Rhythm Bath, a co-production of Studio Susan Marshall and the Institute on Disabilities at Temple University, is a dance performance-installation designed to engage both neurodiverse and neurotypical audiences. The transporting production, a collaboration between choreographer Susan Marshall and set designer Mimi Lien, was created with input from a network of neurodiverse advisors. The production also features music by Dan Trueman and Jason Treuting and lighting by Jeanette Yew.
Before attending Rhythm Bath at the Christ Church Neighborhood House, ticket holders are provided with extensive information about what to expect—including accessibility details, the location of “Quiet Lounges,” and a “Sensory Timeline” of the intensity levels of sound, lighting, and dancing throughout the performance. Support persons are invited to attend at no cost.
Upon entering the main installation space, audience members are enveloped by designer Lien’s calming environment of curving white surfaces. Overhead, gossamer fabric threaded with fiber optic lighting is visible through large holes in an over-layer of gently undulating white fabric. There are plenty of seating options to choose from—rolling office chairs scattered throughout the space, cushiony, egg-shaped chairs arranged around the perimeter, or rugs spread on the floor.
The production is open and welcoming, with freedom to move around and relax. There are no hard and fast rules or expectations. A small, dark corner partitioned off from the main space features interactive air-flow activities with small pieces of paper and ping-pong balls. Audience members intermingle with performers in the space throughout the performance. Even chatting is perfectly fine. The experience is focused, however, and an encounter with a dance performance is the primary event.
The space is suffused with low-volume white noise as the audience enters. Over the course of the performance, the ambient drone develops into more tuneful and percussive music. The ten dancers are equipped with unobtrusive earpieces, allowing them to keep their precise rhythmic timing—independent of the enveloping sound. They are costumed in matching sneakers and a variety of attractive pale purple jumpsuits, skirts, pants, and shorts, designed by Oana Botez.
Marshall’s choreography (created in collaboration with the dancers) employs everyday movements—walking steps, head turns, arm swings—which develop seamlessly into expanded patterns. The casually adroit cast includes Rohan Bhargava, Ching-I Chang, Sydney Donovan, Nico Gonzales, Courtney Henry, Shayla-Vie Jenkins, Vanessa Knouse, Albert Quesada, Gabrielle Revlock, and Darrin Michael Wright. Their demeanor is straightforward as they explore the space and the movements of their bodies.
In an early section of the piece, the performers walk in place, swinging their arms fluidly. Accompanied by soft, bubbling and pinging noises, their movements slowly build into traveling steps and more pronounced arm extensions. Gentle foot stamping leads to complex footwork and side-to-side motion in a subsequent section. Then the music and movement become much more intense as the dancers bend at the waist, whipping their torsos forward and back. They jump vigorously in place and fling their arms in the air. The sensory timeline prepares the audience for this increase in energy.
Near the end, the atmosphere becomes restful with the introduction of flowing water sounds while dancers perform tranquil circles with their torsos, either alone or in pairs. They sway gently, like seaweed floating in an ocean current. Eventually, the dancers depart and the focus shifts to the billowing fabric suspended from the ceiling. The moving sky takes over, shifting and changing in color. A bath for the nerves, indeed.
Rhythm Bath continues through September 24 at the Christ Church Neighborhood House.
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