Review: Identity Performing Arts presents “Fearless,” an evening of original work and one premiere by Ginny Ching-Yin Lo

On May 5 at The Myron R. Szold Music & Dance Hall, Identity Performing Arts presented “Fearless,” a series of repertory works and one premiere by choreographer and company artistic director Ginny Ching-Yin Lo. The works were set on a small company of dancers and performed to music both recorded and live, with sweeping soundscapes created by experimental electronic duo “Chromabeats,”—whose members are named Mancho (Marshal Greenhouse) and functionless (Wiebe Dirk)—with the addition of Alex Brinkman on cello and Eli Lu on keyboard. The band huddled cozily in the back left corner of the stage and opened the show with an abrupt and impromptu, two-song sound check/jam session. The band set the mood with smooth chords on the keys, long and looping percussive riffs and back and forth melodic conversations between guitar and cello, a warm welcome for an audience just coming in from an unseasonably cold and rainy day.

The first work presented is “Viccissitudes,” described in the program as an expression of how to retain joy while coping with stress. The piece begins with four dancers in tank tops and loose, plum-colored pants walking in crosshatch formation, each one nearly missing the other as they trace the lines of an imaginary checkerboard. “Chromabeats” accompanies the movement with accumulating layers of looping digital sounds, and the dancers match the rhythms in the music exactly. One dancer performs long extensions of an arm to a long, drawn out note on a distorted trombone. Another dancer sinks to the floor via a slow, reverse push-up while the sound of prolonged laser blasts shoots past my ears. The dancers meet in the center and some begin to lilt, activated again with the brush of the hand of another. Over and over again, just as one is about to fall, they are lifted with a touch, a clear example of the supportive web created through human connection.

The next three works are part of a suite of short vignettes featuring an expanded company of dancers set to uncredited recorded music. In “Intensity. Transcendancy,” three dancers beneath icy blue and grey lights go through a series of movement motifs—spinning chaîné turns with hands pinched atop shoulders; slow fans of the right arm on the ground; comedic bourrées with arms spread wide and pizzicato tapping in the feet—all done while engulfed in an orchestral swell of violins and timpani.

“Love, Loss, Lingering” tells a story of four dancers who, though sharing the stage physically, are lost in their own worlds. Dancers bathed in purple lighting perform, in succession, a series of canonical movements that repeat in each dancer at different times. Bent-leg battements to the side, and then the leg swings back, replaced by arms shooting forward then clasping together. The hands rotate and push the right elbow out, aggressively jabbing it at the air. In contrast to the show opener, “Viccissitudes,” this piece shows the dangers of people under stress, but with a lack of human connection, dancing together, yet alone.

 “Brutality” features five dancers and an industrial soundscape played at a volume that caused a buzzing distortion in the speakers and a ringing in my ears. Dressed in grey shirts and black shorts, we are shown another series of motifs—extended arms slice sharply through the air, both hands grab from above and pull back towards the chest, impaling the torso on an imaginary dagger—this time done not in succession, but seemingly sporadic. They come together and their angst is mollified by a cool wave that affects first their fingertips, then rolls down through the head, neck, spine and into the knees. Together they take one deep breath and…blackout. Living up to its namesake, “Brutality” was the most aggressive of the three, but moments like “the wave” maintain the sense of optimism found in all of the evening’s works so far.

“Fearless,” is a world premiere that features all seven company members in various combinations of light, white clothing, accompanied again by “Chromabeats,” and is described in the program as a work that “explores the role of fear in our life journeys.” The piece begins with an eye-catching pinwheel effect: sitting in a circle, the seven dancers synchronously reach one arm across their bodies, place it on the ground next to their hip, leaning on it. They then leverage their weight to spiral over and around the weight-bearing arm, shifting places with each spiral. The pinwheel expands and contracts like an undulating jellyfish.

In “Fearless,” there are generous moments of solo work. A stark shift to red lighting highlights the emergence of Juan Enrique Irizary, dressed in only a wispy skirt, who hits powerful poses that make his muscles pop and bulge, but belies this bravado by performing a series of weightless mid-air body rolls, collapsing heavily to the floor but making no sound. Irizary is joined by Amelia Harris in a duet that has both dancers flipping the other over their shoulders and launching each other into the air in equal measure. Mollyanne Nunn displays impressive core strength with a feet-up, balancing on her shoulders static hold, and Kaleigh Dent even got an audible “oh” out of me during a string of quadruple pirouettes that ended so slowly, so perfectly balanced, that she appeared momentarily as a figurine in a winding-down music box.

The show moved along quickly, but that doesn’t mean that there weren’t some hiccups along the way. Besides the loud volume of the recorded music, audible conversations from backstage bled onto the stage. Blackouts were not held between the numbers in the suite, and these flat transitions let the air out of the ambiance. While Lo’s choreography is tied tightly to the rhythm and the cadence of the music, that connection was not completely realized by some of the dancers, in moments that I can only describe as not being satisfactorily rehearsed.

What is impressive is the diversity in Lo’s choreography. Despite the entire show being composed by a single artist, each piece felt fresh and exciting. Lo pays careful attention to the details in the music, giving each work its own unique and organic identity. If I have one complaint about the choreography it is that there were parts, like the finale in the piece titled “Fearless,” where it felt like it ended right as the dancing was really heating up. Overall, “Fearless” is an enjoyable show, full of potential, and, with a little fine-tuning, worth checking out.