Seeing Komansé Dance Theater’s Skid on Friday was my first time in the Ferst Center since its auditorium was renovated. It’s Sunday and my back still hasn’t fully recovered from the awful new seats. The seat-backs tilt forward somewhere around 10-15°. What animal are those even designed for? Definitely not human and definitely not someone with a lower back problem like mine. The center aisle has been done away with and replaced with two aisles separating three seating sections, which is nice since now there are actually seats in the middle of the auditorium. Gone, too, are the bright safety lights that were on the steps in that middle aisle that would get in your eye if you sat within 5 or so seats of the aisle. They’ve been replaced by bright, white lights in the sides of the seats on either side of the aisles that are directed out instead of down so that now you get to enjoy having bright lights in your peripheral vision no matter where you sit. I was in row F, which is the first terraced row and a half-step above E. I thought it was a good height and would afford me a good view of the stage even if a six-foot tall person sat in front of me. Row G is two steps above F, so if you’re really short you may want to sit there. Or you may want to see if they’ll let you stand to avoid having the seat try to push you into a poor and painful posture. I have two more things on my calendar for the Ferst this season: I’ll be taking a lumbar pillow with me to the next one and if that fails to help me then I may just be done with the venue all together. Although I’ve actually been going there more often in recent years, that’s mostly been because of favorable scheduling as the programming has become less and less interesting to me in recent seasons.
Before the performance began, the person who welcomed us and introduced the show invited us to take pictures and video and post to the various social media during the performance. This kind of thing is always a distraction in the middle of a dark auditorium, but it was doubly so due to the low lighting levels for the stage lights. The low light also would have made any of those pictures and videos come out grainy and unappealing. If they do insist on this kind of thing, they really should adjust the lights for the show accordingly.
We were also encouraged to clap or snap or cheer whatever we felt during the show. I kind of rolled my eyes at that one, too, but this is dance so there tends to be a ton of that anyway. Honestly, though, by officially inviting the behavior, it was a little less annoying since it wasn’t violating a norm of decency. And even with this incitement it was still less applause and cheering than you normally get in traditional ballet audiences. In ballet they’ll clap whenever someone does something that appears even remotely athletic (even though there are usually a ton of things that are even more difficult going on that get no recognition). You’ll even get applause in the middle of someone dancing a lamentation for having lost their true love or even in the middle of a death scene. How insensitive is that? Seriously, people: try engaging emotionally with the freakin’ performance instead of treating it like it’s a vapid gymnastics routine. During intermission, a young woman sitting near me mentioned that she grew up an orchestra kid so she really didn’t like all the clapping in the middle of a dance performance and preferred to wait until the end. She also talked about the absurdity that we have homelessness or an affordable housing crisis in the U.S. She’s now my favorite audience member ever.
Ok, kvetching aside, Raianna Brown did an excellent job putting together this show. Skid is about the impact of homelessness on people who experience it. It also relates the concept of homelessness to the condition of Black American culture and institutions being alienated and, in a sense, rendered disconnected from their own home country through being relegated not just to “other” status but being treated as being of lower class and quality. The sound was a compelling mix of popular and classical music along with some spoken word recordings of people discussing their experiences of being homeless. There were also two live poets who performed whose names, sadly, were on a page of the program that did not make it home with me.
Brown’s company, Komansé, is large for a local company, made up of around 28 dancers who seem to mostly be students in the various collegiate dance programs around the metro area. They performed well and afforded Brown the ability to weave together a rich and expressive tapestry of movement on the stage derived from a large variety of styles including ballet and the traditional modern dance forms, traditional African dance, and contemporary hip hop dance.
The overall impact of the Skid was very strong. Brown worked exceptionally well with the music to get her message across, letting the words and tone of the music provide an easy to follow conceptual framework for the feelings expressed in her choreography without letting her choreography become subservient to the accompaniment. The only thing that I felt was a shortcoming was the sort of dance-party curtain call, which I felt diminished somewhat the seriousness of the work. Of course, I might just be saying that because the Ferst Center’s new seats hurt my back so badly that I couldn’t dance along.