Love Crossing the Blood-Brain Barrier

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Brance Souza in Drugs Can’t Buy, photo by Will Haraldson

There is always something especially exciting about attending a sold-out show—not the least of which is the fact that the community came out to show its support for its local dance artists. Highways hosted the recently founded fabe Dance company in their work, Drugs Can’t Buy. The project featured 10 dancers and was the result of a current Show Box L.A. residency. Exploring the nature of the primordial neural connections that we know as love, choreographer Mallory Fabian highlighted the able-bodied dancers in this work about contemporary culture, relationships, addiction, and the psycho-drama of a love-seeking brain.

The audience entered the black box performance space as the performers caroused, danced, drank, flirted, stumbled, laughed, and engaged onlookers in the scene of merrymaking while dropping the seeds of depravity that would come to fruition in the rest of the show. Dressed in pedestrian wear that mixed crushed velvet, satin slips, high-waisted pants, crop tops, belted trousers, and button-down shirts, the dancers had not only distinct costumes but also identifiable movement qualities and physicalized motifs. While the piece looked more like mayhem than design in these early stages, the movement themes became evident as this over-the-top beginning foreshadowed much of the movement material to come. Pointing to the sky, prancing, face grabbing, deep arching, two-fingered gesturing, and fist clenching were just some of what I was able to catch as characters emerged and redefined themselves throughout the show. The inclusion of talking, chatting, while laughing, while moving helped set the casual tone of the performance. It seemed very much like we were all at a party, or at least sitting on a couch watching our fellow partygoers get increasingly uninhibited.

Drugs Can't Buy fabe Dance

Drugs Can’t Buy, photo by Will Haraldson

Post party, we were introduced to a solo figure, performed by Nikki Nistal, dressed in a neutral slip (compared to the colorful garb of the partygoers) disturbingly connected via a thick metal clasp to a thick rope at her waist. In contrast to the others, she didn’t speak; she seemed self-conscious and sensitive, as displayed in her opening solo featuring heavy limbs, sustained flow through her torso, and internal focus. Her oozing movement was earthy and organic, creating a softer, albeit tragic, feel of her persona through her movement.

The contrast between the party world of chemically induced denial, its resulting tragedy, and the solo figure established the question for the evening. Who was this girl? What was her story, and how did she fit in with the rest of this mayhem? While not all the questions were clearly answered, the program notes regarding love as a chain of chemical reactions inside the body/brain hinted that she was perhaps the individual in whom these other stories existed as memory or myth. At times she just watched; other times she attempted to join, but was always prohibited by the rope tying her to an unknown entity off stage. Her continual presence, sometimes more active and other times more passive, was just one of the many components to a string of vignettes in which we learn of one woman’s drug habit, abortion, and resulting broken heart (played by Clementine Gamson Levy); a gender fluid (or transgender?) man’s struggle for identity and control and the resulting cruelty to others (played by Caileigh Knapp); and the perpetually romantic, trouser-wearing guy (played by Tin Nguyen) who is content to lie looking at the stars, waiting for the right girl to come along—she doesn’t. While each dancer had a distinct flavor and at least a short solo (if not a longer duet), the disjointed nature of the work made it tricky to follow each as they wove in and out of each other’s stories amid hangovers and externalized brain conversations.

Fabian clearly has a knack for flexible thinking in her abstract–narrative blend of dance theater. The edgy and even blunt representation of the human struggle is part of what makes this work appealing, especially to other young adults looking for love and struggling to chase after its chemical high. The theme of muscle-bound shaking, wringing, and writhing expressed the personal torment at the heart of the work. The choreography is credited as in collaboration with the dancers; a program note about the process and how the characters emerged would have given great insight into the composition of the work. This piece celebrated individualism over neatly packaged moments of union; however, the personal variation in dancer performance occasionally made it hard to identify phrase work that was borrowed or shared between performers. As it was, in retrospect, the character notes provided by each of the performers’ names allowed for some post-show clarification in intent but didn’t afford additional clarity in the nature of the work or the choreographic questions at its heart.

With additional contributions by prop/set designer Tom E. Kelly and lighting design by Darius Gangei, Drugs Can’t Buy and the work of fabe Dance is one I would highly recommend to those looking for dance that needs to be known body first and brain second. Those who feel caught in the grasp of cultural practices of meaningless connection as they search for meaning might be able to identify themselves, their friends, and their lovers amid the chaos and soul-shuddering movement vocabulary of this work.

Additional performers included Paige Amicon (impressively skilled and funny too), Sara Hartless (trained in blazer romance), Darby Kelly (kick your ass), Sam McReynolds (dynamically captivating), Shane Raiford (elegant), Brance Souza (powerful and engaging), and Taylor Unwin (lovely).

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Taylor Unwin in Drugs Can’t Buy, photo by Will Haraldson

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