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An Audience Review of ChristinaNoel and The Creature's "Belly"
Christina Noel and The Creature
Impressions of: ChristinaNoel and The Creature's "Belly"
Choreography: ChristinaNoel Reaves and Dancers
Performers: Jasmin Simmons, Amadi Washington, Mary Kate Hartung, Jonathan Matthews, Madeline Irmen
Presented by: Flamboyan Theater at The Clemente
May 25th-27th, 2016
The work of ChristinaNoel Reaves is challenging to define - her extravagant dance-theater productions simultaneously inhabit many disparate worlds. In “Belly,” Reaves and her cast of “Creatures”’ latest offering, the genres of music, dance and theater meld so gracefully that it is impossible to tell which is which. “Belly,” which premiered May 25th at The Clemente, is an exploration of what each of us contributes to a dinner table conversation. Simultaneously trivial, tragic and hilarious, a surface layer of silliness gives way to pearls of insight.
As the lights come up, Jonathan Matthews stretches his long body across a wooden table, folding and unfolding his limbs with the overt fascination of someone discovering his physicality for the first time. An other-worldly hum of voices fills the space, infiltrating every corner of the room like thick liquid.
“Belly” alternates between dance sections and theatrical skits- the acting leads fluidly into movement, the words informing the choreography. One of the most impressive and unique elements of Reaves' work is her character development- through the intersection of dance and theater, the characters reveal themselves as three dimensional and complex.
Mary Kate Hartung is a shrill exhibitionist. "Clean this up!" She commands, while perched like Cleopatra on the shoulders of the two males. She gestures to a dancer who lies motionless on the floor, belly-down, like a puddle of spilled milk.
Hartung butts heads with the sassy Jasmin Simmons, who shimmies and writhes atop the table; their hilarious banter is one of the major plot-lines of the piece.
Madeline Irmen is anxious and tentative. Like a frantic child, she convulses hysterically, describing her feelings as “so big.” She sobs as though trying to extract a demon: "I'm heartbroken, and I'm going to feel like this forever, and ever and ever…” Even the most detached would feel pangs of empathy- in the exaggeration lives a poignant reality.
The characters interact with the frankness of youth. “Belly” frequently references childhood, and it indeed does feel as though the characters are themselves children inside of adult bodies- perhaps Reaves suggests that this is what all of us are.
The exploration of cultural differences is thematic throughout- Reaves addresses this challenging topic in a way that is simultaneously provocative and light-hearted . Simmons and Hartung are two young girls playing "Miss Mary Mack," a childhood hand-clapping game- “you’re doing it wrong! it’s supposed to be syncopated!” Simmons asserts, as the pair delivers a comic riff on the “white girls don’t have rhythm” cliche.
To counter the theatrical bits, “Belly” offers aesthetically thrilling moments of pure movement, showing off the company’s versatility. In an eye-catching duet between Amadi Washington and Hartung, the couple uses another’s bodies as launching pads to perform athletic stunts.
”Belly” explores a world where culture is a dinner conversation in which each of us offers a unique voice; underneath the playful banter is an exploration of self. The work is engaging and dynamic, layering humor on top of wisdom with such complexity that each audience member might leave with something different. No matter what the take-away, all will inevitably be entertained.