PERFORMANCE LAB SHOWS PROMISE

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Meredith Pellon clasps her hands and looks down, movement stirring inside her before it escapes in clunks that still manage to have grace. She looks over an invisible ledge with ambiguous focus, as if she could be looking through a hole in the earth or a display of jewelry under glass. While held close at first, her popping has the quality of a VHS skipping, in the most pleasurable way. Slowly rotating, she builds tension by keeping her bursts of movement relatively contained. Relief finally hits when Etta James’ “I’ll Be Seeing You” starts playing, bringing an entirely different environment to the sculpture of Pellon’s ideas. Her stances get wider, her feet start leaving the ground more often, she lifts her eyes and stretches her arms away from the grasp they once held each other in.

Meredith Pellon. Photo courtesy of artist.

12 Minutes Max, Open Studio, Choreography, Etc., and now Performance Lab – the name has evolved, but the concept remains the same. On The Boards is dedicated to showcasing local artists’ work (such as Pellon’s) not only in the final stage, but also in development. Those selected for this session presented their works-in-progress “in the round,” with an audience on four sides.

Photo by Shannya Higgins.

Tension builds differently when WAREHAUS dance collective takes the stage. Clad in Adidas tracksuits, dancers Akeisha de Baat and Megan Hunter run their hands over their legs and arms. The satisfying “swoosh” sound of the sports fabric immediately awakens the senses. Assuming traditional warm-up positions, squeezing joints, and finding deep, preparatory stretches, the duet not only limbers up their bodies, but our perspective. Circling the space, their “warm up” evolves into more stylized angles, and moments of spinning that doesn’t seem to stop. Sliding across the floor in their socks, I feel as if I could still experience this dance with my eyes closed, which is exactly what Hunter does next. With one sense gone, the two finally make contact and dive into a full bodied, half-blind duet. Lifts, assisted falls, flips, and weight shares follow one after another, without certainty as to who’s leading. WAREHAUS expertly investigates how the experience of the senses changes when not all of them are available.

Photo by Michelle Smith-Lewis

Hope Goldman’s work seems to cover all the senses, in all directions, shapes, and moods. Six dancers in red and blue pedestrian clothes take turns setting off a chain of events, over and over in Shoal. They stumble onto stage, inch with baby steps, rub their legs, reorient randomly yet organize thoughtfully at the same time. It seems as though every possible verb enacts in front of me, through different bodies, collectively, yet separate.  A wonderful flurry of contradictions, her work utilizes unison phrase work, intensely internal gestures, and popcorn progressions to build a sort of society of movement. Goldman makes the appropriate choice not to include added sound, which lends itself well to the percussion of the quirky stomps and shuffles. Toward the end, it becomes hard to find a pattern as the group stands, kneels, and twists in all different ways. Yet in this moment of individualism, we see the group come together in a collective humanity, which we can sense was there all along.

Photo by Shelley Rose Photography.

Humanity combats an object, and the personal trauma it represents in the Naomi Macalalad Bragin’s work. She stares down a violin, like a bullfighter across an arena. Her strained relationship with the instrument shows right away, as she prepares for battle by applying red lipstick. Sounds of a thunderstorm and dishes shattering rattle the space as she approaches and takes the violin out of its case. All hell breaks loose as she thrashes around, pantomiming through a classical piece, seemingly possessed by the violin. Broken is the story of Bragin’s tortured background in growing up a competitive classical musician. As a street/hip-hop dancer, friction is created between her body’s pathways and the Western history of the object she holds. At one point her shoulders quiver to the sound of a typewriter, and she mouths the words “her English never breaks,” a reference to her harrowing experience as the daughter of an immigrant, removed from her Filipino culture. By far the most emotionally evocative piece of the night, Broken is an intimate look at Bragin’s childhood trauma of cultural assimilation in her family.

Performance Lab showed at On The Boards on September 20th, 2018. Find more about the program here.

Naomi Macalalad Bragin will also be showing work in Solo: A Festival of Dance at On The Boards October 4-7, 2018. Find tickets and info here.

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