The moon pulls the tides to and fro on the shores. Just a few blocks away, flawless choreography pulls the dancers in Jacob Jonas The Company’s production of Crash back and forth across the stage at Edmonds Center for the Arts. The dancers’ movements are synchronized as they duck and bend with the fluid and seamless spirit of the ocean, never stopping for a moment’s rest. The stage is always taken up by the flourishing and spinning of dancers fanning out like a wave smashing on the sand, followed by the gentler movements of calmer moments in the sea. The restlessness of the ocean is the key inspiration behind the work, and indeed shines masterfully throughout the performance. It’s so invigorating, full of emotion and energy, that I could hardly take my eyes off it.
As soon as the audience members took their seats and the lights dimmed to near complete darkness, Crash began a transition into a completely different world from the theater lobby. Speakers started playing, gently and almost imperceptibly at first, the sounds of crashing waves and the calming ambience of the ocean. Then, the first dancers started making an appearance, joining the sounds of the ocean in gentle, rolling movements across the stage. The dim stage lighting illuminated just the sides of the stage, and seemed to simulate morning light. From the very beginning, the lighting and sound design gave the audience a keen sense of the passage of time and the sun’s cycle through the sky. The early show’s silence and emptiness represented perfectly the feel of the dark early morning, and as the show went on, it progressed into more emotive daytime scenes. In the otherwise silent hall, I was taken by just how overwhelming yet tranquil the combination of the dancers’ repetitive movements and the now loud crashing of the waves was. The entire scene started the night off with an unconventional type of bang, filling one’s senses and setting the mood of the whole piece.
Then, a sole man on a platform at the back of the stage was dimly illuminated. It was Okaidja Afroso, the composer of the piece’s music, and he started to provide an effortlessly atmospheric and profound soundtrack to the fluid movements of the dancers. He looked like the sole human on a stage full of water, the translator of the ocean’s unique sound into the music of humans—despite his separated position, he was no less integrated into the story of the ocean than the dancers themselves. As the lighting got brighter and the work progressed, Afroso switched between using drums, a guitar, and his voice for a consistently dynamic and ever-changing sound. There was a jarring duality between his simpler vocalizations and romantic melodies. The different instruments captured perfectly in different ways the scenes carrying on between the dancers. The hope and gentleness of the sun’s light at sundown was reflected with the guitar’s sweet melodies, but the same instrument also seemed to narrate the passion and romance of a storm, along with Afroso’s chants and atmospheric flashes of blue light.
Jacob Jonas’s choreography did an excellent job of utilizing the stage to the fullest, playing with space and the limits of the audience’s perception. In turns, it ripped one’s attention to opposite sides of the stage, and brought all the dancers together into a cohesive, symbiotic unit. Sometimes dancers were whitewater formations dancing rapidly away from the crashing of a wave, and sometimes they were waves, the gentle or harsh bucking and flowing of water. In this way, I got the impression that the dancers were just separate parts of a whole, different indistinguishable entities part of a wider ocean; they sometimes seemed to chase each other and spin out of each others’ reach, going to great acrobatic lengths to achieve their personal independence just to end up drawn together once again. At other points, they pulled each other back and forth without touching, the ocean’s components becoming so intertwined and close that they influenced each others’ base movements.
One of my favorite things about Crash was the inherent role of gravity, both conceptually and represented in the movements of the dancers. The choreography contained a dramatic diversity in the variety and weight of movements throughout the piece; sometimes dancers sailed and rolled across the stage like they were weightless, and sometimes they stomped and slammed their bodies to the ground in sudden, jarring movements. It harkened back to the strong push and pull of the tides, the physical gravitational forces that both the ocean and humans share, and the pull of celestial bodies towards the smaller, more present things in our lives. The dancers were human, but they were not so different from the tides of the ocean after all; they were subjected to the same grounded forces as the real waves just down the street from us in Edmonds, and the same pull to restlessness and novelty as the sea. When the dancers seemed to sail and spin through the air as though they were weightless, they came back to Earth just as even the most dramatic, ambitious waves must. Crash carried this message through to the audience with one-of-a-kind choreography and musicality. It was a beautiful exploration of the power of the ocean, and was perfect and moving in its simplicity.