A performance from Muscle Memory Dance Theatre is never cut-and-dry, nor is the experience one size fits all. This is especially evident in You Will Know When You Are There: A Journey in Art and Modern Dance, presented in collaboration with Ghost Town Arts Collective at LIFE in Deep Ellum.
This gallery show/dance performance/art installation provides an up-close-and-personal experience with the dancers and the art. The proscenium and subsequent fourth wall are dismissed in favor of an oblong "stage" on the floor of the theater space with seating on three sides, including on the actual stage. A fabric road leading from the entrance and winding around to the performance space and through the seating consists of many colors, textures and patterns stitched together in just as many shapes and configurations. Two fabric panels hung from the ceiling provide the only vertical border in the space, and lanterns adorn the edges.
Meghan Cardwell-Wilson's "Once" opens the show with slow, suspenseful movement that begins standing and journeys to crawling. Set to an ambient piano score, the six dancers clad in red tanks and short yellow pants move between quickness and urgency back to slow and sustained, exhibiting excellent control and fluidity throughout. Occasionally, some animal- or insect-like gestures appear as they react to each other. Cardwell-Wilson's signature "upside-down" choreography weaves in and out of the segment as the dancers begin their journey.
As they end, a second trio dressed in blues and greens enters with lighted jars for Amy Sleigh's "Striving." Showing the "twists and turns" of a journey, this segment explores a wide range of emotions and reactions, using a double swing suspended from the ceiling. Their journey centers around the jars, at times holding them protectively close then pushing them away in fear. Music varies nicely with the change in emotions, and some aerial dance is exhibited on the swing. Confidence wins out over fear in the end as they exit and the final group enters, turning on the lanterns.
The last section, Lesley Snelson's "Becoming," continues that confidence with livelier, more athletic dancing. Wearing tight tops with looser split pants in varying shades of red, green and blue, the dancers move in and out of each other, forming more relationships than in the previous segments. The athleticism, however, seems to get to the dancers, as the ending begins to look messy and unpolished. As the choreography settles down in a sense of finality, they exit the space turning of each lantern as they go.
Three things to know about this performance before you go (because you should go). First, it's one solid 40-minute stretch, which could be a blessing or a curse depending on your perspective. If you're the type who sits through dance concerts thinking, "Is there no end to this?" then you're in luck. However, you might get so caught up in the experience that the ending comes way too soon.
Second, even though it's an intimate performance, the seating arrangement is varied enough so that you only have to be as involved in the action as you want to be. The stage seating provides a raised, more remote view of the action, while the floor seating provides two rows of intimate interaction.
Third, the performance as a whole actually goes beyond itself and what it's trying to portray. It gives a lesson in experiencing art. The choreography does not always present a clear meaning, but then again, M2DT never prized itself on having straightforward, literal works. They want you to think, to question, maybe even be puzzled and think some more. In time, it might click or it might not.
And that's okay. These types of performances might not be the ones you rave about on Facebook during intermission with all caps, exclamation points and hearts, but they are worth seeing nonetheless.