BigKid Dance, the home of choreographer and UArts alum Mark Caserta’s latest works, held the world premier of their latest work it’s better when you close your eyes on December 16th & 17th, 2021 at Gershman Hall. True to their identity as a collective, the “Big Kids” of this project — Philadelphia based movement artists Chip Alexandria, Miles Yeung, kira shiina, Emma Olivier, and Roderick Phifer — were not only performers, but also collaborators in the development of the work.
The evening length work is a smorgasbord of moments, ranging in tone from intimate to machinal to, at times, triumphant. There’s an ease to the way the Big Kids move through the sections of this multifaceted work. I find it difficult to tear my eyes away from the dancers and the intricacies of their movements. Caserta’s choreography shines in the little moments – the small shifts of weight, the flick of a hand, the nod of a head. You almost want to lean in closer in an attempt to figure out how the dancers can exhibit so much control. In my own teaching and choreographic philosophy, I often focus on the “extremes” of Brick and Butter — one end being staccato and sharp, the other melting and oozing with ease. The entire cast of it’s better is the epitome of this balance, moving effortlessly between the two movement qualities. I found myself less interested in the narrative or emotional threads of the piece and, instead, was captivated by the movement itself.
At one point, dancer Chip Alexandria walks onto the performance space in a blue beaded gown. A break from the blue wash of lighting that dominates the piece, the spotlight lands on Alexandria as she stands still, arms raised high. For a moment, it looks like a duet between herself and her shadow. In the grand scheme of the evening length work, this solo is quite short, but it has its impact. A major strength of it’s better when you close your eyes — and perhaps of the BigKid Dance model as a whole — is that each of the dancers is allowed their moment to shine. In traditional ensemble performances it often becomes easy to pick out the main or featured dancer, but, in the world of the BigKids, there is none such singled out. Instead, the collaborative nature of their work does its job, leaving ample room for each performer to weave in and out of the ensemble, shining in their own moments, in their own strengths.
Working with performers who are all at varying points in their dance careers, I can only imagine the personal and professional benefits that come from being a part of a collaborative performance community. Included in the goals of BigKid Dance is to “disrupt the norms that have been set up in art making, dance making and the way a company looks.” If it’s better when you close your eyes is any indication of the rich quality of work that can arise from this disruptive model, dance companies everywhere ought to pay attention. BigKid Dance’s latest premier is an example of how creating more equity in the process of dance creation and ensuring that a company is genuinely a community ought to be our field’s paramount concern. As a member of the Philadelphia dance community, I look forward to seeing BigKid Dance flourish and excitedly await their next project.