Acts of Matter brings groovy party vibes to Stomping Ground with DISplay

Rebecca Lemme’s performance of DISplay at Stomping Ground was a disco hit this March. Featuring a cast of five dancers including Lemme, the evening-length work showcased Acts of Matter’s playful side as well as the ensemble’s post-modern and contact improv roots. A blend of disco balls and unabashed vulnerability, the night of dance was performed in the round to an appreciative audience eager to join the fun and in turn hold the space for the quieter and more personal moments.

The evening began with vintage dance grooves by DJ performance duo Qué Bárbaro. The program invited the audience to pick a chair and then join the party, get a drink, and socialize with fellow audience members. The cast also came out in their warm up clothes as part of the preshow, chatting with people they knew and improvising with each other in a playful warm up.  The casual opening was a key element in the performance as it disrupted any expectations for a formal proscenium-style dance performance and leveled the field for a more interactive and community oriented movement event. After a transitional announcement during which the dancers exited to change, the performance started in earnest.

Entrance of the Acts of Matter cast in Rebecca Lemme’s DISplay. Dancers (L-R) Danzel Thompson-Stout, Rebecca Lemme, Meg Madorin, Alex Rix, and Keilan Stafford. Photo by Maya Umemoto Gorman.

The dancers entered carrying various sized disco balls. The strutting procession traveled around the perimeter of the dance space and gave the audience an opportunity to see the dancers, dressed in a smattering of black and white patterned clothing. Each was costumed with a unique flavor and a nod to their embodied culture and personal identity. The simple and confident entrance allowed the dancers to be seen by the audience on all sides, up-close and personal. The theme of seeing and being seen as established here was as an important conceptual framework revisited through the evening. 

After hanging the disco balls on hooks at eye level throughout the space, the dancers began their phrase work. Sweeping gestural pathways lead their bodies into and out of the floor, spiraling and swirling in continuous flow that was dynamic and luscious. The cast of dancers modeled their athleticism and skilled contemporary floorwork technique, moving in unison through buttery sequences in breath timing. Lemme’s strong three dimensional use of space is perhaps one of the most signature elements to her voluptuous work. Carving into the backspace heightened the depth of the dancers’ bodies as seen in the round. The dancers met the task through dynamic embodiment of momentum and gravity. Their bodies poured through space in propulsive arcs and thrusts that could be felt on behalf of the audience. 

Acts of Matter, Disco ball dancing with colorful lighting by Bryanna Brock. Dancers (L-R) Danzel Thompson-Stout, Alex Rix, Meg Madorin, and Natalie Allen (understudy/Reh asst).

After dancing around the hanging disco balls, the balls were hoisted upward to free the space for the remainder of the work that unfolded in a non-linear progression of solos, duets, ensemble work, and audience interaction. DISplay did not follow a narrative development opting instead for interwoven textures of the dancers’ states of being as experienced in space and time. Lemme continually shaped and reshaped the space, gathering the five of them into corners or suddenly scattering them through the space following an impulse. Dancers also regularly moved to the sides of the stage sitting and watching each other alongside the audience. The permeation of the audience, combined with the gestural motif of covering and uncovering the eyes, reinforced the theme of seeing and being seen, watching and being watched. The nature of these states ranged from confident and proud to vulnerable and insecure begging the question what or who was on display? But, the question, while posed, was subtle and seemed to fade away as quickly as it had appeared. Due to the collage style structure of the program and the hypnotic flow of Lemme’s movement vocabulary, there was little urgency to answer these questions as the moments washed over the audience and then dissolved in an organic flow of open potential.

Amidst the evening were standout moments including a stunning duet between Meg Madorin and Alexandra Rix in which they flung themselves at each other repeatedly, wrapping and unwrapping, falling and catching, pressing and grappling, tripping and jostling. The visceral movement made the interplay riveting especially as it ended in silence with just the sounds of their skin and breath filling the space. There was also a sensitive and doe eyed solo by Keilan Stafford who gestured through movements of searching, looking, and hiding in contrast to the backdrop of ensemble dancers stepping and shaking as a dividing wall. 

Another highlight of the night was a rousing dance version of musical chairs in which audience members played alongside the cast and were tasked with making spontaneous solos from audience suggestions including gummy worms, jellyfish, zero gravity, and a bobby-pin stuck in your hair. The audience participation moment didn’t seem out of place in any way considering the structure of the night having begun with the audience being on the dance floor to get their drinks and mingle with each other. The audience was ready for a party and willing to play their part as asked of them. Throughout the night, the dancers went right up to the audience, often just inches away. There was no sense of other, no pretense or smoke and mirrors. Merging audience and dancers into the shared space heightened the immediacy and relational perspective of the movement event.

Lemme credits the cast of dancers with both movement development and performance in the program. Each dance artist had spotlight moments of excellence. Keilan Stafford shone in their dynamic conviction through gestures. Alexandra Rix brought a postmodern sensibility of weight that was earthy and unshakable. Rebecca Lemme showcased her character and quirk on top of liquid strength. Meg Madorin brought technical malleability and emotional vulnerability in her partnering and solo work. Finally, Danzel Thompson-Stout’s appreciation for Africanist aesthetics was prevalent in his rhythmic footwork and intrinsic flow. 

(L-R) Rebecca Lemme, Keilan Stafford, Danzel Thompson-Stout, Alex Rix, and Meg Madorinin in DISplay by Acts of Matter at Stomping Ground. Photo by Maya Umemoto Gorman.

Together they formed group shapes and chain reactions between their connected bodies. They bound their energy in connected formations before unleashing it in all directions like the Big Bang. There were also quiet moments of interpersonal intimacy, evoking softness as they cradled each other. In quirkier moments the dancers played with displays of affection through playful kissy faces while desperately leaning toward their fellow dancer. The absurdist moments such as this fit the title DISplay. With an emphasis on the DIS, words bubbled up in association: DISappearing play, DISordered play, DIStorted play. 

Due to the enigmatic nature of the show, the evening of dance lacked a strong resolution. This happens frequently when there was no clear exposition of a conflict to be resolved. The performance unraveled like a ball of yarn gradually and consistently through to the end. Each moment tumbled into the next, sometimes in ways that I didn’t catch having become hypnotized by a captivating detail of a dancer’s performance. The piece washed over the audience in a way that was immersive. We experienced the highs and lows of the dancers without knowing where they came from or where they went to. But, while they were present, it was real. Tangible. Important. And then, it dissolved. The piece closed with dancers exiting the space, arms held outward palms up in a mix of awe, reflection, and supplication.

Danzel Thompson-Stout in the final moments of DISplay by Acts of Matter at Stomping Ground. Photo by Maya Umemoto Gorman.

Overall, the show was a colorful night of body-minded movement. The saturated lighting design by Bryanna Brock heightened the disco dance floor vibe reflecting effectively off the white and black costumes in rich tones. The variety in color kept the night lively before ending with strong blues and purples in a quiet moment of contemplation. Music tracks by Panda Bear, Trentmøller, Sufjan Stevens, Bimbo Jet, Flock of Dimes, Michael Wall, and Nick Drake gave the night a familiar feel, further augmented by sound contributions from Derrick Parris and a live electric guitar composition by Qué Bárbaro’s Robert Amjärv. After the bows the evening ended with chatting and dancing underneath the disco balls suspended overhead–glittering, shining, reflecting the brilliance of the night and the gift of these dance artists.

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Categories: Stomping Ground

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