Contemporary Dance by Christopher K. Morgan and Artists

Last Sunday evening I had the pleasure of viewing Christopher K. Morgan & Artists’ premiere of On Defen(c)e, as well as renditions of In the Cold Room and Rice.  Morgan is a jack of all trades- an engaging performer, compelling choreographer, and successful curator as Dance Place’s Executive Artistic Director.

The show opened with three women in nude colored shifts that looked like hospital gowns. What a happy surprise to see that Maki Onuki from the Washington Ballet was amongst them! I first saw Onuki as the mesmerizing French prostitute in Washington Ballet’s dance adaptation of The Sun Also Rises. Her dancing is at once strong yet supple with an ethereal quality. The three women’s graceful movements were underscored by a sense of sadness, both in emotion and in the music played live by electric cellist Wytold. Strings squawked and screech as the dancing become tortured, before falling blissfully silent.

In Rice, Morgan performed a poignant dance theater piece about race relations and growing up in a large Hawaiian family. On stage, a huge fish tank sat atop a stool. Morgan explored the history of rice through movement and speech in cultures from China to Italy. He filled the tank with rice and water, a few grains escaping to the floor. As he discussed his childhood duty of washing the rice for dinner, you felt like you had stayed late at a party and a small group of people were now exchanging confessions and secrets around the table. He confided that he had hoped the task would wash away the color of skin until he was as white as the rice. Water droplets flew from his fingertips as he spun them around like a raver, white rice powder coating his face and arms.

The lights came up on a tetris-ed wall of suitcases in all manner of sizes and colors and a dancer approached from amongst the audience carrying her own suitcase. She knocked on the wall, attempting to move some suitcases to get through. I was skeptical at first when I saw that On Defen(c)e would be examining stories of immigration and borders, having seen at least five other dance performances with the same theme this year. Morgan managed to capture a wide range of human emotions and relationships as five dancers moved in and through the wall, blocking each other in or out, desperately searching for their identity amongst their belongings and within their community. The piece was performed to another incredible live original score by Wytold.

The show perfectly encapsulated what I’ve come to see as quintessential to the DC local dance scene- addressing social issues (usually through talking) and building community- while the dancing was a level you would pay 5x the amount for at the Kennedy Center.

Val OliphantComment