Tuesday, November 29, 2022

Dance Review: "Sundowning… The DASH Ensemble Rising!"

The DASH Ensemble, Photography by Tom Caravaglia Julliard and Purchase once again prove that they are still churning out hot young dancers with their “DASH Ensemble”, as seven of them present Gregory Dolbashian’s Sundowning at Joyce SoHo.  Dolbashian’s sometimes-uneven choreography looks phenomenal when attacked with such commitment, although the work as an evening-length performance has miles to go before full cohesion of ideas is achieved.  However, Dolbashian presents us with a colorful display of humanity under the spell of a setting sun.

“Sundowning” or “sundown syndrome” is an unexplainable medical condition, where patients experience increased agitation and disorientation in the late afternoon/early evening.  It is thought that diminished ability to detect the onset of night might create these emotional disturbances and cardiac irregularities. Burke Wilmore’s exquisite lighting choices play with your eyes in subtle organic variations.  His vision of sunset includes both a watered down palette of colors and striking shadowy visuals in black and white.  On top of this… a sea of dancers exploring different realms of consciousness.

Real Friends, Real Dancers, Real Pros.... Only on iDANZ.  Join Today!The piece opens as Christopher Ralph backs into the space, his eyes hazed over as if he can see nothing even after looking for too long.  Ralph is an amazing technician and is quickly joined by the equally talented Antonio Brown and Jonathan Windham.  The trio, twitching and agitated, begin to ooze mysteriously through a backward driving turn sequence, falling off balance as if in total disorientation.  All have legs for days as they hit their forehead on their knees, kick into arabesque and flip around.  I find it a shame that Dolbashian teases the audience a bit in the opening, with thoughtfully phrased movement sequences, showcasing the dancers training…  for this type of ferocious dancing only returns intermittently throughout the work.

The DASH Ensemble, Photography by Tom CaravagliaFor me, Sundowning takes a left in sections that present quite a different story. The more mature sections of solid choreography, where the intension is expressed through the body (in more of a concert style of dance) contrast sharply with more playful adolescent scenes that seem to come out of the downtown dance scene.  In the latter, the dancers joke, play and say the strangest things.  It is not that the text is inappropriate in dance- but Dolbashian needs to decide what style of dance to utilize.  He seems trapped not only between day and night – but Uptown and Downtown as well.  He takes the company of versatile movers and spends most of the evening testing out how many things he can do with a black jacket from puppet show, to security blanket, to plague infested cloak.

Starting with such beautiful movement that started to explore the theme of Sundowning, the spoken text seemed to drag the work down in a form of reverse maturity.  The text itself needs to be more thoughtfully used as I recognized excerpts from other choreographer’s works. (One example being a scene from Purchase faculty Kevin Wynn’s Tracing Sirocco in 2006).  In another text-laden section, Brown digs deep to give his best performance of the night unfortunately while repeating various shouted snippets of the phrase, “I need someone to help me understand what I am doing…how to help myself…Why can’t he just love me the way I need?”

The DASH Ensemble, Photography by Tom CaravagliaIn 2009, audiences are less concerned about the line between uptown and downtown dance scenes although Dolbashian’s effort to blur these is unsuccessful. I would welcome an edit and exploration of those sections that best captured the strange and eerie concept of “sundowning.”  Other beautiful and stunning sections appear throughout the work where dancers explore a movement idea in more fragmented ways with gradual development of a single phrase.  In several scenes, Alexandra Johnson’s extreme ability to express mood with understated movement effort is intense and stunning.

I think that exploring “sundown syndrome” through two different styles of dance was a lot to bite off.  Not to be a purist, but some of their raw movement material really got me thinking and experiencing emotion with the dancers… and it was a shame to squash that experience with the less electric “talk and play” sections. However, it is those sparks of solid dancing that convince me that The Dash Ensemble is a new company to watch! 

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Official Dance Review by Sasha Deveaux
Performance:  The DASH Ensemble
Choreographer: Gregory Dolbashian
Dancers: Antonio Brown, Marie Doherty, Caitlin Fennick, Alexandra Johnson, Christopher Ralph, Shakirah Stewart and Jonathan Windham.
Lighting: Burke Wilmore
Venue: Joyce SoHo
Date: Friday, December 4, 2009 @ 8:00pm

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