Emily Berry & Body Blend at Dixon Place

Call it Destination Dixon Place. You’ve got to go. The newly opened space, in it’s inaugural season complete with new raised audience seating, includes state of the art equipment in its intimate downstairs theater, rehearsal space and a lounge. That’s right, a cozy conversation bar and you can bring that vodka spiked tonic into the theater with you. How European and civilized.  Conversation, cocktails and experimental art.  I’m ready to move in, though I miss the sofas.

The dance season kicked off with a DP Mondo Cane commission.  The commissioning program allows artists 1-3 months of workshop time and a month long run (when do dance artist gets that?) allowing the commissioned artist to continue developing their work.  Past choreographers on the program have included Laura Peterson, Edisa Weeks, Ivy Baldwin and Jack Ferver.  The website states that half of the artists chosen represent minority perspectives, though I’d say those perspectives aren’t necessarily in the minority in the DP community long known as a haven for supporting those on the outer fringes.  Knowing the lengths some DP artists can go to, this month’s run of Emily Berry’s “Confined” seemed almost quaint.  Her exploration of women’s subjugation ambitiously pulled upon an unfortunately constant stream of spoken word, written by Todd Craig and delivered by actress Shonnese CL Coleman.  Berry could trust that her audiences are smart enough to read her evocative movement sequences without accompanying verbal explanation.  While some of Craig’s material was potent, the pairing proved overwhelming and the experience of being talked at became a frustrating distraction.  The text was often related to older generations of women and seemed distantly, though historically, important to the bodies on stage and to more contemporary feminist concerns.  The dancers Sara Roer, Nicole McClam, Yuko Mitsuishi, Milvia Pacheco, and Berry each offered powerful physical portrayals of disconnection and oppression – Pacheco’s attempt to move forward while slowly being borne down upon by the other women who wrap around her shoulders, stomach, and legs was a clear expression of idea in movement.  Berry’s other collaborators composer Daniel Bernard Roumain and new media artist Gail Scott White provided additional layers to the ambitious work.

At Monday night’s Body Blend program, Courtney Cooke and Matthew Heggem bookended the evening with works that seemed more familiar to my early experiences of DP.  Cooke provides a charming glimpse into ever changing interpersonal moments between two women – with a memorable slowly repeated sequence of entangling legs – before singing enchantingly. Heggem offered the climactic finale for the evening, channeling Shaniquatikyafreakya Cheng (she’s half Asian, you just can’t tell) in a riotous act of virtuosic one platformed stiletto heeled dancing, grinding, and (literally) bouncing off the wall.  After simulating various acts of self satisfaction and addressing the audience in his racial-sexual-gender bending persona, he pulled the fake breasts from his shiny, black catsuit, opened a beer, sat on a folding chair and shared his love of Black Dick with us in explicit,  I mean I learned what “breaking the seal” means explicit, detail.  It was absolutely outrageous and thoroughly entertaining.  He’s a witty, committed performer who pushed the audience beyond the bounds of a typical dance program but it seemed well suited within the walls of Dixon Place.  It was refreshing to see that the venue’s more formal digs haven’t resulted in leaving its spirit in the dust.  However, not everyone shared the love and if you visit his 36545 vlog Heggem offers an interesting reflection on his experience of watching 3 African American women walk out on the piece here.

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