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IMPRESSIONS: Valerie Green/Dance Enthopy's "RITE" at The Center at West Park

IMPRESSIONS: Valerie Green/Dance Enthopy's "RITE" at The Center at West Park
Catherine Tharin

By Catherine Tharin
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Published on March 20, 2024
Valerie Green's "RITE." Photo by Hope Youngblood Heck

Choreographer and Company: Valerie Green/Dance Entropy

Work: RITE

Performers: Aidan Feldman, Ethan Schweitzer-Gaslin, Johnny Matthews III, Tsubasa Nishioka, Lawson Pinder, Richard J. Scandola

Musicians: Poranqui/Liquid Bloom, Eric Zang, Danheim, Lanka-AIWAA, Cobanny, Ancestral Elephants, Mary Isis, Shamanic Vision

Costume Designers: Irena Romendik and Valerie Green 

Dates: February 29, March 1 and 2

Valerie Green pursues the healing of trauma through physical ritual in RITE, choreographed for six men of diverse nationalities, sizes and ages.  Costumed in attractive earth-colored blousy pants and form-fitting shirts, the dancers, one by one, and two by two, slowly climb onto the thrust stage in the repurposed West Park Presbyterian Church sanctuary. As if in benediction, a large Tiffany stained-glass window depicting Christ blessing children, glows in the background.

Six men dancers in bright costumes with uplifted arms and on their knees in front of a Tiffany glass window depicting Christ healing children
Valerie Green/Dance Entropy in RITE, Tsubasa Nishioka (front). Photo by Hope Youngblood Heck

The travelers wear ponchos that they remove and set aside. It seems as if they’ve journeyed long to arrive at this place of refuge. A man carries a basket of white flowers. While crossing paths, they greet one another with nods and smiles and the laying of a soft hand on a shoulder. These quiet moments ready and prepare the men for what lies ahead. They will open their psyches to one another, and to their internal and external states of existence. They will grapple with each other and with the group, metaphors for the battle with self-image, ego, and societal pressures. Commitment to Green’s process requires undivided, hyper-aware physical and spiritual attention.

Led by Ethan Schweitzer-Gaslin, three lie on the floor, strike shapes, then are dragged by their partners the length of the stage. Lawson Pinder struggles to rise as he is shoved downward over and over. The dancers form clumps and lines. They scuttle, crawl, stumble and stomp. They clap rhythms. Climbing one on the other, group shapes are formed and dispersed. In a trance, they bang into one another. Tsubasa Nishioka tosses himself aloft in beautiful arcs. Richard J. Scandola, a compelling performer, precisely balances on one leg with the other lifted, amid the tumult.

Male dancers seated on the floor with legs wide and arms in an arc above their heads
Valerie Green/Dance Entropy in RITE, Richard J. Scandola (front). Photo by Hope Youngblood Heck

For the next 40 minutes a nearly nonstop press of full-body movement largely performed in loose unison takes place. One movement is repeated, again and again, such as swimming on the stomach, on different facings and timings, until it reaches its zenith. A dancer breaks free from this metaphorical group hold with a new movement that ushers in the next scene. With few moments of pause, the sections build and ebb, linked to selections of ‘new age’ sound both atmospheric and driving.

Toward the end of RITE, a skirmish between Johnny Matthews III and Aiden Feldman takes center stage as the others observe, having concluded their rites of passage. Pushed to exhaustion the pair collapses. The group, too, quiets their breathing as they join the circle to study each other, silently acknowledging their shared quest. The air outside their bodies becomes the breath inside their bodies. They become one with their surroundings.

A man, sprawled on his back, with arms resting on his body, mouth open and eyes closed.
Valerie Green/Dance Entropy in RITE, Johnny Matthews III (front). Photo by Hope Youngblood Heck

Outlining their bodies with their fingers, they rise and face the audience, a hand pressing their foreheads while the other extends toward the sky. They appear transfixed. The ritual now complete, they drape their ponchos on their shoulders and prepare to leave, physically and mentally transformed.

But the spell breaks when the cast recites lines, enunciated and stilted, that ask the audience to partake of our own ritual by “reflect(ing)” and “letting go”.  Each audience member is encouraged to walk single file onto the stage to lay a white carnation on the altar, “flowers signify our connection with nature and our spirituality,” as if called to take the communion host, drink the wine, confess, and, as the story goes, heal. With this we are brought out of our reverie.

RITE, on its own, restored the audience through the dancers’ commitment and the fearlessness of the choreographer. The jarring coda left this viewer wondering why audience participation was necessary.

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