The Illusion of Ripples at CRASH
Review of Crash and Juxtapose by Jacob Jonas The Company at Edmonds Center for the Arts
Written by Ella Scholz-Bertram during TeenTix’s Dance Journalism Workshop at ECA
Once the lights dimmed, I was silent until confusion came over me; I had not recognized the dull hum of the ocean as the starting music for this piece. But soon I settled again once a faint spotlight outlined a body on stage: a man. The sound of waves rose as he moved his arm up and rolled, his legs up, and rolled. Maybe the movement of his body wasn’t to the music, but rather mimicking where the sounds derived from: crashing waves. Other dancers sprang out of the dark of the back of the stage and simultaneously swayed with him. They continuously worked as a whole to create the illusion of ripples. When performing with one another, the atypical collaboration of dancers flush against each other on the floor had them almost toppling over one another, though fortunately that was avoided. They flowed apart as my eyes adjusted to the light that was gradually brightening.
I identified two soloists: the reappearance of the man that opened the piece, and a woman, whom I hadn’t gotten a good look at when she was a part of the rolling wave of six dancers behind them. After their extensive partnering that mainly consisted of movements trying to mimic a pulling and pushing tide, the man and woman joined in on the floorwork that the others were performing. All dancers were dressed in cool tones, and they mostly wore baggy clothing; except for a couple of female dancers whose tops were skin tight. Unlike many other performances I’ve seen before, the entire ensemble was not wearing great amounts of makeup, if any at all.
As the eight dancers abandoned the floor, they lined up on stage right and each one executed what, to my prior knowledge, were their strengths. Grand kicks and acrobatics—even a little bit of martial arts? Even from my technical understanding and history with dance, I failed to find flaws. I’d even add that Crash rarely embodied the volatile landings the name indicated; it was absolutely effortless. The dancers did not “crash”, they fell without the visual endeavors to brace themselves, they cascaded out of each other's arms when they performed pas de deuxs, and they collided gently with the floor. The dancers would slide past and through each other, and as an audience member it was pleasant to hear the dulcet sound of waves match the energy I felt coming from the dancers on stage.
During their partnering, the dancers were never too classical, always disconnecting long enough to perform their own, mostly contemporary, choreography. No one partnership was better, either; the dynamics between two men and two women were equally congenial. Two men dancing together felt unusually tense, and I personally believe most of the audience thought their choreography was more demanding. But that was mostly determined by how refined and graceful women dancing together were. There was also this intimacy between the two women. It was sister-like in a way, and it was wonderful. This is where I began questioning if they were related, because of how similar their features were. Both were very strong and when lifting each other, they made it look so easy to achieve their lines and pointed toes, which I still very much struggle to achieve myself. I enjoyed the contravention of gender norms for the partnering, where strong, male dancers and agile, female dancers are the “usual”. The synchronized movements of the ocean are what this piece is supposed to represent, and barely any incongruencies like extreme femininity and masculinity should separate them. As the waves of dancers built up to a climax, which the music influenced as well, the choreography came back to a calm as a close.
As if it were normal, two men lay deadly still on the edge of the stage, like dripping water frozen in motion. They seemed relaxed, as if they weren’t present in front of a group of people that paid to observe them. Now eight dancers lay comfortably at rest, stopped mid-sinking off the stage before the audience’s feet. A light fog that reminded me of dust arose from the stage, as though the bodies were stranded on a sand-covered island. I started to pay close attention to their diaphragms to see if they were breathing. None of the dancers wore loose hair except for those with curls or the stragglers of hair atop their buns. Unlike “Crash”, the dancers wore black and beige baggy pants, shirts, and tight tank tops. Here they were barefoot so their natural thudding feet weren’t attenuated.
Sounds of thudding limbs mixed with a distant bell and chatter from the audience were heard. Now, an additional two dancers made their way to the group of bodies on stage. They started to move, and they hung low as if gravity was amplifying their weight that tied them to the floor. My plus-one also noted that they resembled “dead fish”, which wasn’t entirely true because they were still moving, but it was a valid comparison. Then, most definitely on purpose, two dancers struck the stage floor, and the audience was left alarmed while no music continued to play. As if looking into the distance, a dancer rose and their gaze lingered far away for a moment, as all of them made their way to their rightful place. The two female dancers that I swore were more than just doppelgangers, danced with an almost purposeful sloppiness meant to carry on the image they created with their initial movements. At this point, I couldn’t tell where the two’s arms and legs ended or began. Because of the continuing fog on stage, it was inherent to deeply remark those who danced more downstage while those farther back were hazier. But wait? A portion of the remaining dancers were stacked suffocatingly while the audience was mostly distracted. Labored breaths were the only indicators of effort spent. Everyone onstage formed a circle as two of the more stoic dancers started to jog, burning a child-like identity into them. But then they moved in strides, and it became clear that sadly they returned to their intimidating personas.
It wasn’t the dancers that were angry, but the dance itself, because it resembled ruination and exhaustion. It almost looked painful as their labored breathing became worse when they synchronized. Then dancers were flattened onto the floor. One was in the air as the lights darkened and I swore my ears were almost bleeding because of the screeching sound that was in exchange of the previous silence. Everything was blue and overstimulating as I closed my eyes, collected my thoughts, and observed the dancer’s next movements. It was almost like a storm onstage but oddly, I recognized their movements, then found them similar, then remembered them, and then knew they certainly were repeated; but it didn’t feel the same. No one was ever still, which was momentarily numbing, and it was enough to make one uneasy. Windchimes and the knocking of hollow wood rang until a blasting base overpowered it. A dancer walked forwards, stopped with the swoosh of a male dancer’s arm to her neck, and she braced herself by grasping the arm and folding underneath him. At first, it seemed out of her way to start dancing with him, like she was slowly striding toward a different place but was abruptly interrupted. However, their partnering was swift and entertained the audience when others on stage weren’t moving enough for one’s interest.
Soon all ten dancers gathered and the length of the choreography made me wonder how their bodies remembered after all of this time, where they must be, and what they must present. The dancer’s bodies almost glitched one at a time, when it occurred to me that the sound of running water diluted the flatlined heartbeat we were originally subjected to. In our modern-day world, the movements in this piece could be seen as sexual, but they were only depressing in this setting. The screaming of that heartbeat was building again when the dancers on stage started to sink to the floor. They looked to be praising whatever they were circled around. As they momentarily dispersed themselves, two men stepped forward and directly interacted with one another—something that rarely happened because within Juxtapose each dancer was almost always in their own spacious bubble unless they were partnering. The dancers began to stack their heads—reminding me of those stone cairns you’d randomly find at the beach that you would swear defied gravity—and as soon as they were balanced they’d break apart and rejoin in a different area on stage. Their foreheads shone with sweat as they awaited a resolve that brought the whole performance to an end.