For fans of Markeith Wiley and his company The New Animals, TRE (one for the homie), has been a long time coming. Portions of the work have been seen at various venues throughout the city over the past year—Men in Dance, NW New Works, and their self-produced RepSho! to name a few—but this performance, which opened October 4, 2013, marks the final installment. Worth seeing for the dynamic dancing alone, it’s the show’s rawness that gives it a unique power. Fortunately, it runs this weekend and next (through October 12) at the Lab at INScape, so there’s several more opportunities for viewing. The show’s subject matter is already poignant: it’s a tribute to the group’s friend, (and apparent co-founder of The New Animals) Joe Sodd III, who was tragically murdered in 2008, but Wiley makes it resonate vividly even for those who didn’t know Mr. Sodd.
Audience members pick up one of the red Solo cups dotting the stage space upon entering. In a riotous start, the performers bound in, cheers-ing viewers so everyone downs their whiskey shot together. The mood quickly shifts to solemn as the four performers (Jamie Karlovich, Molly Sides, Calie Swedberg, and Wiley) stand together in a consoling embrace. The fuzzy static soundscape gains intensity as Karlovich and Swedberg peel away, leaving Sides and Wiley in a somber duet of balance and counterbalance. What follows is a mixture of variously paired duets, solos, and several electric ensemble sections. The movement is a characteristic blend of grounded hip-hop, with its stuttering freezes and liquidy body rolls, and linear, swooping modern dance. By the end, the punchy rhythm of isolations and freezes starts to feel predictable, but the movement otherwise stays fresh throughout. Intimate gestures, a hand laid gently on the belly or covering the ears of another dancer, create a sense of tenderness. There’s a reeling quality throughout as well, that seems to mirror the confusion and grief-riddled angst surrounding their loss. They careen precipitously off balance before catching themselves, or each other, in the nick of time, and prolonged sections are a blur of pinwheeling limbs and spiraling momentum. The in-the-round seating gives this a kaleidoscopic effect, as they constantly change their spatial relationships. In a movement phrase seen at several different times, they lift an outstretched hand, the index finger and thumb held in a loop, the other fingers splayed into a feather-like “three,” denoting the III in Mr. Sodd’s name. Towards the end they repeatedly raise their arms as if in salute, or final farewell, building in intensity until they’re hopping together like an amped up football huddle.
The dancers are all captivating performers in their own right; their individuality, combined with the close proximity of the audience, is part of what makes the piece read so well. Karlovich dances with a concentrated agility, a sinewy tension underlying her lean grace. Sides imbues each movement with great sincerity, and Swedberg has an introverted fluidity; she calmly rides on a wave of her own inertia. Then there’s Wiley, whose easy confidence combined with the raw emotion of the work gives his movement a refreshing earnest quality not seen in his other performances. And beyond this just being a well-rehearsed show, the dancers place a lot of trust in each other for both physical and emotional support. The group sections have a gelled cohesiveness indicative of their many years dancing together.
The space is also perfect for the kind of memorial they’ve created, raw but intimate. You feel their love, admiration, and mostly their grief at the loss of their beloved friend. While this all resonates through the choreography, one of the most effective sections has no dancing at all. In total darkness, the audience simply listened as the performers recounted memories of Sodd in layered voice recordings and monologues from their seated posts at the edges of the space. Sides informs us that Sodd was the one person that you’d want to have next to you in the dark attic of a haunted house. Everyone recalls, “I remember exactly where I was,” when they learned of his death. The darkness plunges you into their memories in a way that watching the movement alone cannot.
The piece as a whole reflects what a huge presence Sodd was as their friend, and the almost unfillable void his death created in their lives, particularly Wiley’s. Sodd’s death was a pivotal moment for the group, altering their relationships and art forever after. Nods to his vibrant personality are seen throughout the piece, like the whiskey shots and the pounding of Solo cups on the ground in a percussive anthem. The beauty of the show, and art in general for that matter, is its ability to transform tragedy into a thing of beauty. They channel their grief into their art, and the resulting work has a very real sense of catharsis to it. In the program Wiley says, “This is how best we knew to honor him.” To that end, they’ve certainly succeeded.
TRE (one for the homie) runs October 11-12, 2013 at The Lab at INScape. Tickets are available here. Seating is limited, be sure to buy in advance.