I find it hard to review modern dance. I appreciate modern dance as a reaction to classical movment concepts. I took a class in college on modern dance. I really do like modern dance. I just have a hard time figuring out what to say about it in a review.
This is not to say I don’t know when modern dance is bad. Even this mildly trained observer knows bad dance when he sees it. But, when it is legitimately good, then I’m at a loss for things to say. And this is how I felt about In The Flesh. It was good. I could tell it was good. I’m just not sure what else to tell you after that.
In the Flesh is a new work, commissioned by the Phillips Collection for Fringe to go along with their impressive exhibit called Paint Made Flesh. The latter is a wonderfully diverse exhibition of the ways that European and American artists have chosen to portray flesh in their works. It includes realism, impressionism, and cubism. Some of the paintings are bold and disturbing, others are gentle and beautiful. All present a different approach to the color, texture, and shape of the human skin.
In In The Flesh, the company, Contradictions Dance, explores these concepts. The performers walk on stage in business suits, which have been cut away in sections to reveal the skin beneath. Somewhere in the second number, they strip these suits off, and are wearing only sports underwear and ace bandages, wrapped provocatively around them. The rest of the work is performed in their pseudo-flesh, until the end of the show, when they don their suits once again.
The dancing is often very symbolic, which makes the moments that were more literal a little harder to follow. There were times where the interactions between the dancers and their facial expressions felt more like acting then dance. There was even a monologue in the middle of the work. I don’t mind mixing theater and dance, but it was a little hard to tell when they were being literal and when they were being symbolic.
The 5th number was by far the best. This was where artistic director and choreographer Kelly Mayfield really fleshes (sorry, couldn’t resist) out some of the thematic elements introduced earlier in the work. She plays with movements over and over, performed by different dancers, until the audience really understands them. This use of repeated elements was the strongest component of the work.
The piece is patient without being drawn out. It takes its time to make its point, but it does not over make it (as Fringe shows sometimes do). It is rife with meaning, but not burdened by it. It was beautiful and intense. Ultimately, we enjoyed it. And what else is there to say?
In the Flesh
Artistic Director: Kelly Mayfield.
Production Director: Cheles Rhynes
Produced by Contradiction Dance
Reviewed by Josh Fixler (aka 20Something)
Josh writes a blog about inexpensive DC arts and culture: www.districtbeat.com. Check it out.