Project 7 Contemporary Dance Company, directed by Cherrise Wakeham, debuted their latest production, EquiLIFTrium, Friday, July 20-21 at the Balzer Theater at Herren’s. Although the concept behind the show had the potential to be a hard-hitting night of dance, the choreography fell a little short.
Wakeham’s event was meant to “lift awareness and shift perspective.” The story of the performance centered around five very different women living equally different lives. To distinguish each dancer and their character from number to number, they waylaid confusion by wearing the same color throughout costume changes. The goal was to show the magnitude of how every-day occurrences and run-ins between strangers could change the way you live your life.
For much of the performance, the choreography and production choices did not result in the above proclamation. Entertaining yes, but for art to be successful as art, there needs to be more than just something holding your attention; it needs to make you think.
Even with the type of commercialized dance that we see on shows like So You Think You Can Dance, there is a rich and dynamic quality to the performances that also offers the audience an emotional reaction. EquiLIFTrium lacked this: there was just too much crammed in. While it is respectable to use different dance styles within a performance, and it is engaging to throw in collaboration between contemporary dancers and the Swagger Crew, EquiLIFTrium needed more time in the critique and editing process to really make the concept behind this event come to fruition.
The performance as a whole was unsuccessful in its mission, but if you were to separate the numbers, there were a few that stood out and showed the strength and talent of the dancers—Sam Janus, Torrie Gold, Ashley Watson, Caroline Fagan, and Mary Francis Doss—as well as Wakeham’s capabilities as a choreographer. The best of the selection was definitely the number set to Imogen Heap’s “Hide and Seek,” Bjork’s “Hyperballad,” and James Vincent McMorrow’s “We Don’t Eat.”
These numbers fully represented what Wakeham set out to do. They differed due to the use of props and set pieces in ways that didn’t distract. It was captivating to watch. During these moments, EquiLIFTrium finally reached its goal and stood true to what dance is all about: the bending, turning, positioning, and leaping of the body to characterize a certain human aspect or experience. The emotional quality of the movement and the dedication from the dancers brought the show to a positive close.
Some of the other numbers felt hokey at times. The “Starbucks” by Julia Sweeney number had no real connection to the work that Wakeham seemed to want to present. It was another moment where less would have been more. It began with one of the dancers miming over an audio recording, alone on stage minus the few pop-ins by other dancers portraying baristas. This lead to a musical theater number, that was fun, but unnecessary. While I appreciate the playfulness, it made the message hard to realize, giving it the feel of a dance recital.
The dancers also could have been pushed harder. It was clear from the lines and moves that they produced that they deserved more of a challenge. Each dancer was mature enough in age and well versed in different modes of dance to handle tougher material both physically and emotionally.
Whether it was a lack of time, confidence in audience comprehension, or simply an attempt to pander to a popular aesthetic, Wakeham’s latest production didn’t live up to the hype. It’s fine to create easily attainable performances and play to the commercial side of the art realm, but even this work should contain enough depth that it can be understood and respected on many different levels. Enjoyable yes, but for a mature audience member, I kept holding out for more.