Saturday, May 12th marked the end of the second season and the closing night of Common Thread Contemporary Dance Company’s presentation of ‘Sacred Vessels’. Included in the program were four pieces, three of which were choreographed by Artistic Director, Jennifer Medina and one from award-winning guest choreographer, Audra Sokol.
It often seems that the best choreographers see dance in everything, and everything in dance. Traffic can look like arranged, albeit frustrating, movement patterns. Inspiration can come from the natural world, human behaviors, even things that exist only in the imagination. Great choreography can serve as a passport to the real or imagined times and places represented and populated by the dancers onstage. ‘Sacred Vessels’ was a journey brought to life through a beautifully executed vocabulary of contemporary dance and music.
Opening the program was Medina’s, ‘Women of the Cove’ which will be presented at this year’s Spring to Dance Festival. inspired by the pioneer women of the Cades Cove community in the Great Smokey Mountains of Tennessee, the piece felt both historical and picturesque. The five female dancers representing the midwives and primary medical caregivers of the Cades Cove settlers captured a grounded approach to the movement that added a sense of the hardships placed on these historical characters. Music from ‘Ghostland’ perfectly accompanied the movement in both a melancholy and beautiful tone with a mix of sustained notes and ever-moving almost staccato plucked strings. This piece is something like a tableau in motion, and was most beautiful in moments of groundwork and structural port de bras. There were small discrepancies within moments of dancing; the way an arm would unfold or the lines and shapes made by the limbs. Because the piece is based on a historical group, details within the dancing vocabulary serve like facts to inform the audience of the sense of community, particularly since the dancers represent a medical group who surely had protocols and common practices. You wouldn’t want a doctor that doesn’t seem to have perfect control of their hands holding a scalpel, and a lack of attention to detail in the distal proportions doesn’t serve the piece either. This was a piece where it wasn’t exactly clear the time period we the audience were peering into, or even that these were midwives and doctors. A literal interpretation isn’t necessary and the piece successfully and quietly indicated a nod towards something of the past but worth revisiting.
‘Nebula‘, the second piece of the program featured the whole company in choreographer Sokol’s idea of intersections; travel, interactions and the creation of moments. The program mentioned the illusion of ocean waves or planets in the universe coming together and disseminating. Clad in frothy white dresses, the dancers did look more like objects from nature than flawed humans. They looked untouched by mechanics with particularly nice use of travel and weight-sharing. There were many breath-taking moments of cleanly landed turns transitioning effortlessly on to the next step, adding to the sense of continuous ebb and flow. Especially noticeable was dancer Jena Ferrigno, whose strength and fluidity was pronounced in technically demanding moments. The piece had a certain numbness that felt like being caught in a river’s current, an accepting of the natural order of things- that is, unless you know dance technique and know how unnatural and hard the dancing really is..
Changing the mood and pace entirely was ‘Yolk‘, with choreography by Medina and music from Giant Leap. This work-in-progress was created in collaboration with the dancers with movement common to the human, not just the trained dancer world. Influences from many types of dancing made their way into the choreography, with glimmers of everything from Afro-cuban to break dancing. Some dancers looked less comfortable with the movement near the beginning, too upright with smiles that looked false. It seemed like everyone relaxed into their own skin the more the piece went on. It also helped when the dancers were further upstage and under less-direct light, particularly in an enjoyable sequence where they traveled sideways as a group, facing the audience, doing what looked vaguely like moves you might see in Latin dance club or an old Fosse number. It felt more intimate, worldly, and cool without direct light shining downwards on the dancers. In a piece like this, too much over-analysis and too much light feels staged. The music and choreography is so joyful, it was wonderful to see dancers who seemed at ease and to fully enjoy themselves. Dancer Tara W.F. Cacciatore-Lopez was one who was clearly passionate about movement and was all the more exciting to watch, impossible not to watch because of it.
The final offering was ‘Sacred Vessels’, a three-section piece honoring the capability of humans to ascend fear and daily struggles and to serve as a reminder of inner beauty and strength. Sleek, elegant costumes from Barbara Craig showed off the beautiful bodies of the dancers. The gray shade made them look almost militaristic, or as if made from steel. Medina’s masterful choreography also showed off the strength of the dancers and used specific vocabulary such as distinct arm positions to establish the tone, even an idea of character and setting. The piece managed to cover an incredible range of activity with the choreography; struggle, determination, and triumph could all be seen and felt. The dancers were especially impressive with their dynamic unison attack in the last section, a credit to the exquisite building of tension from Medina’s choreography. Somewhere between the drama of the music, the construction of choreography and costume, and the execution from the dancers the piece gave an overwhleming feeling; a sensation as if something from whatever is created onstage has crawled inside and calls to the surface more nameless emotion that you knew you had stored in those ignored chasms of your heart. It isn’t necessarily a feeling of joy or courage or hurt; there isn’t really a name for it besides being inexplicably, undeniably moved.
It is amazing how contemporary choreography, things that are new and modern on the dance scene today, can cover such a wide span of time, place, and emotion. ‘Sacred Vessels’ made such travel, learning, and experiences possible. It was a concert where so much of everything around us and within us went into dance, and life even just for that day, felt better because of dance. Medina mentioned at the start of the concert that her goal was to better the community and bring joy and happiness to audiences and students. At least in my case, mission accomplished.
Don’t miss Common Thread Contemporary Dance Company at the Spring to Dance Festival on May 24, 25, 26th at the Touhill Performing Arts Center. Learn about summer workshop and class opportunities and stay connected. (All photos by Artistic Director Jennifer Medina from Gatlinburg, TN- Great Smokey Mountains National Park)