Tuesday, December 5, 2023


Jeff Shade Dance Project Playground


There once was a man who viewed the world and the people in it as dark, closed off and unforgiving. This man could see no reason to live based on his own loneliness and inner demons. He sees his own demons projected on the people that populate his cold, dark world. Inner-angst, depression and self-doubt revolve around and around in a maddening circle in this man’s brain. A man with a gun. A gun that is very close to his body at all times. A gun that is very close to ending this cold, dark life. But, is there a light? Can an angel aka another good person open up his eyes to the precious value of life by showing him the magic and beauty of human relationships? Can this angelic person show him that the people that he has been viewing as closed-off and evil are really playful, loving creatures whose most sought after thing is companionship?

A baby’s cry-the most resonant symbol of life and life’s ability to create and coexist. With every transition in the music, there is a wailing infant’s cry. Kudos to the composer of this original composition, Brent Lord. This cry pierces through the suicidal man’s mind as he is visibly tormented by this calling. This cry makes him question his decision to kill himself. He was a baby once and had a mother who brought him into this world. Once, he thought that life was good when he was innocent, untainted. Now, all that he sees are people who wear dark black hoods around their heads so that a face can’t even be seen. These black hooded sweatshirts make the people look as though they are grim-reapers, taunting him by the way that they wave their arms into the death chamber.

Jeff Shade as choreographer and creator of Playground is brilliant. From the moments of intense, painful writhing to the wide spectrum of play and companionship, Jeff clearly tells us a beautiful story of a suicidal man who, though dance, is shown the lighter and sweeter sides of humanity.

Jason Dougherty brilliantly depicts the suicidal man. Jason’s every inch is wrought with intensity and angst. Every movement from his tiny head twitches inside his black hood to his spectacular, joyous dancing (especially his side jete!) is passionately acted as well as danced. Ryan Kasprzak, is charismatic as the angelic figure. He gives Jason a crystal ball near the beginning of the piece that he forces him to look into. Through this ball, the suicidal man is able to see the human condition in a new light. As sMan (suicidal man) sits in the corner mesmerized by this ball, the people who once writhed and flailed in black hoodies, luring the suicidal man into their darkness are now in bright, colorful clothing as they play and dance with each other to joyous, playful music. The angel is showing sMan a new perspective on life through this crystal ball. At one point, the angel grabs the sphere from sMan’s hands and throws it into the playful crowd. Much to the audience’s surprise, it bounces, and a dance ensues utilizing the bouncing ball otherwise known as the light that helps sMan see that humans are loving, playful creatures who just need others to get through life.

Mr. Shade brings us many playful surprises such as the bouncing ball number throughout this piece. In another instance, colorful tubes appear from a long black bag. This black bag once laid at sMan’s feet, symbolizing a life obstacle that one just can’t get past. He forlornly stared down at it and stood motionless behind it. The obstacle quickly turns into a bag of colored tubes that make all of the notes of a major scale as the dancers hit them on the ground…and each other. A comedic and light-hearted dance blossoms. Once again, something that sMan once viewed as hopeless turns into something communal and fun. Later in the piece, tap shoes are found in a bag, the same bag that the gun was in. The angel turns imminent death into life as Man puts the tap shoes on, following the angel’s lead. The other dancers emerge from underneath a sheet equipped with tap shoes and black hoodies. At first, everyone is on the defense. The angel demonstrates a step to the hooded creatures. They start to answer his call by repeating the tap step that he has done. After observing the angel do this for a while, sMan decides to join in. He immediately is immersed in a beautiful conversation of rhythms as each and everyone of the dancers takes their hoods off and reciprocates his tap steps. sMan needs to be shown that all it takes is a little effort to confront his fears (inter-personalization).

Jeff Shade creates a dynamic picture of what it is to be a man on the brink of suicide. At sMan’s worst moments, he is writhing with internal pain and staring death in the face, and at his best, he is rejoicing in life and doing high-arced “x jumps” with his friends. In the end, all of the dancers walk to the foot of the stage in a straight line and stare indifferently at the audience. Maybe they have all had thoughts of suicide at one time or another, but they have all found the lightness and love of life-something that sMan now possesses thanks to his angel friend. On the last beat of the music, they all reach frantically up, facing away from the audience, and then blackout. Just because these colorful, playful friends helped sMan see the light of life, doesn’t mean that none of them have seen the darkness of suicidal thoughts. They also must boldly extend their hand for help. A helping hand from another loving person.

All of the proceeds of this show go toThe Trevor Helplineand Covenant House, The Nine Line. To make a donation to either of these two suicide prevention organizations, click on the above mentioned titles, and you will be directed to the donation page.

Jeff Shade’s dance company is calledJeff Shade Dance Project. Click on the name of his dance company, and you will be directed to his page. Here, you can find out more about the company and also make a donation.

The stellar cast includes Al Blackstone, Zachary L. Denison, Jason Dougherty, Rashaan James II, Donielle Ej Janora, Ryan Kasprzak, Tiffany Powell, Chad Ritter and Mark RolandMark Roland

Choreography and conceived by Jeff Shade

Music by Brent Lord
Production Stage Manager: Janine L. Pangburn
Lights: Philippe Bachy
Sound: Brent Lord
Casting: Paul Davis/Calleri Casting
Photography: Ben Strothman
Postcard Design: Kirk McGee
House Management: William Michael
Production Assistance Provided by Paul Davis/Bixby Elliot/Adam Fitzgerald/Nikole Vallins/Joey Oliva

iDANZ Critix Corner
Dance Review by Adrienne Jean Fisher
Performance: Playground, Jeff Shade Dance Project
Venue: Manhattan Movement & Arts Center, New York City
Date: Thursday, December 4, 2008


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