repeated touching of the mouth and stomach. After the movement built to a pitch and settled, Silva exited from the same point as unobtrusively as she entered, but the essence of the dance hung like incense in the space.

Choreographed by Silva for Simmons, the second piece conveys a similar sense of vulnerability and presents similar movement motifs. For example, Simmons also held her chest and darted back and forth across the space along a horizontal pathway, as if she were pacing frantically. Between sumptuously undulating her spine and reaching with high extensions through her arms and legs, Simmons repeatedly moved in and out of the floor as if some unknown force was pushing her down. The same force seemed to suddenly halt her momentum as she paced, for she sharply curved her spine as if punched in the stomach. When the piece ended with a struggle to rise from the floor, the finishing sense of defeat became all the more prominent.

The third piece, choreographed and performed by Amanda Connor, had a more optimistic tone than its predecessors. Connor set the stage with props, a ukulele on a rug and a tie-dyed T-shirt, which sat far away from each other at opposite ends of the space. Connor entered to the sound of energetic, percussive music with a series of two low steps and a sharp crouching motion. Out of these first steps, she slid into a slow attitude pirouette and finished by pumping her arms rapidly. The strong juxtaposition of effort qualities (space, time, and flow) lent the piece a mature and multi-dimensional quality. There appeared to be three distinct sections that allowed Connor to traverse the space and to present a clear journey to the discovery of her identity as an artist, which is symbolized by the T-shirt and ukelele. First, she notices the shirt and dances above and around it. Then, she interacts with it by dragging it with one foot, thus permitting it to affect her movement. Finally, Connor dons the shirt as if finally acknowledging her own identity and sings whilst playing the instrument that was so patiently waiting at the opposite end of the stage. It is an interesting choice to place the props so far away from each other and to dance from one to the other as if the choreography were the chord of communication between two tin cans, the starting, and ending points. Perhaps the message is that the mere embarking on a journey of self-discovery is “enough.”

The final piece, a duet that was co-choreographed by Silva and Simmons and accompanied by violinist Faith Williams, culminated the show as the evening’s magnum opus. It featured some of the movement motifs that were present throughout the other three pieces: fall and recovery, undulating spines, clutching the chest and stomach, etc. The slipping and slithering movements complemented the achingly beautiful strains of the violin in such a way that many moments seemed improvised, a call and response between musician and dancers. Silva and Simmons entered the space together, crouching low and pressing on each other’s backs. They managed to portray a sense of oneness without dancing the entire piece in unison. As the piece progressed, the dancers were drawn apart like molecules in an agitated state, pulling into counter-balances and snapping back together until finally separating completely. After the separation, each dancer performed solos while the other sat and witnessed. Each solo contained vestiges of the unified moments, evoking a tone of nostalgia and remembrance. Mournful and poignant, Entwine encapsulated an evening that unabashedly presented the ups and downs of the artistic identity and life.

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