A three day premiere at Joe’s Movement Emporium in Mount Rainier, MD brought friends, colleagues, artists and art enthusiasts together for show, What’s Going On: Life, Love, and Social Justice, a bio-dance to continue the legacy of one of the most iconic singers in 1960’s and 1970’s, DC native, Marvin Gaye.
Choreographed by Vincent E. Thomas, Ralph Glenmore and Sylvia Soumah, this piece was introduced in 2016 to Baltimore audiences and at Washington DC’s hub for cultural dancing, Dance Place.
The dancers entered, dressed in white, cheering and greeting the audience. It was the Marvin Gaye trivia show with the audience as players. An intimate setting, the Dance Place black box was a perfect space for teams THIS and THAT to play, chiming in on facts about his upbringing and influence. What fun. Vincent Thomas switched it up on us… and brought the audience fully into the scope of the work.
There wasn’t a moment when there wasn’t dancing. The entire show was like a party. We were free to jam as the soulful sound of the 60’s to thru the 80’s played on reminding us of the “Good Times.” Speaking of that, there was a painting of that popular TV show of a family growing up in a Chicago ghetto that usually opens and closes the show … images of lanky bodies swing their hips, clapping, turkey necking and grooving with their friends….comes alive in a party scene in a living room. That has to be one of my choice parts of What’s Going On. The color and choice of the costumes was superb. Just enough to get the message across without exaggerating the look or dramatizing the hair to fit the story. The choreography was thoughtful, whimsical and vibrant, a series of partnering, weight shift, fast feet rhythms and syncopation made for an entertaining and dynamic set.
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I recognized two familiar faces onstage, having grown up training with one of the dancers at the Kennedy Center for Dance Theatre of Harlem. It brought back memories of how beautiful of a dancer she was and remains. This time with bright facial expressions and onstage energy of other fast hip swing and twirling dancers. They played an instrumental role in carrying the story from one part to the other. I can always appreciate a strong male dancer segment where you can feel the struggle, experience the beauty and see vulnerability and passion in their hearts as they reach for something more than the sultry sounds of Marvin.
When the dancers weren’t dressed in colors or camouflage … they were in all white. Traditional Yoruba attire which inspire the Church of God and other denominations such as Baptist and Pentecostal that took on the roots and ways of that our Black ancestors held onto throughout slavery. The white up against the projection screen of panels, patterns and images emphasizing the movement was captivating.
All in all, I was moved. I was shaken and stirred.
2017 perfomance featuring choreographer/performer Vincent Thomas:
What’s Going On was performed November 2, 3, 4, 2018 at Joe’s Movement Emporium.