I caught a sort of working preview of some of Raianna Brown’s choreography in RAIIN Dance Theater’s “in Human” at group performance concert put together by Nadya Zeitlin at the Midtown Players Club last May and I thought that it was pretty good. Because it was a small excerpt with only a few dancers without any kind of lighting or set pieces, I wasn’t quite expecting the remarkably large production that they put on last night. Remarkably large and really quite good – exceptionally good if you consider that these were mostly semi-professionals and students, the largest proportion of whom are studying things like engineering or psychology and are not dance majors.
I regret not jotting down some notes last night when I got home from the show, because I have little in the way of specifics left in my sad, little memory. Thematically, it was a sober look at some of the greatest (and, in some cases, tragic) stressors of being Black in America. Although sober and serious, it was also a very energetic work. It was set to a variety of music, with a lot of recorded hip hop and also some live performances by a duo of sax and percussion. There was also a lot of live poetry delivered skillfully by Rica G, founder of CYPHER (Cutlivating Young People Harnessing Energy & Respect) and several of her mentees. The poetry was blunt but not without wit and was spoken with the strong rhythms born of hip hop and used in slam poetry. To say that it spoke strongly to the crowd would be an understatement as it often elicited more applause and affirmative vocalizations as the dance did.
The stagecraft was good. The only set piece was a set of four T-shaped structures with Atlanta-themed street-art on them that, when put next to each other, formed an arcade behind the dancers. They were moveable and were, at times, removed from the stage by the dancers. At other times, screens were used to fill the space under the arches with lights shining behind them. There were also some projections of static images and shapes from a high angle onto them, creating a changeable backdrop for the dancers.
Broadly speaking, the choreography was a skillful blend of dance styles, creating a kind of dance pidgin that was very effective in expressing the themes that Raianna wanted to explore in this work. At times, the choreography wasn’t as expressive as it might have been and relied on the poets and the music to tell the story more than I’d have liked, but there were moments of sublime beauty expressing strong emotion that could stand on its own. Overall, I was pleased and surprised at how good it was. I’ll definitely be looking for opportunities to see more work by Brown and the company in the future.