Project 7 Contemporary Dance Company – SHE: The 7th Rung

My continuing quest to find live, non-Christmassy performances in December took me to 7 Stages this evening to see Project 7 Contemporary Dance Company perform Cherrise Wakeham’s SHE: The 7th Rung. For a piece that I enjoyed as much as I did, I don’t feel like I have terribly much to say about it: I really had to rack my brain to find things that I want to remember about it to set down here. I suppose that is in part due to the fact that I’ve been exhausted all day, which left me somewhat unable to watch with too critical an eye. That said, this was a concert that, although not merely a vapid spectacle by any means, might be better enjoyed with a more passive attention. What I lost in memorableness I may have gained in finding somewhat greater enjoyment.

The program consisted of four pieces, presented with two on either side of an intermission. The choreography for all four pieces was very high-energy, with a lot of running, fast paced ensemble work, and fun leaps; it was attention grabbing without being too showy and attention seeking. It was mostly an ensemble performance and I have to say that the dancers did remarkably well working together. If you paid far more attention than you should have then you might have noticed differences in strength and stamina between various individual dancers but you’d be hard pressed to point out where those differences mattered. The choreographer was good about making differences between the length and shapes of limbs irrelevant. The movement vocabulary, though, was somewhat limited in breadth and, at times, segments of different pieces seemed a bit too similar.

Wakeham stuck close to rhythms and themes of the sound accompaniment (consisting of a variety of popular music and spoken word pieces), sometimes being a bit literal in interpreting it. My opinion wavered somewhat as to whether I felt that she would have done better to put a little more distance between her choreography and the accompaniment: if she had been any more tied to it then I definitely wouldn’t have enjoyed it as much, though.

The costuming was not terribly complicated but varied throughout and complimented the pieces well without distracting from them. There were a number of impressively quick costume changes. The lighting, on the other hand, was less than stellar. Greg Catellier — whose name, I just discovered, has no ‘n’ in it — seems like a wonderful fellow but his overuse of side-lighting in every one of his designs that I’ve seen drives me up the wall. Yes, it accentuates the shape of the body and dancers’ movement, but it does so by shadowing the sides, creating strong demarcations between the dancers and the stage and also, more importantly, between the dancers themselves. This is particularly annoying in partnering work, where the dancers movements should relate to each other but, due to the side lighting, they remain distinct. This evening it went so far as to obscure actual points of contact between dancers. Lighting should accentuate the movement, not shove it down the audience’s throat. I don’t think think that I’ve seen a piece lit by him that I’d not rather have seen under a simple wash with 45° top-lighting with nothing more than basic adjustments to the levels and temperature as accents.

As to the dance itself, the first two pieces, Élégance Militant and Ví, somewhat blended together for me. I might have seen some explorations of femininity and what it means to live as a woman had I been less tired, but instead I enjoyed them both as purely abstract pieces. A small piece of Élégance Militant stood out for me in that it included live accompaniment by one of the dancers who also plays the violin by the name of Alice Romanov. She played from the stage, crossing over in front of the audience as the dancer performed stage right. It worked well. The rest I enjoyed but I haven’t much to say about it: nothing really stuck in my head beyond a general sense of enjoyment. My fatigue certainly explains part of this but a lot of it was a lack of distinctiveness between the two pieces and the limited vocabulary.

After the intermission the company came on wearing a variety of street fashions for a piece entitled Humans of NY. Presumably inspired by blog of the same name, this was a fun piece that played a lot with individual character. It ended blending a bit of the Charleston with the modern vernacular that was used for the rest of the program as they danced to Sing, Sing, Sing. It was a bit cheesy but a lot of fun.

The final piece of the evening, SHEnation, was a bit more moving than the rest. It began with a recording of Maya Angelou reading her poem Rainbow in the Clouds and, after a piece by Mumford & Sons, included another piece called the Ladder read reasonably effectively by Wakeham and written by Romanov, the dancer and violinist that I mentioned above. It was hard for me to focus on the words, occasionally it seemed to be referencing de Saint-Exupéry’s the Little Prince, but it was about a woman climbing a ladder, exploring her experiences as she advances to each rung. For this part, I do wish that I’d been better rested and more alert so that I could engage more cerebrally with the piece, but I enjoyed the general aesthetic created throughout, nevertheless.

They concluded with a choreographed curtain call, with each dancer taking an individual bow. They threw on Christmas sweaters, as though reminding this little Jewish man that they were doing a great service by providing me with a decent performance to enjoy that wasn’t about Christmas. For that, I am sincerely grateful.

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