Plano — Remember those D.A.R.E. presentations from grade school? Skits, stories, and other mediums attempted to illuminate the dangers of drug use to young, impressionable students, and some of them weren’t too bad, as I recall. Experiencing 8&1 Dance Company’s Control at the Courtyard Theatre in Plano, however, puts those all to shame. With the opioid epidemic back in the national spotlight, artistic director Jill S. Rucci presents a heavy, heartbreaking look at the effects of drug addiction that is perhaps the most relevant creation of her career in Dallas.
In writing about dance, especially when a story involved, it’s always a tough choice on how many narrative details to divulge. Sometimes the element of surprise creates the best experiences, but because this one affected the audience so deeply (whose numbers were sadly sparse for the one-night performance), this is a spoiler-filled review.
An upfront note, for those readers avoiding the details. The performance contains a little bit of language and depictions of graphic drug use. Parents need to use their own discretion, but I probably would not recommend this for children under ten. Everyone else, however, needs to see it.
The pre-show announcement sets the tone for the evening, as the narrator implores the audience to engage. When it comes to the effects of addiction, “you have to feel it to heal it,” he pleads. Four dancers in pedestrian-like costumes open with Rag ‘N’ Bone Man’s “Human,” performing the company’s typical contemporary jazz vocabulary, with a palpable heaviness.
The voice over the speaker serves as the thought process of a stunning Avery D. Wilson, donning a white shirt and pants, in his role as husband to drug-addicted wife Ariela Robbins, dressed in darker, muted clothes. Due to the escalating tension throughout the work, it’s easy to miss his opening remarks. No one gets addicted from just one pill, and no one thinks they’ll fall into addiction from casual partying.
The haunting sounds of a lullaby cover of Tool’s “Sober” depicts that journey using shadow in upstage center, as Robbins sits downstage contemplating the events. Obsessions and secrecy over pills occur as she starts a family and eventually turns to harder drugs. Wilson executes a delicate yet powerful solo to Ed Sheeran’s “The A Team”, with subtle Ailey hints. His frustration fails to reach his wife, who finds herself pulled further into darkness.
The five-member ensemble (Kendra Reynolds, Kyra McCarty, Lauren Daniels, McKenzie Rollinson, and Mikaela Fuller) serves a number of purposes, one of which is symbolizing the descent into Robbins’ addiction. The black-clad group performs in unison with her to Kaleo’s “Way Down We Go”, which displays movement very similar to the opening number. Gravity pulls them down, with plenty of falls and crawls mixed in with the turns and jumps typical of contemporary.
A welcome change in vocabulary arrives with Robbins’ solo to “Not an Addict” by K’s Choice, an obvious yet compelling choice for the subject matter. With very few technical steps, it’s perhaps one of the most organic sequences of the evening, and her movement style seems more at home here than other areas. Wilson helplessly looks on from upstage, but has his time to respond with an agonizing acoustic cover of “I Ran (So Far Away)” by The Silent Film. Although it looks like he might be leaving her, the two display the most poignant moment of Act I, as he draws her close and kisses her needle-marked arms. The closing curtain leaves so many questions, which are answered in unexpected ways for Act II.
A duet between Reynolds and Robbins to Danielle Andrade’s cover of “Creep” by Radiohead illustrates the influence a caring friend could have, but an intervention conjures mixed results.
The ensemble acts as concerned friends and family, yet they all deliver strikingly different reactions in their respective solos. Some convey understanding and comfort, while others lash out with judgment or anger. Of course, the risk of intervention is not knowing how the addict responds, and Robbins displays her frustrations and defiance with sharp balletic movements combined with thrashing motions to Nancy Sinatra’s “Bang Bang.”
The ensuing internal struggle occurs on many levels. An almost-violent segment with the dark ensemble to Muse’s “Dig Down” presents one side of desperation, while the softer yet equally heart-wrenching balletic section to a choral version of Nine Inch Nails’ “Hurt” presents the ultimate choice.
Now it gets real.
As she collapses and the ensemble returns in white for a liturgical dance, I was left wondering if she had overcome the darkness and if Wilson or another friend would soon arrive to help her out of that rock-bottom place. Her husband’s entrance clad in black with a handful of roses and pained expression said otherwise.
Unlike the fictional Lifetime movies, his addict does not sober up, and his solo to “I Will Follow You” by Toulouse delivers the final emotional blow. Pin-drop silence hovered well after the stage turned dark, only to change to thunderous applause as the curtain closed.
Rucci and crew need to take this on the road. Certain segments could use some polishing, and overall the performance needs to simmer so some of the performers can dig into the subtle nuances of the movement. But high schools, educational programs, and the like must have this performance as part of their curriculum addressing the national crisis. With its current music, short run time of 80 minutes including intermission, and accessible choreography, the show provides a perfect vehicle to make the drive toward actual change.