Komansé Dance Theater’s ‘Skid’: An Ambitious Debut

Words by Sydney Burrows | Images by Kemi Griffin, courtesy of Kemi Griffin Photography

Komansé Dance Theater’s Skid  opened with a very unusual curtain speech. Rather than the expected “thank you to our funders, blah, blah, please turn off cell phones, no really, turn them off” mantra, a woman actually asked the audience to take photographs. She encouraged us to “give our energy” to the performers, and even went as far as to suggest hashtags to accompany videos and live social media posting.

Now, at an Atlanta Beltline or another non-traditional space, I would have been less surprised, but this was in a fancy, newly renovated theater: Georgia Tech’s Ferst Center for the Arts. I had seen two other performances in this space, and my guess is that it would have been viewed a faux pas if audience members had pulled up chairs to sit directly in front of the stage during those performances in order to post Instagram photos videos using a flash. (This actually happened and led me to wonder: where did the folding chairs come from?)

Even though I was taken aback by the audience’s actions, the curtain speech made it certain that this was what this group of artists wanted. And it was thrilling to be in a familiar space with such new norms. The performers seemed empowered by the vocalizations coming out of the audience, and when the bows turned into a dance party, it was a natural conclusion to this fully-engaging experience.

The best word I can use to describe the performance itself is ambitious. I went into the show knowing very little about this brand new company, led by 23-year-old Raianna Brown. It was 2 hours long, broken into two acts with 11 separate dances. The costumes, designed by California artist Shami Oshun, were beautiful, with neutral tones and occasional 3-D accents on the collars or flowy arm bands, There was also stunning artwork by Zaki Browner and Evan Brooks that hung from the ceiling in panels on both sides of the stage.

Some of the dances were less than a minute long, with the dancers  immediately stopping when the music ended and walking off stage. As soon as I started to get enveloped in the work, it would stop, and then new dancers would walk on stage to start another section. Yet a few other dances went more in depth, and the strongest of them opened with spoken word artists. These two vocal performers were phenomenal. Utilized separately in different acts, they tackled white privilege, gentrification, police brutality, and Atlanta’s black history with poems. Each word they spoke held distinct meaning, and had the audience sitting on their chairs, snapping and yelling and agreeing with almost every line.

The most poignant movement motifs showed the dancers physically struggling – arching backwards, shaking their arms violently, or hunched forward, their heads held heavy in one palm. Brown’s choreographic style was distinctive and fresh, but occasionally a pas de bourre or a Horton technique sequence took me out of the moment. Having 30 dancers on stage was at times very powerful, and certainly brought a fiery energy to the theater. But more than once, I was distracted by the amount of bodies on stage, and couldn’t figure out where to look.

Skid focused on social justice issues with every piece, using radio interviews and other spoken word recordings overlapping the music to accentuate the dancers’ movement. The most successful moment of the evening was a duet with two men — each starting on opposite sides of the stage. While one dancer moved lyrically and with technical, modern-based choreography, the other dancer utilized hip hop and breaking, which worked flowed well with the backdrop and the music. They moved toward the center, and came together with a basic, gestural phrase. With this very pedestrian movement, performed in sync, they seemed to be taking a breath, and acknowledging the humanity within one another.

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