What is quintessential to the Millennial generation: a. Fashion, b. Pop culture, or c. Cultural appropriation?
According to Alex Crozier, it’s all three. These were some of the elements within Crozier’s evening-length show Millennials. Featuring a cast of 11 dancers, mostly from Spectrum Dance Theater for which Crozier also dances, the show was part commentary, part vignette reflecting on the millennial life. Playful and fierce self-awareness runs through each dancer, as though each were aware that at any point, someone was watching or documenting them.
Crozier said he focused on three topics in constructing Millennials: gay culture, feminism, and cultural appropriation within the lives of folks around ages 18-28. These topics were woven together through fashion and theatricality. The interplay between cultural commentary and theatrical scenes made complex ideas like feminism and cultural appropriation accessible to the average person, but it also made for somewhat shallow analyses of those ideas. No distinct statement was ever made about these topics (which Crozier said in the program note was his intention: “In presenting these main themes, I strive to be objective and neutral, to present a particular truth within a dramatic context”).
Millennials achieved great success in its technical production, both in dance performance and in set design and lighting (by Sara Torres and Adam Hulse, respectively). It’s no secret that Spectrum dancers have more than enough technical pizzazz to spare, but in Millennials, they took on Crozier’s unique blend of rhythmic groove and slinky flow with confidence and sass. Each move, from a walk to a grind to a twirl, was complemented with a twinkle in each dancer’s eyes. Whether in person or through an electronic screen, these millennials saw us, and they knew we were watching them.
The show consisted of two parts: “Guys,” which was also performed at Showing Out: Contemporary Black Choreographers Showcase in March 2016, and “Netflix and Chill,” which was newly created for this show. In “Guys,” Spectrum’s Sherman Wood, Crozier, and Seattle favorite Jade Solomon Curtis all exhibited their individualities in fashion and in movement. Curtis, as always, was spellbinding as she isolated parts of her body and progressively gave in to the groove of the music—ultimately dancing full-out. Wood and Crozier danced with clarity and fun physicality. Wood’s energy and genuine expressions was infectious throughout, complimenting Crozier’s more laid-back but smooth persona.
While the “Guys” section introduced the idea of individuality through fashion and movement (runway walks became a big motif throughout the piece), the “Netflix and Chill” section provided more character development with the entire cast. Each character had a name and trait associated with it, such as “Purse First Girls” (three girls who each have their own brand of ignorantly appropriating cultures like Harajuku Girls or wearing cornrows); “Trade” (a gay slang used to reference either masculine-presenting gay men or straight-presenting men secretly interested in men); or “Dream Boy” (the always effervescent Paul Flanagan lip-syncing and living his dream with glamorous backup dancers, always ready for split leaps and turns in sky-high heels). Throughout this section, everyone wears an item of clothing with the printed words “White Girls copying Gay Men copying Black Women.” Even that saying alone can push people to think about the legacy of cultural appropriation and the mass commercialization/exploitation of marginalized cultures. Often, that kind of exploitation gives little regard to how these cultures were developed out of the need to survive and resist.
But even with the character development and thoughtful costumes, the arc of some scenes needed more coherence. In the program, Crozier said he wanted to present the three aforementioned concepts within millennial life (which are complex topics full of nuances) without commentary. While admirable, the lack of commentary led some sections to feel like there was a lack of resolve or reason for these topics to be brought up.
For example, the depiction of gay culture also touched on the hookup culture and even rape culture (all of which can intersect but one doesn’t necessarily cause another). When three gay men (the “Nylon Men” characters) tried to seduce the “Trade” character, it became clear as the scene progressed that some of the interactions happened without regards to consent. And then as the “Trade” character increasingly rejected the gay men trying to seduce him, he went on to try to seduce women instead in similar fashion. The section was comical, dramatic, and even dark at parts, but then the scene was left behind as though nothing ever happened. It was like introducing an elephant to the room and then suddenly pretending like it wasn’t there.
Another example was with regards to cultural appropriation. The “Purse First Girls” (Emily Pihlaja, Madison Oliver, and Jaclyn Wheatley) and the “Gina” character (a strong black woman who takes no BS) character played by Solomon Curtis developed an interesting dynamic of constantly watching and side-eyeing each other—presumably because “Gina” has zero patience for such appropriation. While this suggests critique of the “Purse First Girls” behavior, the characters ended up closing the show with a fierce and thunderous show of virtuosic ballet technique to well-deserved applause. While entertaining, it does lead to the question: Does that mean ignorant cultural appropriation deserves applause? Are we applauding the dancers’ technique or their characters’ ignorance? Does it matter?
Maybe the point of Millennials was to provoke questions more so than to provide answers. And maybe there are even bigger questions: Is it the artist’s job to provide the answers or just ask the questions? Should you be thoughtful in posing your questions? Regardless of its efficacy as a cultural critique, Millennials was still a show chock-full of high energy, high funk, high kicks, high subversiveness, and high self-awareness—just like its namesake generation.
The show was produced by Central District Forum Arts & Ideas and performed at Langston Hughes Performing Arts Center on April 21 to 22. For more information, visit www.cdforum.org.