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  • Writer's pictureJen Norris

Review: Megan Lowe Dances’s, Gathering Pieces of Peace, September 1 & 2 and 8 & 9, 2023, ODC Theater

Choreographed and performed by a cast of multi-racial AAPI artists, Megan Lowe Dances’s Gathering Pieces of Peace is a “dance theater work” which explores the complexity of feeling uniquely different. Dance-theater, the melding of storytelling, song, and dance seems like the ideal genre for a performance about being neither one thing nor another, but due to its episodic nature and flat delivery, the piece failed to coalesce for me.

Gathering Pieces of Peace, Megan Lowe Dances - Malia Hatico Byrne, Clarissa Dyas, Melissa Lewis Wong, Megan Lowe; Photo by RJ Muna

The performers Megan Lowe, Clarissa Rivera Dyas, Malia Hatico-Byrne, and Melissa Lewis Wong dance, sing, and tell us personal anecdotes from their past. The quartet have strong rapport with each other. Hugs, trust falls, and a recurring posture involving one partner’s chin crooked over the shoulder of another, display these tight connections.

They break the fourth wall by climbing the walls, jumping up and down on the theater seats for a sonal effect, and dangling from the railings. The vast variety of vocabulary creates a disjointedness, which may be purposeful as it echoes the lack of firm footing within their multi-cultural worlds about which these artists sing and speak. I wasn’t a fan of the original songs, sung a capella by soloists and in tenuous harmonies by the group. Lyrics such “Just because it’s simple, doesn’t mean it isn’t meaningful” and a chorus of “We are all here,” draw me out of, rather into the piece.

Gathering Pieces of Peace begins with the words “All mixed up, we are …. they ask me which one, but there’s more to me than that.” The lights rise to reveal four figures isolated in their own circles of light. One dancer’s arms swirl, while another’s shoulders dip. Separately, they address their individual circumstance.

Periodically the performers drop the artifice of performance and walk to a new spot on the stage, before resuming their dancerly machinations. Are these new locations physical manifestations of the various selves they each carry? Or a choreographic way of representing the stages of transformation along a maturation cycle?

Wong breaks free, leaping forward with bouncing arcing strides, swinging a foot out while balancing on another. This elongated gate is a signature move for Wong. Later, using the seating’s arm rests as stepping stones, she navigates, balancing above the second row of seats, which become the artists playing area for a time.

The four form a closed circle. Recharging and resting, they bask in the warmth of each other’s energy. Trusting the collective to hold their weight, with their forearms overlapping, they arch backwards away from each other, before stepping in to meet with arms wrapped around one another’s waists. Alternating the focus, three dancers guide the limbs of a chosen one. Hatico-Byrne dances with a supple fluidity. Whether waving their arms to create a rippling effect, or leaning sideways in response to a collaborator’s touch, their curving lines and gentle delivery have an organic almost plant-like quality.

Lowe and Dyas are well matched physically, able to lift and carry each other and others with ease. Numerous times castmates take advantage of Dyas’s strength and affability by running and leaping onto her back, piggy-back style. Dyas offers a sly smile each time as the surprise of the impact appears to bring them satisfaction. Lowe is an explorer, driven to climb the walls, and create shapes with her body within the I-beams that reinforce the brick theater’s structure. While it wasn’t clear to me what this added to the intellectual investigation of mixed-ethnicity, it is always interesting to watch Lowe seemingly defy gravity through her muscular interrogation of a space.

Other highlights include, Lowe and Dyas’s charming contact improv complete with sound effects. The audience laughs as Dyas scoots backwards on her butt making a “beep-boop” sound. When Dyas reaches Lowe, also seated, Lowe says “Press, Press” as back-to-back they push into one another to rise as one. It’s a giggling game, where one requests “Come Get Me,” and the other complies lifting and carrying their partner for a time.

Wong performs an evocative solo that beautifully marries the mixture of art forms in which she has trained. The influence of Chinese folk arts is evident as she heel-walks, bent forward slightly with the back of her hands resting upon her posterior. Kicking and punching in the controlled manner of a martial artist, she seamlessly merges these movements into a longer contemporary dance phrase.

After hearing the origin and meaning of the various tattoos that each performer sports, it is intriguing to hear Dyas list their many tattoos “that never were.” Their best “never were” is a banana which Dyas has long contemplated inscribing under their side boob. While Dyas confesses their obsession with this distinctive yellow curvilinear fruit, her compatriots enter in head-to-toe banana costumes chanting “go, go, bananas,” before lying fruit-like to watch. Dyas struts and gyrates to a new song whose lyrics tell us that they are “unpeeling the layers of me.” Their torso rolls as if shirking a skin, before Dyas takes up a position on the floor from which their arms grow. With cupped lotus hands they bloom into something new.

Representing steps along a life-long journey of self-discovery for these artists, Gathering Pieces of Peace, may have deeper meaning for some than others. Megan Lowe established her eponymous dance enterprise ten years ago, creating transformative site specific work, award-winning films, improvisational and concert dance pieces. I look forward to what lays ahead for her and her collaborators.

Review by Jen Norris, published September 11, 2023


Megan Lowe Dances

10th Anniversary Season

Gathering Pieces of Peace (World Premiere)

A dynamic dance theater work exploring mixed-race Asian American experiences.

Artistic Direction by: Megan Lowe

Choreography and Performances by: Clarissa Rivera Dyas, Malia Hatico-Byrne,

Melissa Lewis Wong, and Megan Lowe

Music by: Peekaboo/transcriptions01, Zachary Abelson, Megan Lowe, Marica Petrey/Girl

Swallows Nightingale, and Emma Tome

Lighting Design by: Harry Rubeck

Production Management by: Kevin Lo

Artistic Support: jose e. abad

ODC Theater

September 1 & 2 and September 8 & 9, 2023

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