Core Dance: Life Interrupted: When fear and hysteria diminish humanity

The first time that I saw anything by Core or Sue Schroeder was a restaging of her “Corazón Abriendo” in late 2010. I picked up my ticket the day of the show after having my original plans for the evening fall through. This was before the trauma that lead to me going to nearly every show of anything that could be even remotely good that I could manage and I was just starting to check out what the Atlanta dance scene had to offer. I wasn’t expecting much; it was about Mayan culture in Chiapas and I suspected that it would probably be a romantic exoticization. Instead it was actually an well produced and thoughtful expression of a rather well-informed, first-hand impression of the region. I’ve seen quite a lot of Core’s work since then but it had remained my favorite of Schroeder’s work by far until this evening.

I tend to like Schroeder’s work most when it’s clear that she started with a concrete idea of what she wants to express. “Life Interrupted” is about the US’ Japanese internment camps of WWII. When it was first announced, I was skeptical about a company with no Japanese members mounting something like this, but then I remembered the good job that she did with “Corazón Abriendo” and decided to be excited about it, instead. And she definitely did do a good job: this was a multi-year project that involved heavy research and a lot of collaboration and the result was a strong, polished piece that was very well performed by the (now) eight dancers.

The stage was bare of its teasers and legs and there was no grand drape at any point, leaving the walls and lights exposed. I think that this was beneficial in terms of the space that was recovered for the performance more than for any kind of verfremdungseffekt (which my spell-check believes should be “videoconferencing”). The lighting left a lot to be desired: while it did a modestly good job of implying cramped, dismal, close quarters, the side lighting only occasionally made sense and there were a lot of muddy shadows thrown by the performers on their props and on each other that detracted from the show for me. The general sound design and accompanying music were good, though. Christian Meyer composed the music for the work and it didn’t stand out in any way but definitely filled out the performance in a most complementary way. There were some rather effective spoken word parts that came in the form of variations on the Pledge of Allegiance: including archive recordings of kids having to recite it in the camps as well as personal pledges of allegiance written and spoken by the dancers expressing their own, personal allegiances.

There were also a series of sketches that were projected in various ways into the performance space. These were created by Nancy Chikaraishi based on what she knew of her parents’ experience in one of the internment camps in Arkansas. They were certainly interesting but my usual complaint about projected images in dance productions either drawing eyes away from the performance or breaking up the lines of the performers holds for most of the use of projection in this piece – although there were definitely more times than normal where they were visible without being distracting or obtrusive. However, I really appreciated them towards the end when each one was projected on a different piece of cloth held up by one of the dancers and then folded and put into the suitcase. It was a poignant reminder that the true impact of any trauma is what you carry with you once it is over: just as a cut may not hurt or even bleed at first, a major, life-disrupting event is often taken in stride and the true impact often isn’t realized until much later.

Before that ending, there was a rather rich collection of choreography expressing the precarious instability, disorientation, and the isolation that the victims of internment must have felt. They made good use of some simple props: luggage was carried and shuffled and at one point was used to form the wall of their prison. Dancers tried to find workable positions with each other on a bed, which was probably the most personal space that was available to any individual in the camps. Crates and baggage were unstable platforms to walk along while trying to keep above everything.

The choreography was some of the sharpest and most clever that I’ve seen from this company. The slightly larger-than-normal company size brought out a lot of richness from the movement that I think might have come out a little flat with only five people. There are certain things that, were I asked before hand, I would say that I would want expressed in a story about the internment camps that weren’t in this piece. But this was a different creature than what I’d expected: it was mostly about expressing the feelings of the folks subjected to this shameful imprisonment rather than an exploration of the specifics of the experience. It wasn’t about the internment of the Japanese but about interned people themselves, and I think that it was incredibly effective as that. It was very clear that a lot of thought, work, and time went into this and the end result was truly something amazing. If I had the time to go again tomorrow then I probably would.

Don’t forget to check out the Atlanta Classical Music Calendar!

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