By Keith Waits for Arts-Louisville
Mixing artistic disciplines can be risky. Every parody of pretentious modern performance art juxtaposes severe, humorless movement with abstract, portentous spoken word poetry, so you might say it took courage for Robert Curran to set a task of merging spoken word verse with new dances from seven young choreographers.
For the most part, the program avoids this trap, and at times hits estimable levels of collaborative dynamic. The degree of interplay between the movement and the words varies among the seven pieces, some having more forceful connections than others.
The evening ended with a relationship between James Lindsey’s rap lyrics (he also composed some of the tight music) and Leigh Anne Albrechta’s choreography that was communicated with great, straightforward clarity. Lines asks many questions about our insistent demand for linear progression in all things and is performed by Roger Creel, Sanjay Saverimuttu, and Philip Velinov with an angular dynamic that interjected a slightly skewed perspective.
Lindsey was also incorporated into the movement, albeit in limited terms, and the most interesting work of the evening tended to bring the poets onstage and into the action. It was no surprise that Teresa Willis, a trained and experienced actor and performance artist, could acquit herself so well onstage in Ashley Thursby’s choreography for Discount Narcissus, and Willis’s voice illuminates her own verse with a clarity akin to Lindsey & Albrechta’s Lines.
Things got off to a powerful start with A Time…A Place, in which Hannah Drake delivered a slow build of her spoken word poetry that rose to such magnificent emotional peaks that it seemed a questionable selection for the opening slot. How does one follow such an impactful piece? Drake’s force-of-nature persona seemed slightly dampened compared to past appearances, but her magnetic presence still threatened to overshadow the inspired, fluid choreography by Brandon Ragland.
That didn’t quite happen, but the search for balance between the two disciplines sandwiched an additional layer of dramatic tension into each piece that brought the writer onstage, and it made for a unique theatrical performance. Ms. Drake played the role of grief-stricken mother eulogizing a child lost to violence. Drake is Black, but the implication of racism is mined through language more than that lazy observation, language that triggers the collective social memory of any thinking American audience in this time and place.