Internal narratives made external at Urban Movement Arts

by Winfield Maben for The Dance Journalphoto credit Adrianna Imhof

Urban Movement Arts debuted two works in progress as a part of their summer Artist In Residency program. Over the course of one hour Lauren Auyeung and Shanel Edwards, each premiered the works they’ve constructed over the course of the program and shared insight on their process via a talkback once each piece had concluded.

Auyeung’s work opened the evening’s program, melding sharp isolations with a smooth internal flow which provided a dynamic contrast further elevated through Auyeung’s use of dramatic stillness at key moments to create clean breaks within the choreography. Two large fans had been placed in either corner of the space which Auyeung eventually switched on. The air current from these fans furthered the metaphorical struggle and hesitation portrayed by Auyeung, who at first seems hesitant to enter the airstream, then once she finally does becomes desperate as if she’s fighting against an insurmountable force. This, when combined with the interplay between the fans and the lights placed behind them, builds an oppressive industrial atmosphere which draws the audience into the world of the dancer rather than experiencing it secondhand.

The work eventually transitions into a second section which is more upright than the first and borrows elements of latin or ballroom dance within its movement motifs. In contrast with the separated, antagonistic relationship between Auyeung and the fans in the first half, this second part sees her embracing a fan and using it as a choreographic prop. Eventually, she elevates this connection into the space as a whole; utilizing windows and window ledges in order to squeeze every last drop of choreographic potential from the room. Auyueng’s work not only creates a compelling narrative for the audience to engage with via her use of sharp dynamic movement and props, she actively invites the audience into the world she creates via said movement through her imaginative and thorough exploration of the possibilities offered by the space itself.

Following a brief transition in which sets were changed out Shanel Edwards premiered their work which portrayed a deeply personal narrative inspired by their recent hiatus from dancing. When asked about their process during the talkback they said, “I had no idea.. the space was really big and I felt intimidated so I just looked at what I hadn’t done, concept-wise, and realized I had never done a piece about myself, so I started from there”(Edwards). The personal journey Edwards traces through their work is incredibly clear; the first section’s movement is structured around building and collapsing motifs, conveying fatigue or struggle. Tactile gestures place the emphasis on the body as an object in the space, drawing the gaze of the audience and asking them to consider the role of the body in the narrative. Next Edwards’s dancers left the stage, leaving Edwards alone to perform the second and third parts of the work. The second was far more grounded in the pedestrian than anything the audience had seen so far, featuring Edwards who walked about the stage contemplatively as a spoken word soundscore played out. This grounded the work in Edwards as an individual and established the personal stakes of the themes at play, slowly building up to the culmination of the work in the last two parts.

The third part pulled Edwards out of the slow, ponderous movement of the second and embodied a sense of power, intentionality, and determination which served as a continuation of the narrative arc painted by the movement in the other two sections. Rather than giving in to the collapse as they had at the work’s start, they now actively fight the urge to collapse. Especially when paired with Edwards’s comments on coming out of their hiatus from dance, this section resonates with the audience in the way it displays power at a personal level; the power one has over themselves to push forward and move ahead of their self-doubt. Finally, at the work’s conclusion, the rest of the cast rejoined Edwards on the stage for a closing section which emphasized the way individuality functions in the community. Although the dancers move in unison, each retains their identity, showcasing each dancer as an individual within a larger whole rather than a homogenous corp of faceless movers. During the talkback Edwards said; “The transition for me was finding some sort of community again because being alone is hard. And I found, through this process, that I need community but also that I was able to find myself too”(Edwards). This quote is especially pertinent and highlights the complicated ideas at work in Edwards’s choreography. It’s not a matter of solely the individual versus the community but instead seeks to understand the interplay and relationship between the two as well as how they can work together to improve and grow together.

The summer residency program at Urban Movement Arts not only provides working artists with a platform to experiment with new works but also provides exposure to up and coming artists for the community at large. The importance of programs like these was especially clear in the closing comments made by Lauren Auyeung when asked about the experience of working within the residency. Auyeung, a recent graduate, says; “It’s terrifying coming out of college and leaving that support network behind. I was very lucky to be able to leave campus and come straight here. The work that I’m making, I hope serves as a snapshot of me, my life, and where I am now”(Auyeung). Her sentiment is representative of the general vibe of the evening, one of collaboration, community, and personal growth through artistry. All of which are values that should be at the center of every thriving artistic community.

About Winfield Maben

Winfield Maben is a Philadelphia based writer and dancer and an aspiring member of the greater Philadelphia area dance community. He graduated from Muhlenberg College in 2018 with a BA in Dance & English and has previously conducted several features for the Lehigh Valley Dance Exchange. He has worked with several established choreographers including Tiffany Mills, Sharon Vazanna, and Trinette Singleton and has performed in a variety of unique locations including Triskelion Arts (Brooklyn, NY), ArtisTree (Pomfret, VT), and the Brooklyn Bridge. Winfield aims to explore the art of dance through the multidisciplinary approach that was emphasized in his education, not only examining the physicality of a given work but also the intentionality and cultural impact of the work as a whole.

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