Have you ever walked down a city street with a mass of people and felt utterly alone? You as an individual feel helpless to make contact with any other preoccupied human being rushing by?
Perhaps the subtitle for Souls – Ten Dancers. Ten Souls. One Journey – says it all about what oft is felt but n’er expressed, how lost souls find reconciliation. This is a satisfying story of “Ten Dancers. Ten Souls. One Journey,” written by artistic director Joye Thomas. The production is choreographed and danced by an avant-garde Washington D.C. area modern dance company, called Mayzsoul, founded by Melanie Lalande, (a GMU grad) who now works as artistic director of Cirque du Soleil’s The Beatles LOVE in Las Vegas.
On the GALA Stage, a series of red and blue spots add impact to a red backdrop curtain. Nine dancers, in dark navy-blue and turquoise leotards, lay prone on the floor in what appears to be fetal positions. One by one the dancers rise and swarm together in random, angular patterns, and the cliché “lost souls” becomes physical.
One costume detail is telling, (designed by Lesa Ruhl). Red bindings wrapped around the dancers biceps and torsos connote bondage. The women also wear black hoods, like wandering crusaders on a meaningless pilgrimage. (They later shed them.) Yet these young dancers (some college dance majors, some post-grads) break the bounds of balletic movement. Their sweeping arm gestures and circular leaps, grand jumps, leg extensions, spinning and whirling defy expectations. It’s as if breaking out from their nuclei, they are rejecting each other. They become like out-of-control atoms in an unstable environment.
That is, until the one dancer, Julius Elegido, who is mesmerizing, dressed in white gauzy material, with a mane of white hair, bursts on stage. With a body so elastic and flexible, Julius moves like the wind, whipping around the other standing or fallen figures. A magnetic performer, we immediately identify with him as the one who is different, who squats or stands apart, scrutinizes and then tries repeatedly, desperately, to connect with someone.
Yet the blank-faced, skyward stares from the female dancers say much more. They’re a mob of individuals who cannot connect with a higher power beyond themselves in the universe. There are no voices from heaven to guide them. Since they cannot find harmony in nature, they pull together into partnerships that fall apart. Or they fall to the floor and flounder alone, grovel and scurry around stage like empty-headed pigeons. (“Interchangeable Squabs” is the title of one of the climactic dance numbers.)
Through a series of numbers, each choreographed by an individual company member, these individuals reach resolution and mysteriously connect with each other in circles. It seems highly significant that the surprising last number “Bouquet,” is choreographed by the “Mayzsoul Dancers,” the entire company. The dancers come together and reconnect in circles, their faces reflecting awe and wonder, that become allegorical for a thrilling reconciliation, a coming together, their salvation and ours.
Spectacular lighting design by Austin Byrd that evolves from fluorescent greens to garish reds that saturate the stage, cooperates with mood changes. Pulsating electronic arrangements, with drums and even noise and static, are piped in. Original music by the Four Tet, the Fight Mannequins and Paul de Jong, recall the obscure sounding, post-modern playfulness of John Cage, or the meandering atonalities of Erik Satie, or the maddening, repetitive ostinato of Philip Glass.
Overall, Souls is riveting. The way that people interact, stray away from each other and then reconnect is so perplexing, intellectually challenging and engrossing, we leave the theater wondering: How do we as individuals fit in with each other?
Souls has 5 performances, ending July 28, 2012 at GALA Theatre, 3333 14th St NW, Washington, DC>
Details and tickets