Agami is a Joy this season at the Wallis

There is magic in Agami’s latest work entitled Joy. With original, live music by cellist Isaiah Gage, Joy is a work in three acts that carries the audience through realms of play, absurdity, beauty, and intimacy. The exquisite performers executed the vision with clarity and finesse, transforming themselves with ease through intricate shapings of the body with predatory speed.

Ate9 Dance Company inWorld premiere of Joy, choreographed by Danielle Agami (L-R,B-F) Dancers Nat Wilson, Jobel Medina, Bronte Mayo, Evan Sagadencky, Cacia LaCount, Chris Hahn, Montay Romero, Jordyn Santiago, and Paige Amicon.

Act I, entitled NOW, cunningly brings the audience into the present moment by actively requesting a minute of complete passivity on behalf of the viewer in the name of building trust in the relationship. Of course, the function of this request does the exact opposite. It brought the entirety of the audience directly into the present moment: alert, aware and awake to not only the dancers but themselves as participants in a live performance event.

The dancers traveled from up to down stage entering and exiting through white fabric panels which functioned as an asymmetrical backdrop framing a screen on which messages were projected to the audience giving key information about expectations for this meeting. The use of projected text as a means of direct communication to the audience provided a meta commentary on the performance further strengthening the sense of spectatorship into a world that is separate from everyday life. 

From the first moments the dancers displayed their physical prowess and careful attention to details both subtle and bold. Flexed-toe extensions, tremendous deep knee bends, and thrusting modes of travel foreshadowed the movements to come. The texture of the space ebbed and flowed with a sense of continuity and natural ease so that each moment begat the next in a hypnotic flow. Solos and duets formed and reformed without committing to a single protagonist. In this way the balance of the cast as an ensemble was well established and continually maintained. Whimsy dominated this first section as dancers rolled and scooted in large cardboard boxes, danced with a bouncing ball and a small dog (whom we later learn is George), drove a blue, electric kids car around the space, and inventively modeled clear plastic cones around their necks in the style of dogs coming from the vet.

(In retrospect this whole work could easily be an expression of the world as experienced by Agami’s dog, George and the simple joy of being alive).

Act I in World premiere of Joy, choreographed by Danielle Agami. Featuring dancers (L-R) Nat Wilson, Montay Romero, Bronte Mayo, Jobel Medina, Cacia LaCount, Evan Sagadencky, Chris Hahn, Paige Amicon, Isaiah Gage (on cello)

The act concluded with the kid’s car sadly getting ticketed and towed as it’s driver cleared the stage of the trash that had been dumped by the cast just before. With many props to contend with, the dancers’ moved in direct response to the physical objects without being overly dancey or contrived. The dancers were real people dealing with real “stuff” and the residue of living which is not always pretty. Nature in the form of wood chips and evergreen branches dropped from overhead in a fit of desperation as the dancers clung to the end of the stage on their bellies as if falling from the side of a tall building. The illusion was convincing and space bending.

Act II, entitled THEN, took a much more choreographed turn as the props and debris had all been cleared during the break and the space was free for large movement phrases that highlighted the dancers’ command of their physicality as instruments of pure potential. This section was divinely crafted and performed with big dancing in a variety of energies and efforts set to the continued, live-looped music in sevens by cellist Gage. Dancers traveled sideways in bold pathways as other solos, duets, and trios wove in and out of the ensemble. The diverse movement vocabulary, as flavored by Agami’s extensive background in Gaga movement practice, had dancers doing every movement imaginable–on the floor, in the air, lunging, floating, falling, turning. The dancers performed with such attention to detail and with such an endless sense of capacity, that one is left to believe that they could do anything they wanted with their bodies; and, that would largely be true. The conviction embedded in the dancers bodies is so compelling that their lack of facial design barely registers. Their equanimous faces make them into superhumans not only manipulating their bodies but the energy in the space around them as seen in a section in which two dancers began fighting by throwing energy at each other. Additional dancers joined the fight until they were all involved, hurling energy back and forth, one against all. 

Paige Amicon in her Act 2 solo in the world premiere of Joy, created and choreographed by Danielle Agami.

