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David Rousséve/REALITY Review - Uneven Emotional Commitment

By Charlotte Drover

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I look forward to one evening seeing a performance (of any genre) that humanely tackles the overwrought theme of technology draining human beings of compassion in the modern world. Yes: hiding behind a cell phone screen emboldens the primitive wrath in an otherwise normal person, yes: our dependence on virtual validation has reached addictive levels, and yes: our lexicon and method of engagement seems diminished in this new generation when the use of emojis and abbreviations overtake the poetic spoken word. I get it, we should be ashamed, and be better. David Rousséve’s Stardust does not fail at their approach because they actually provide a story, but the piece stretches an otherwise interesting approach out too long and too thin. Rousséve’s company REALITY,  founded in 1989, promises in the press packet a, “willingness to push the body to extremes that reveals the ache of a restless soul.” I am confident that 4 out of the 10 dancer company achieved that kind of ache. The performance wanted to speak to my lonely, my desperation, my isolation, my fear, need for understanding, however the repetition of some ineffective choreography did not add new levels and did not capture the necessary rage.

The structure aided the performance greatly: the confessions, questions and visions of Junior - a gay disenfranchised African-American teenager - are projected (Cari Ann Shim Sham) on an upstage screen, as the dancers and the sound design (d.Sabela Grimes) carried the audience over waves of sentiment and longing, and under the drowning riptide of emotional and physical violence. We read Junior’s texts to an unspecified number, unknown even to him, and learn his tragedy: his erratic behavior at school, his loathing of his identity and value, the death of his grandfather and only ally, his horrifying new home in foster care, and his brutal yet beautiful death. Rousséve’s choreography and direction was able to echo this ache with Junior’s complex duality: he incorporated a great contrast in the performance of masculinity and the performance of femininity, regardless of gender or race of the dancers. He also maintained this dual phrase of exaltation, with fluttering hands starting from the navel or heart and moving upwards and outwards through the mouth or the third eye, and a corresponding phase of consumption, moving in the opposite direction. These mostly worked, but the remaining segments seemed like filler for an otherwise compelling piece.

But there were moments, there were shining, gorgeous moments that resounded in me. Rousséve, who also wrote and performed a solo in the piece, included all these rich details in Junior’s text that offered such an earnest personality: when he sees a Van Gogh painting for the first time, his classmates can’t see the quality of it, but he is enamored not because it’s how life looks, but how it feels - and that just gutted me. And most of the dancers bathed themselves in that longing, but even fewer in that rage. I do not remember the precise plot point, but I remember the text referenced pigeons as a ghetto angels, with a projection of a pigeon in slow motion flight and Junior saying how he would fly away, the music swelling, and dancer Charisse Skye Aguirre peels away from the ensemble. With reckless abandon, exhaustive contractions and repetitions, Aguirre dared to don this character’s experience and she was dancing for her life. Her performance simultaneously filled me and hollowed me out - more importantly, she consistently adapted her movement to Junior and his journey.

I wish I could say that across the board. Rousséve included krumping as an element of performing masculinity, to defend yourself against others, to stake your manhood. Only the fearless Taisha Pagget was able to capture aggression and the attitude to pull it off. I’ve seen krump that has moved me to tears from men and women of many races, but this ensemble was too dedicated that it didn’t land. Alternatively, Nguyên Nguyên voguing performance of femininity was heartfelt and honest, the little ‘whoop-whoop’s he gave to cheer himself as his lover pushed him away was devastating. In a dance-theatre piece like this, I expected whole ensemble to have these moments. As I was watching Junior’s ultimate death, with clean snowfall projected in the background, the dancers somberly articulating Junior’s content in the freedom of death, and “Reach for Tomorrow” playing, I wanted to feel more, but the passivity of the ensemble and length of the performance took me out of it.

Real Talk: This piece held itself back from trying to do too much and inadvisable direction and choreography.  However, there were few standout performers who successfully achieved what Junior wanted all along: connection.

Stardust played Columbia College of Chicago’s dance center from February 5-7, 2015. For more information on the company, and an excerpt of the piece, please visit davidrousseve website

Photos by: Valerie Oliveiro


Published on Feb 10, 2015

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