Last year 8&1 Dance Company gave a bold premiere that showed off its dancers' stylistic diversity and technical prowess. For the start of its second season 8&1 Dance Company took a big risk using more emotional and character-driven choreography in All In A Day: A Tribute to the Brave, a tribute to the heroes of 9/11.
The two-act performance at the Courtyard Theatre in Plano Saturday night focused on one of many families affected by the events that occurred on September 11, 2001. The day starts like any other with the family sitting around the kitchen table before the father heads off to work as a New York City firefighter. The husband and wife's love and unity was exemplified in a modern-inspired pas de deux performed by Keith Clark and Shelby Stanley. The dancers' partnering was a clear representation of the bond between couples; every time Stanley dipped, jumped and hinged backward Clark was there to support her.
8&1's performance in large part used literal themes, movements and music choices that effectively communicated an important perspective on the 9/11 tragedy to younger audiences. However, there were also moments when the music, movement, lighting and emotion came together and had a profound impact on audience members who remember where they were on that day. MAYDAY MAYDAY MAYDAY was one of those moments. Single spotlights captured four firefighters putting their gear on as they are being called to duty. An image of the front entrance of a fire station on the backdrop is the only scenery.
The stage goes black and all you hear is the running of feet and heavy breathing. As the lights come up you see bodies lying across the stage as an actual recording of the FDNY dispatch from that day is played and the words projected on the backdrop. The movement is simple: people running, crawling, stumbling and being dragged. You can hear the panic in their voices as they shouted out "Don't leave me!" The performers grasp hands, arms and clothing to make a human chain as they are pulled out of the building.
The second act paid tribute to the fallen heroes and survivors of 9/11. Dressed all in the black, the mourners at the husband's funeral one-by-one place a red rose center stage before returning to their knelling positions. The curve of their backs and lowered heads translate their angst and weariness. Guest vocalist Crysta D. Taylor sung a hauntingly beautiful rendition of "Amazing Grace" as the mourners rise to pay their respect to the family. The audience also got to see a live performance by the North Texas Pipe and Drum, which was a welcome addition to the performance and venue.
The company returned to its technical dancing roots in 5 Stages, a perfectly conceptualized piece to Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata. The dancers portrayed the different parts of the healing process: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. Angela Barnhart's (anger) movements were deliberate and suspenseful. When she struck the ground with her fists you could see it reverberate throughout her body. Schwannah McCarthy (depression) moved with a sense of longing and uncertainty which could be seen in her concave upper torso and astonishing leg extensions.
The performance ended with an uplifting group piece by the whole cast, including young rising star M'Khian Rhodes followed by a slide show which included images of fire fighters in action as well as images of the designs for One World Trade Center.
8&1's risky move in adding an emotional, character-driven performance to their repertoire in large part paid off and played well to the mixed audience in attendance. 8&1 Dance Company would do well when taking on similar projects down the road to broaden thematic and character perspectives, enhance the use of symbolism through the music choices and movements used, as well as explore further applications for their effective projector techniques.
All the proceeds from the performance benefit the New York City Brotherhood Foundation.
Katie Dravenstott is a freelance writer and dance instructor in Dallas. Visit her blog at www.kddance.wordpress.com.