Concept Dances debut filled with freshness, collaboration and surprising 'chair-ography'

Everyone knows the feeling that comes about when teachers and bosses alike say those dreaded words: group project. There’s the person who does everything and the person who does nothing, and there’s probably a chance someone drops the ball on some aspect come final presentations, so what good can actually come from a group project? Well, “However,” the debut performance of Concept Dances, is the epitome of the good that comes from group projects. Five local, emerging choreographic minds have pieced together their first evening length work that’s undoubtably worth the time, money and thought. 

In a space filled with abstractly colorful art and warmly effervescent string lights, the theater-in-the-round-esque seating style at Fulton Street Collective evokes a cozy, yet performative atmosphere that’s highly enticing upon entry. When the performers come out and announce the beginning of the show themselves, it deepens the affection felt for the crew of artists. The passion and pride exuding off them is palpable, and it helps us understand just how much work they’ve put into the piece. 

The beginning of “However” is like a slow burn, subtly building into a hypnotic trance. Neon magenta and blue lights fill the make-shift stage whilst a DJ live-mixes the dance’s soundtrack— an idea so openly showcased by the small handful of choreographers. It’s evocative of club settings, and the ambient beats provide the dancers with a blank template for movement exploration. We meet the dancers in a steady stream, each entering with their individual styles. Yet it’s the first dancer we meet that truly sets the tone. With a captivating and precise nature, Elijah Motley’s crisp, pedestrian solo draws viewers into the world about to be crafted in front of our curious eyes. 

As the original quintet-turned-quartet— an unfortunate injury prevented choreographer Jessica Morales from performing—attempts to explore the concepts of empathy and connection. They do so via physical contact, yet the group never seems to move in total unison. Solos are in plenty and trios are sprinkled throughout, but the majority of “However” plays with the concept of duets. Intriguing person-to-person duets wow with gravity-defying lifts, and melt hearts with tender embraces frozen for mere moments. But it’s the interactions between the dancers and the focal prop, a red, woven chair, that is the most stimulating. The object is as much a part of the piece as any of the movers are. It provides support in the way a person would as the dancers jump, lift, and maneuver their way around, under and alongside it. They manage to successfully make the audience see the lifeless object as living, and in a choreographic sense, it is entirely refreshing to see chair-ography from such a new vantagepoint.

The first half of the evening’s work, filled with amorphous movement broken up by articulate gestures, culminates with a swift exit and an announcement of a brief intermission. Though it doesn’t feel necessary to break up the two 20-minute acts, the 10-minute intermission definitively allotted for a mental division of concepts. 

Within the second half of “However,” we get a glimpse into the more combative side of these movers. They take up more space with demanding floor-work, filled with summersaults and handstands of impressive caliber. There’s a more direct focus on inter-personal connection as the chair that drove so much of the first half sits on a boxy, white platform for a large portion of the second act. Improvisation blends seamlessly with structured choreography bringing about a slight air of monotony, yet the continuously flowing music countered by sporadic spikes in their well-rehearsed movement patterns prevents the piece from delving into a stagnate territory.

With a laugh-inducing contemporary take on what seems to be the “Cha-Cha Slide,” we’re able to recognize humor in the work, and each dancer, in turn, shows us their personality. Dancer Carly Broutman overexaggerates her facial expressions, Krista Zozulia plays with a smile-inducing groove, and dancer Timothy Tsang impresses with a recognizable ode to house dance. Through this all the chair remains in the background, until the focus shifts back to it once again. The choreographers so brilliantly morph that sitting apparatus into a pseudo-human by dressing it in pedestrian costuming. A hat, a scarf, socks, and a hair-tie all are left adorning the fifth character in the story. And as the four dancers leave their creation mid-floor, they finish with an abrupt exit and an endearing wave. 

There’s a fresh quality to the work Concept Dances put forth on this Friday evening, and Fulton Street Collective is the utterly perfect location for their debut; any other space would have been too big for the intimate qualities presented in “However.” With future expansions already in the work, there’s much to look forward to from this collective ripe with promise.