March 26-27, 2021
Reviewed by Steve Sucato
Perhaps one of the best signs there is light at the end of this global pandemic tunnel is the return of independent dancers/choreographers once again venturing out into the public to present work. Such was the case with Garage Experiments, a works-in-progress showcase of six dancer/choreographers and one photographer.
The drive-up showcase held at the Galleria garage in Cleveland, March 26-27 was light on “dancey” dance works favoring more conceptual/experimental performance art-like pieces. Those began with the showcase’s first work, the exceedingly brief, “Contain Emerge Contain”, choreographed and performed by Elaine Hullihen.
In the middle of two opposing lines of vehicles with their occupants seated in portable chairs in front of them, Hullihen hid under a knitted quilt to begin her dance work. Moving from a fetal position under the quilt, she writhed and squirmed in silence until she slowly emerging from under the quilt to a seated position. Knees pulled up in front of her and clutching the quilt tightly to her chest she buried her face in it and rocked back and forth as if wary of her surroundings and being seen. The rocking continued until enough momentum was gained by the action to launch her to her feet. Once standing, quilt in hand, she scanned the audience as if puzzled by their presence and walked off. Much like the passing glance through a car window of a pedestrian engaged in something peculiar, Hullihen’s work gave only momentary pause as to what was going on in it and little else. Perhaps later iterations of the work will reveal more intent, substance, and direction.
Next, Samuel McIntosh performed a fluid, undulating solo reminiscent of old school street dance styles in “ACCELERATOR EP.7”. In it, McIntosh revealed a subtlety and smoothness to his dancing like that of the late Michael Jackson. The brief solo left this viewer wanting more.
Kali Salzano’s “Hold On, Sit Tight” — the first of Garage Experiments prop heavy works — saw her walk backwards into the performance space waving her arms toward her as if directing a vehicle to follow. Costumed in a white hard hat and mask, she dragged along a doll-sized baby cradle with a roll of white fabric in it via a rope tied to her waist. After cutting the rope from her waist she then pulled on it to rock the cradle. Then inexplicably she sat down, stripped of her shoes and socks and threw them at the cradle. This rather bizarre series of tasks that made up the work (performed mostly in silence) continued as Salzano began taping the white fabric from the cradle onto the windshield of an audience member’s car who watching her from within. As if the work’s initial collection of props wasn’t enough, Salzano ran off stage to retrieve more; a mini picnic table, a bunch of table grapes, a bottle of sparkling wine and a strip of fake grass with which she created a picnic scene. Returning to the vehicle whose windshield she covered, Salzano uncovered it and gestured to the car’s occupants to look at the picnic scene as if to say “ta da! Look what I have for you?”. One could only guess at Salzano’s intention with the pseudo-dance piece.
The sister act of Emily and Sara Liptow came next with “Find a Place You Trust and Then Try Trusting It For While”. Here the use of props continued but was secondary to the dancing. In it, the two sisters created imagery that evoked their individual artistic passions. Sara, a freelance photographer set up a makeshift photography studio complete with a rolled out paper backdrop and a table and chair. She then moved about the scene, camera in hand, taking photos. While this was going on, Emily, the dancer, traversed the perimeter of the stage space in a solo that saw her reaching and retreating, curling and spinning through measured modern dance choreography. Sara and Emily’s two artistic worlds then collided when a physically exhausted Emily, plopped herself into the chair in her sister’s photography studio scene and Sara began taking photos of her. Of the works-in-progress shown on the program, “Find a Place You Trust and Then Try Trusting It For While” felt like the most complete.
Next, dancer/choreographer Sarah Holmes Villanueva continued a theme explored in a prior work of hers using long black metal rods. In her solo “The Dream”, Villanueva began by dragging a clanking rod behind her as gothic organ music began to fill the performance space. Gathering another of the rods she used them as a means of supporting her body in angular, leaning movements about the space. A change in the music to a pulsating beat then saw Villanueva’s movement switch to rocking back and forth and laying out a series of rods on the floor like railroad tracks that she danced along. The curious, yet meticulous dance work ended with her lying on the garage floor covering herself in the metal rods.
More rods, this time silver, showed up in the final work on the program, Martinique Mims’ “Breaking Free”. Joining Mims and the rods onstage was a Jenga-like tower of wood blocks that Mims seemed to stalk in gymnastic movement to new age sounding music. Abruptly shattering this opening calm, Mims’ then violently knocked over the wooden block tower and began tossing the blocks about to reveal within the rubble a red, black, and green African American flag that she wrapped around herself. The work concluded with her in a defiant and celebratory dance to African music.
In the end, Garage Experiments amounted to a collection of rather simplistic, prop-centric movement exercises that teamed with metaphor. And while making art in a time of pandemic was itself a win for the talent involved in the production, this reviewer feels each of them could have aimed higher in their creative aspirations.
Steve Sucato is a former dancer turned arts writer/critic. He is Chairman Emeritus of the Dance Critics Association and Associate Editor of ExploreDance.com.