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Review: “Chroma” fuses dance with photography for color-induced healing arts

Chroma's  first stage focused on the colors blue, orange and green. (Photos by Alan Kimara Dixon)
Chroma's first stage focused on the colors blue, orange and green. (Photos by Alan Kimara Dixon)

Last weekend, Anicka Austin and Crystal Monds exhibited their first installment of Chroma —  a “color immersion exhibit” that intends to merge healing arts with fine arts, photography with dance performance. They will devote each of the seven shows to a color, one for each of the chakras. “Blue”, “Orange” and “Green” premiered this spring; the remaining colors will be in the fall.  

During Chroma, the tiles and pallets at Arketype were pushed aside, and it was converted into three succeeding sections of color. The porous rooms were activated from the back of the warehouse toward the entrance  — blue to orange to green — in the order of the performances. On Friday evening, the audience walked to the farthest color where we were enclosed by hanging squares of blue fabric; a stage was set up in the middle. Mond’s emotive photographs were suspended alongside the panels.  

“Blue” began when the dynamic, calm Rebekah Pleasant sat down like a weighted dragonfly at center stage. She immediately held my attention; when she did move, she began with a repeated gesture of clasped hands to the throat. The remaining three dancers soon entered, engaging in movement like a warm-up, grabbing their feet to stretch their legs — a vocabulary that repeated itself for the duration of the piece. Alfredo Takori began a casual macarena in the corner; he was joined by the other dancers one by one.

“Blue” developed into a very spacious work with a lot of contained energy that the dancers held until the end. The occasional sprinkle of distorted ballet vocabulary did not do justice to the rest of the work. It jostled me when it happened and suddenly objectified the movement for me. Gabriella Dorado culminated the physicality of length and stretch in her solo, pulled her legs to remember the first movements from the floor. The slow-building crux was when three dancers knelt as an oceanic trio along the floor, meditatively stroking their hands on the stage surface, shifting directions. Meanwhile, Erin Rauch moved with the strength of a tamed horse. It was as if she volcanoed to the surface where she held it, didn’t give it away. She was somehow slithery even with the structure of bones.

unnamed-18Versions of this quality were present in the entire ensemble. Each of them were uniquely expressive with their presence and conveyed reservoirs of energy without the angst that can sometimes dominate contemporary performance. In “Blue,” they gave a strength conditioned to softness, contained to a loud quiet, which is also a magnetic quality of Austin herself.

It was a world that no one performing seemed eager to leave, and it suited the artists’ statement of creating an immersive experience. The dancers weren’t going anywhere; they were staying in, inviting us all to sit in this blue light with them.

Generally, I do not favor a lot of the ways performers break the wall into audience interaction. It seems to frequently alienate and objectify the audience, which doesn’t serve the work or speak to it in any substantial way. With that said, it didn’t bother me in “Blue” when the dance dissolved and the performers turned to the audience, smiled, hugged and said “Thank you so much for coming” before they exited the space. I believed them. The boundary of the piece evaporated so quickly, making it a memory before I knew it was over.

For “Orange,” we were in a larger square in the middle of the room. A cluster of orange helium balloons were taped to center stage. Again, we saw the dancers warm up, give a group massage, take their time. While “Blue” revved up to a place increasingly tidal, “Orange” brought us into chill party vibes with a lot of rhythmic ensemble. Simple, predictable structures highlighted the energetic performances of the dancers, who interrupted themselves with wild bouts of tired leaping and jump rope. They took us through pop-satisfying shifts in music, owning their own enthusiasm. Booties ground all the way to the floor, jumped up, and repeated.   

Austin’s use of repetition throughout all the works, particularly in “Orange,” worked as a hypnotic mechanism. It enabled me to break from the computation of new moves and to absorb the activated glow inside the lights, costumes and fabric. Similar movements from the previous night felt completely different inside this new color. This is also the moment to say that the costuming was incredibly complementary to the work. Their varied shades and styles of skin exposure attracted my attention to detail and accentuated the performers.

The final work, “Green,” was immediately more accessible than the others. The foursome broke into pairs and kept interchangeable, paired relationships for most of the piece. They were clearly dealing with each other as a primary motivation, which was a different focus from the previous nights. There were many long face-to-face moments that infused it with more intimacy; this, of course, suited the focus on the heart with this particular color. For me, the most beautiful moment was when Takori and Pleasant were spooning in the corner, and the other two had crawled their way into a stillness opposite them. Rauch’s legs bicycled into the air with Dorado’s hand resting on her chest. The music had gone silent. The piece ended with a quick almost-kiss.  

Chroma is an ambitious undertaking that runs the risk of quantity over quality. I was impressed by the achieved distinction from night to night with the few external variables being the dominant color, photos and the positioning in the room. I would be interested to see if any of the remaining performances explore different groupings of the dancers outside of a four-person ensemble. I think it could potentially push the explored vocabulary a little further.  

While the photos and the dance both honed the color concept in their own right, I don’t know that they added to each other in the moment of performance. It was obvious that they were informed by one another, but the visual installation didn’t serve either medium in an integrated way.

Overall, the artists shaped an hospitable environment for experiencing contemporary performance. Their co-creation was very open with their intention, and I think it created a successful mode of accessibility. It also managed to do this without being overly-didactic or compromising interest. I was convinced of each color; to me, this signals a successful collaboration between concept and the working group dynamic. It was apparent that they were moving toward the same goal, and it was executed very generously by all the artists.

(Full disclosure: MaryGrace Phillips is in residence at the Work Room with Anicka Austin and Gabriella (“Bella”) Dorado.

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