Attack Theatre with Antonio Brown Dance
September 29, 2021
Reviewed by Steve Sucato
To christen its new Attack Theatre Studios in Lawrenceville, the 27-year-old modern dance company joined forces with NYC-based Antonio Brown Dance in Plus One, a work about community viewed through the lens of Black cookout culture.
Choreographed by former Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Company dancer Antonio Brown, the hourlong contemporary dance work was set to a soundtrack compiled by Brown that included YouTube audio clips and an eclectic array of music. Partially inspired by scenes from John Singleton’s 1991 film Boyz n the Hood, Zack Rushing’s YouTube video 1st black cookout, and the personal experiences of its six performers including Brown, the work, performed in theater and live-streamed, began with dancers from both troupes seated around two tables at opposite ends of the stage space and playing cards. The card game soon devolved into a dispute as the dancers slapped at the tables and flipped, stepped, twisted, and turned their bodies on and around the tables. The scene then gave way to Brown alone at a table breaking into a solo that fused modern and hip hop styles. The other dancers then joined him in a boastful posturing and playful mugging to the audience, “going to a cookout” group dance full of teasing, showing off, and having fun with one another.
The two company’s dancers blended together seamlessly as performers in Brown’s athletic choreography that mixed contemporary, modern, jazz, African, and hip hop dance styles over the course of the production.
In a scene early in the work, a male voiceover outlined the rules of attending a black BBQ cookout from no vegans and to always come late, to kids being barred from eating ribs. That ushered in a vibrant group dance to rap music that moved back and forth across the stage and was infused with twirling social dance movement revealing a palpable joy the dancers had in moving together.
Throughout the work, the stage set of tables and chairs along with the lighting scheme and the number of performers on stage changed with each scene. In one such scene, the male cast members (ABD’s Brown and Stephen Galberth) departed leaving the cast’s four women (Attack’s Miranda Nichols, Sarah Zielinski and ABD’s and Christiana Hunte, Tashae Udo) center stage to pantomime a smile-evoking and attitude-filled voiceover of a woman taking charge at a family holiday gathering.
Another joyously infectious scene found the cast butt shaking and leg-kicking in a line dance called the “Shuffle” to a song that sampled the beat from Michael Jackson’s song “Billie Jean” in which Zielinski mimicked being drunk as she drunk from a large soda cup through a straw.
In a dance work conjuring up a lot of vivid and entertaining imagery, several more scenes stood out including duets by Nichols and Zielinski in Attack’s familiar limb-nudging modern dance movement, and ABD’s Hunte and Udo skipping and shuffling their bodies to electronic music with a pulsing beat.
Plus One closed with the soundtrack from Rushing’s humorous YouTube video, 1st black cookout, about his fear at being the only white person at a black cookout. By its end, Rushing had come to realize he had a great time with great food, and with the best people you’ll ever meet. The cast, during that voiceover, performed unison dancing that drove home that sense of community and humanity no matter a person’s ethnicity or upbringing.
In some ways Plus One was unlike any dance work Attack Theatre has ever mounted. While being steeped in the collaborative and creative enthusiasm that has been a hallmark of the company since its inception, the work, with the help of ABD and Brown’s choreography, stretched Attack’s stylistic wings in a delightfully positive and satisfying way. And in doing so, invited all of us to be their plus one in experiencing it.
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.