Dallas — Muscle Memory Dance Theatre’s third annual Made in a Day, presented at LIFE in Deep Ellum, proves this project has lasting power and isn’t destined to be a fading gimmick. The process worked the same as last year. The company directors asked five choreographers to partake in the adventure, while at the same time opening applications for dancers. According to project director Meghan Cardwell-Wilson, dancer requirements were somewhat simple.
“Are you at least 18 years old? Do you identify as a dancer? Are you available on these specific dates?”
All dancers that answered yes were placed into a drawing, which happened live on Facebook. Last Thursday afternoon, choreographers drew for their cast sizes and members, then the rehearsal period began. Twelve hours of total rehearsal time spread across about 24 hours led up to the first show on Friday night, with an additional performance on Saturday.
For the choreographer, it’s an exercise in making decisions quickly and being okay with what happens on stage. For the dancer, it’s developing those vital skills of adaption and cultivating a different type of flexibility. The audience member can enjoy the suspense of wondering what’s going to happen, riding the experience along with the rest of the participants. The directors make quite clear the process behind the product, and the post-show Q&A helps fill in some of the blanks of the happening.
Rachel Wade’s 1989 begins with the dancers clustered in a group, reaching. Some extend slower than others, as the sounds of an orchestra warming up grow louder. The group freezes, then starts with a repetitive unison phrase that grows into running in place. A thrumming beat signals a faint hip hop and funk groove as the dancers maneuver into more precisely timed jazz-based movements. Nonchalant facial expressions provide a casual feel for a dance that contains quite a bit of vocabulary.
Amy Elizabeth’s trio uses the edge of the stage and the floor area in front of it. For Hold That Thought, Daniel Mabry, Kevin Goyburu, and Susannah MacTavish seem rather suspicious of each other as they move through solos and duets. Gestural phrases performed while sitting on the edge of the stage exude a surprising ease, given their attitudes toward each other. Playing to their strengths with very little unison, the piece employs subtle movements initiated by the shoulders that read quite well in the space.
Jalila Bell’s 3 Spoonfuls of Honey (for the ghosts and them ghosted) begins with a heavy bass beat and is the only one of the night utilizing lyrics. The five cast members display confidence from their very first entrances, and their movement stands alone from the words. Moments of stillness break up intense phrases to create a pleasing sense of dynamics for this first section. The next segment turns anxious, with more frantic movement and off-balance transitions. Finally, the piece closes on a friendlier note with the cast switching off solos, finding freedom, before joining together for traveling.
The mood turns mysterious after intermission, as cool-toned lights rise on Kiera Amison’s They Were Here. Beginning with series of arm explorations, they eventually move to some contact choreography. It doesn’t contain much unison, and the repetitive music builds a unique style of suspense. Motifs repeat, with swing and rebound, delivering a satisfying sweeping and lulling quality with its slower movements.
Amy L. Jennings brings a comedic, theatrical aspect with Refreshment of the Soul, the closing work of the evening and the most distinct. Using boxing gloves and a small spotlight, the work makes great use of the largest cast for the show. Nine dancers focus on the gloves and the one who wears them, with ballet vocabulary mixing with the drama. A game of rock-paper-scissors continues throughout the dance, which weaves in modern vocabulary. Fascinating ensemble moments, some partnering segments, and a nice men’s quartet add more distinguishing details to the piece.
One of the best moments of the post-performance talk for these three years has been hearing the choreographers’ preparations or lack thereof prior to the three-day whirlwind. Amy Elizabeth (from Houston and Beaumont) purposely tried to remove any contemplation beforehand, due to the uncertainty with time constraints. “Twelve hours kind of takes your breath away,” she chuckled.
New York-based Jalila Bell came to Texas with a choreographic concept about being “ghosted,” the atrocious social media and texting practice of dropping any and all contact with someone without warning, usually in the context of online dating. Fort Worth’s Naomi Wade came to rehearsal with a song idea.
A few dancers had returned to the process, while many others were new. It almost feels like a summer reunion, as I consistently see dancers whom I’ve met and viewed in other educational and performance context. Coming together for a three-day “retreat” of sorts only strengthens the thriving dance community in our area.
As with the last two years, I cannot wait for next summer’s event.