A distinct solo performed by Paige Amicon did stand out from the rest of this act which tended to melt each big dance moment into the next. Amicon, dressed in a simple black sheath dress and crown of leaves, utilized her long arms and legs to perform a nuanced solo featuring balances and extension while the rest of the cast watched relaxed in a seated group off to the side, first paying attention, then applauding with two fingers, and then resorting to scrolling and texting on imaginary phones. Amicon resorted to doing an impressive circle of  piqué turns à la a classical ballet variation which seemed to finally snap the others back into the moment. The context of the solo reiterated the theme of consumerism, complacency, and passivity for arts. 

Agami disrupted the complex weaving of bodies in the final moment as she entered the stage, spellbinding the dancers into slow unison before backing them offstage. With her back turned to the audience the whole time, Agami transformed the dancers into a near cultish hypnotic state of manipulation. The theme of influence and power could be felt throughout the performance as Agami was not listed in the program as a dancer, yet grew her presence throughout the course of the piece from cameo status to central guru. 

Act III, entitled WHEN, took a simple turn in compositional construction as the cast, now joined by Agami, sat in a circle while each dancer took a turn telling their story through the body in motion. The solos were patient and poignant. The personalization in style of movement vocabulary had one wonder if the solos were generated by the dancers themselves or if they were in fact choreographed and set on them by Agami. Cultural gestures, variations on floor work, vibrating body parts, and modes of walking all varied between the dancers making each solo a unique experience. Meanwhile, the cast made occasional subtle adjustments to the circle they sat in, sliding a bit this way or that, coming inward or spreading out again, while always giving their attention to the performance. Only George occasionally got a bit distracted (distracting?) at times as he wandered between his dog bed by the cellist, Gage and Agami. But, the informal and relaxed nature of the moment accepted these quirks as the dancers sat soaking in the simple enjoyment of being together, watching each other’s beautiful expression. 

Solist Jordyn Santiago in Act 3 of Agami’s World premiere of Joy, choreographed by Danielle Agami. Featuring performers Montay Romero, Paige Amicon, Nat Wilson, Bronte Mayo, Chris Hahn, Evan Sagadencky, Danielle Agami, Cacia LaCount, Jobel Medina, and Isaiah Gage (on cello).

The act culminated with the enigmatic Agami taking a brief solo before the cast circled around her, moving in and out in folk-like patterns with her as the hub. She claims a unique position as both the puppeteer behind the show and also the center of attention. Finally, the moment resolved with Agami receiving not one but three frosted cakes being smashed into her face evoking images of birthdays, aging, and disillusionment. Yes, a food fight was the only way a night like this could end. The dancers throwing bits of cake (red velvet?) at each other while Agami squatted to the side, together but emotionally distant from the rest. 

The whole of the evening reflects different ways of being. Joy as a work is deeply personal without revealing any specific vulnerability. The stories are universal, told by human bodies: Paige Amicon, Chris Hahn, Cacia LaCount, Bronte Mayo, Jobel Medina, Evan Sagadencky, Jordyn Santiago, Montay Romero, and Nat Wilson with somatic geographical and cultural heritage in their cells. Joy is like storytime for the body. The quirky costumes by Jobel Medina fostered the individuality in the dancers ranging from a turquoise suit jacket to cotton dresses over bloomers. The progression of Scott Bolman’s lighting design from simple neutral lights in Act I through to flamboyant, colorful, paisley swirls covering everything and everyone in Act III  evoked a sense of coming into a rich and full-life experience. The arc of the live music composed and performed by Gage, started simple and grew complex and lush again and again in driving 4s, syncopated 6s, and cycling 7s. All of these design elements gave birth to a space that was responsive and flexible. Like life, the work was fully present and entirely too complex to discuss in a single review. Joy relishes in the contradictory nature of happiness, sits in the duplicity of living, and navigates a world of acting and being acted upon. Agami tests the edges of our tolerance to be both thrilled and entertained as she challenges us to see our fragility and hypocrisy. She holds her own cards close but gives away a rich performing art experience. 

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Categories: The Wallis

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