Between the blowup latex furniture, old school stereo, thick scrunchies, and lineup of 80s movie clips playing before the show begins, it’s clear Velocity’s Founders Theater is no longer in 2018: Bitter Suites by Hypernova Contemporary Dance Company, founded and directed by Rainbow Fletcher, immediately transports the audience to a different time.
Even the performers seem a decade or two younger. They act childlike, playing out the insecurities of youth. There’re immersed in side ponytails and naiveté. In one of the first group movements, a clique of girls bounce their heels and jump in silence. They croon a prolonged “um,” letting it hang in the air. It’s creepy almost, having the telltale verbal tic of self-doubt jumping out from so many mouths. The girls continue by speaking in unison, “This is embarrassing. I guess I’m pretty boring.”
These common adolescent questionings of ego are soon complemented by darker, more existential corners of the human psyche. In a duet, two of the dancers repeat, “I could disappear forever” and “I don’t count, remember?” While claiming such profoundly depressed words, the two dancers detach their bodies from their despair, and boogie with the corniest of dance moves. There’s knee knocking, swimming of arms, and actual hand farting. It’s eerie how they’re able to perform both adulthood and adolescence – deep, scary feelings and simple, silly dancing. The audience holds back laughter while also struck by the all-too-relatable self-hatred.
Bitter Suites, in examining the coming of age, also pays respect to the particular ways women grow up. In one scene, a dancer primps and wiggles as if looking at herself in the mirror. She notes it’s her 16th birthday, but that sadly, she still has the body of a 15 year old. Looking in the imaginary mirror, she rehearses a future conversation, claiming awkwardly, albeit confidently, “I’ll do anything sexual.”
Children do explore their sexuality as they grow up; yet more often than not sexuality is thrust upon young women, indicating that from an early age they should be hot, desirable, and sexual. Bitter Suites examines this pressure. In the mirror, the dancer judges herself by a foreign criteria: being seen as mature and attractive enough to perform sexual acts. In the self-conscious way she pulls at her skirt, inspects her body, and awkwardly speaks of sex, the dancer illustrates the external pressures of performative female sexuality and the internalization of appearance-based standards of self worth.
Advancing the representation of early female sexualization, Rainbow Fletcher locks pinkies with another dancer. Together in this typical, childlike sign of friendship, they walk upstage. Then Fletcher sits center, her back facing the audience, and spreads her legs wide, defiantly and erotically. Along with the audience, she watches a projection of Neverending Story. In it the protagonist loses his horse companion into the “Swamp of Sadness.” Perhaps consumed by her own sadness, Fletcher puffs on a fake cigarette. The projection systemically shrinks, as she partakes in and alludes to the typical vices of adulthood: sex and drugs.
Bitter Suites plays out the corruption of our innocent childhood moments. In a game of hide-and-seek, the dancers run around the stage frantically finding spots to burrow. They play the game again, but this time, the group leaves one of the dancers still hiding and disappear. The lone dancer, pranked and excluded, crumples in a dejected squat center stage. Yet in this moment of sadness, gold glitter pops from the ceiling and floats down his onto his crestfallen back. It’s an ironic highlighting of rejection or maybe, a sign of hope.
Hypernova’s Bitter Suites took the audience back in time, into our own moments of adolescent pain and insecurity, and according to the event website, into the memories of the dancers. At times it was uncomfortable seeing a younger self’s anxieties performed on stage, but mostly it was beautiful. The aesthetic charm of dancing helped a lot: with well-timed, uniform group work and a series of well-executed lifts, reliving childhood angst through the medium of dance lightened the evening. In all, it really was bittersweet.
Bitter Suites performed at Velocity Founders Theater Thursday November 8th through Sunday November 11th 2018.