by Winfield Maben for The Dance Journal
On Saturday night the Barnes Foundation hosted its sixth Artist Bash, titled “Artist Bash: Take Me Home”. Included in the night’s program were a variety of performers from different disciplines including musicians Julian Saporiti and Erin Aoyama, a capella group Sistahs Attune, choreographer Rhonda Moore, and several other members of Philadelphia’s artistic community. The venue was busy, patrons were able to move freely throughout the space and their constant chatter echoed off the high ceilings of the foundation’s Annenberg Court. At the far end of the space, on a swath of red carpet, on an elevated platform, two bodies lay in an intimate embrace. This was the beginning of Gabrielle Revlock’s SEX TAPE, the latest in a larger series of works entitled “Manifesto”.
The first word that comes to mind when watching SEX TAPE is intimacy. There is no preamble, no larger pretensions, and the movement is simple and pedestrian. All these factors clear space for the relationship on display between the two performers, making every little detail in the movement stand out as the audience observes the slow and subtle escalation of the choreography. The piece began in near total stillness, but slowly, gesture by gesture Revlock and her partner Michele Tantoco came to life. Gestures like a twitch of the fingers, a brush of the hair, or the subtle movement of the lips lend the work an intensely human quality. The unmistakable chemistry between the two performers on stage is so genuine that, despite the noisy venue, I found myself pulled in, completely immersed in their relationship while the distractions of the room faded away.
The work ran for about an hour and as it progressed the movement escalated; gentle touch and embrace based gestures gave way to partnering and weight sharing and the duo engaged in interactions that were tender at times and playful at others. However even once the choreography had ramped up, the base human quality of the work was retained. The choreography of SEX TAPE is deceptively complex, nearly every available point of contact was utilized at some point in the evening whether that be for partnering or the more gentle touch-based gesture work. Additionally, every action performed by one dancer seemed to create an equal reaction in the other. For example, one might kiss the other on the forehead, which in turn leads to the other extending her leg and flexing her toes. It’s within these little complexities that the work retains a sense of momentum and constant flow despite its slower pace.
Over the course of one-hour SEX TAPE traces the arc of a relationship between these two bodies on stage. An arc that is at times intimate, at times funny, and often bittersweet throughout. The performers are able to express an incredible range of emotions both through the choreography in the subtleties of their interaction which immerse the audience in the connection between them and left me feeling a genuine sense of bittersweet loss by the end, when one performer exited the stage, leaving the other alone. At the beginning of this review, I claimed that the word this piece evokes is “intimacy”, and that word (alongside others like “care, touch, and friendship” which were provided by Revlock herself) is at the core of what makes SEX TAPE an engaging and profound performance experience. As contradictory as it sounds, this is a performance that lacks performativity, and that’s a good thing. The connection on stage exists between the two dancers, and the audience is just happenstance. Despite the noise surrounding them, the piece was quiet, personal, and compelling