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AUDIENCE REVIEW: Collage Dance Collective: Rise To The Mountaintop

Collage Dance Collective: Rise To The Mountaintop

Collage Dance Collective

Performance Date:
April 1, 2023

Freeform Review:

Collage Dance in Concert Presented by the William J. Cooper Foundation in collaboration with the Dance Program in the Department of Music and Dance at Swathmore College.

“I’ve Been To The Mountaintop” in the contemporary ballet by Kevin Thomas is a mighty contribution, called “Rise.” It measures fully dance theater from the classical form to contemporary form, and that harbinger of exquisite strength glides through the tension of lyrical poetry of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s last speech. Its lineage presented a relationship to contemporary ballet, dance in our modern time, and looking back on a classical ballet in the position of high art. In the exploration of dance, to perform fitted to preconceived notions of beauty. We enter the theater prepared with King’s flight through the ages, and going down the Jericho Road.

In “Rise,” much of our attention is the literal transcendence of King’s words. This appropriation draws meaning to the art form, and the relationship that dance has with the political movement. Informed by a visit to the National Museum of Civil Rights Movement. Constructed to reshape how we perceive words that influenced this movement literally, and figuratively in Thomas's choreography, it dials us closer to the invisible: breath, strength, and prayer.

The “breath,” and the “length,” in Dr. King’s sermons expressed what is under the skin. Part of this eventful tour, for Memphis, Tennessee’s Collage Dance In Concert to come to Swathmore, Pennsylvania, is the celebration of the 250th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence in Philadelphia. As the dancers appear, with scenic design reminiscent of a Philadelphia Mural right off South Street, called “Mapping Courage,” honoring W.E.B Du Bois by Amber Art and Design. Scenic designer, Anne Beyersdorfer shows us a minimal touch that graces the dancers’ reach, and lighting design, by Deanna Howard and Wilber Bonnell, centers our attention on the dancers' heart.

Breaking off into segments, this duet chimes in at the moment of the speech, when Dr. King received a letter after being stabbed, and if he had sneezed that would have been his fatal wound. Again, and again the dance breaks, solo’s by Lauren Huynh and Rickey Flagg II, and the whole ensemble branches out to secure this momentum. Amountable to this civil crusade, and steadily rage turns to passion as they pick up on symbolic prowess in receiving Dr. King’s prayers.

The Swathmore Rehearsal Director, Chandra Moss-Thorne drops us a hint moving onto the next piece, “Gems.” Choreography by Amy Hall Garner gave them the chance to bring the Swathmore Dancers into an intensive studio time that resembled an extensive core work. It is a fortunate opportunity for these dancers, explained the Chair-Woman for the Swathmore Dance Department, Olivia Sabee. This took them into the field which is designed to bring on new choreography at this kind of capacity for the first time. It is even more exciting to see Amy Hall Garner featured as one of the choreographers, to present a World Premiere, with Ballet-X in May 2023.

“Gems," takes shape in silhouettes, and they came out from behind the shadows; they formed a new ground, a new angle, and cutting turns. The dancers naturally spoke to rural space and almost tunneled through mountains to the precious stone. Which for myself came in the form of a duet, I believe to have been performed by Sebastian Garcia and Nia Lyons. They twisted around each other inside one’s shoulder, unable to tell who was leading. Revealing a brilliant representation of cadence by their mood that conveyed the deep, dark mines in which rubies and emeralds would be found.

Ending the evening program with a loud send off that put us in relation to the Memphis Blues. “Bluff City Blues,” includes musical hits by Muddy Waters, B.B King, Bobby “Blues” Bland and Koko Taylor. Choreographed by Garner, this powerful moment for music history delivered the fruits of this epicenter for African American musicology. The semblance of rock n’ roll developed out of the blues with “Hound Dog,” and heartbreak led further research to the discovery of another great guitarist, Memphis Minnie’s 1950’s “Broken Heart.” The boldness of the Blues translated on stage with strong body language. The dancers cut out from these chromatic backdrops, in rich pools of color, and seem larger than life.

Collage Dance In Concert brings classical and contemporary ballet to new eyes, and bridges the gap of diversity for the artform. The transformation from top-down philosophy to tension released through body messages, a transfiguration that can be a needed relief. “Gems” naturally came out of darkness, and the beauty was in the poetic, programmatic design.


Chuck Schultz


Photo Credit:
Chuck Schultz

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