Supper, People on the Move: Exploring the duality at the core of the immigrant experience

By Winfield Maben for The Dance Journal

On Friday, November 9th Silvana Cardell presented Supper, People on the Move at Drexel’s URBN Center. The work, which originally premiered at the Icebox Project Space in Philadelphia, is inspired by Cardell’s own immigration process as well as by the stories she’s collected throughout the construction of the work. Inspired by the belief that migration is a unifying story and an experience that draws a myriad of people together, the piece aims to provide a multifaceted and holistic exploration of the migrant experience, that which draws people together, and also that which splits them apart.

Unconventionally, this work begins in the lobby of the URBN Center’s Black Box Theater, where waiting audience members are suddenly split into groups based on a colored ticket given to them at the door. Unsmiling and unsympathetic cast members break the large group of people into two groups with no regard families, friend groups, or couples. If someone has a green, red, or yellow card they were placed in the corresponding group, no exceptions. Slowly the audience was ushered into the space itself as they had both their tickets and I.D. checked at the door. Some were even pulled aside, seemingly at random, and given additional processing by the cast before being allowed to enter. This whole preamble serves to put the audience in the state of mind of someone working through the bureaucracy of the immigration process, faced with uncaring officials and forced through a process with little explanation or reason given. It sets the stage by immersing the audience in the world of the performance to come, putting them in the headspace of the performers, their characters, and the movement itself.

As the audience enters the space what immediately catches the eye is the massive table laid out in the center of the room. As the audience takes their seats, performers mill about, interacting with the table and each other and creating a living breathing environment before the choreography begins in earnest. One by one, the entire cast emerges and takes a seat at the table, linking hands to suggest a sense of community or family among the group. After a brief moment of movement in unison, the dancers begin to leave, again one-by-one, until a lone performer remains seated. Dwarfed by the massive table, her isolation stands in clear contrast with the rest of the opening and sets up the juxtaposition woven throughout the piece as a whole, that being the duality and tension between community and isolation as a person immigrating from one place to another.

The table (revealed to be several tables pieces together upon the removal of its table cloth) serves as the key image that ties this tension together as while it initially serves as a symbol which brings people together, it shifts throughout to become the walls, doors, and obstacles which split them apart. One moment they may be a gate, opening and closing as dancers desperately dive through them, the next they become a series of platforms which must be jumped between, and later they become a massive wall which divides the space itself in two as a dancer moves along the top like a tightrope. The versatility of the table as a prop both in terms of its usage choreographically and thematically is something to be commended as its place in the center of the work feels explored to its fullest potential.

Versatility is also present in the choreography itself as the movement changes drastically from moment to moment. Some moments feel tense and chaotic, such as the aforementioned section where dancers dive through the rapidly opening and closing doors, mere inches from being caught between them. Other moments, however, seem quiet, melancholic, and mournful; with dancers drifting aimlessly among a wasteland of trash bags and papers strewn about the space. However, throughout these moments, the through-line of togetherness and the shared experience of immigration pervades, such as a moment when one dancer gathers the others and leads them through the debris together, or when the entire cast provided support to the one performer precariously navigating the top of the wall.

The work concludes as it began by once again immersing the audience in the world of the piece. However, where the opening sought to restrict and divide the audience, cold and authoritative, the ending seeks to bring them together, once again highlighting the duality of the table as an image throughout. The tables are spread throughout the space with one cast member at each, the audience is then invited to pull their chairs forward into the space and join the dancers as one community. This final image, of an entire room of strangers coming together, both serves to emphasize the themes of the work as a whole as well as to put in place a positive final image in regard to those themes. A helpful reminder, especially given today’s contentious political climate, that people, communities, and families lie at the heart of human migration; adding to their collective history as a collective on the move. In her artist’s note Carnell states; “I felt part of the world of people on the move: mirroring the stories and bodies of millions of people in a world on the move”. This sentiment is what lies at the core of the work’s closing moments as the audience shares in the stories, and histories, of millions as expressed and explored through Carnell and her dancers.

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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1 Comment

  1. Excellent review of an excellent dance work. I’m still thinking about Supper days after I saw it and hope it can be shared widely, including with those charged with making immigration policy decisions.

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