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  • Writer's pictureJen Norris

Review: The DanceWright Project Presents 'Migrations and other works' Sep 30 & Oct 1, Dance Mission

The Dancewright Project, led by choreographer Jamie Ray Wright, returned this past weekend to Dance Mission Theater, presenting a sixty-minute program of seven dances, with choreography by Wright, ArVejon Jones, Victor Talledos and Mariana Sobral for eMotion Arts.

Wright, working with Dancewright Project performers Alyson Abriel Salomon, Jen Mayekaya, Emily Shoop and Rebecca Alberti, showcased three winsome ballets. Beginning with the call of a train’s whistle and a lone woman on stage, “I’m a Stranger Here,” (2019) is danced to a bluesy folk song of the same title by Sonny Terry and Brownie Magee.

Summertime Southern hospitality is in the air, as three women come to greet the first. Twirling on the balls of their ballet slippers, their arms in well-matched diagonal wings, they carve through space. Paused with hands resting on canted hips, sassy shoulder rolls paired with knowing smiles welcome us, so we are no longer strangers here.

eMotion's cast bows at the conclusion of Mariana Sobral's "Dreamers" part of DanceWright Presents

Jen Mayekaya is striking as a brightly-feathered cardinal discovered by a small flock of sparrows in Wright’s “Migrations – Part 1” (premiere). The movements, postures, and group formations evoke the avian world. With timidity, the pastel draped dancers approach the red-clad Mayekaya. Bodies bent forward over pointed-toes, their arms reach out behind them, hands aquiver. Rising slightly, they extend their necks and tremulous heads into the space. Settling the backs of their hands upon their haunches, their jutting elbows resemble wings. With Mayekaya’s graceful pique turns and sweeping ronde de jambe leading the way, they fly together.

The world premiere of Wright’s “Mantaca” is all about the joyful movement of the dancer’s vibrant multi-tiered skirts. Manipulating the yards of fabric like practiced folklorico dancers they create fields of flowers or butterflies as they circle. Danced to the music of Dizzy Gilespie this piece felt a bit undeveloped yet, so I look forward to seeing it in a future outing.

An initial glimpse of three low-profile forms writhing in the half- light intrigues us. Out of a new darkness, an erect twisting trio is revealed, with arms flailing and bodies swaying atop anchored feet. “That One That is Different Than Me,” (premiere) choreographed by Talledos in collaboration with dancers Camille Henrot, and twins Giovana and Giulia Sales, is a powerful reflection on otherness. Struggling against inner demons in their separate spheres, these dancers don’t at first trust each other or this unknowable place. Skidding on knees, spinning on stockinged heels, their locomotion is anything but pedestrian.

Crawling under another or atop two more, confidence in each other begins to develop. Henrot is a charismatic mover. It is no wonder that Giovana and Giulia seek safety in her presence, climbing her tall figure and nestling themselves around her body. She gently shrugs them off, as a pulse swells through her arms triggering a full body-wave.

Caught in a sudden flash of light the piece closes with Henrot grasping the twins’ arms to prevent them from plunging forward into a new abyss. Good news, Talledos intends this offering to be the beginning of a full-evening performance.

Sometimes a dancer just wants to show you what they do best, how they like to move, free from the constraints of choreographers and castmates. Such is the case with Arvejon Jones’s solo “Convergent” which he created and performs to the relaxing vibes of El Payo’s “Night Crawler.” Jones is a talented professional dancer, omnipresent in the Bay Area contemporary dance scene, performing with Robert Moses Kin, Garrett + Moulton Productions, Kambara+, Sean Dorsey Dance, RAWdance, in recent years. On this program Jones shows us his true love is jazz. An easy smile spreads across his face as he spins at lightning speed across the stage. He pauses to make sure we don’t miss two quick chest pumps that look like a fist is knocking out from inside his chest. We giggle together at this trick, but not for long before a series of soaring stag leaps propel Jones across the stage. This exuberant display of talent ended much too quickly. Fingers crossed that Jones continues to create these little gems for himself and us, until the next great jazz company comes to town and swoops him up.

The evening includes two large ensemble numbers for the eMotion Arts company lead by choreographer Mariana Sobral. The first entitled “Dreamers,” is performed to a montage of voices sharing their immigration experiences. Phrases like “far away from home,” “it got worse as I got older,” and “Latinas from all over the world,” catch my ear. Drably costumed in grey tops and dark leggings, there is an anonymity to the dozen dancers. Facing individual challenges, arms bent in protection and legs lunging, they strike unique poses. Newly united, the dancers sit balancing precariously on tailbones arms and legs pawing at the air, like turtles stuck on their backs. Rising, their arms stab skyward, and fists thump thuddingly over their exposed chests. No time for good-byes when self-preservation is on one’s mind. The group dissolves in front of our eyes, slipping off until only one remains.

Performed entirely in silence eMotion Arts’s “Inner Ballast” begins with a magical lightshow as the full ensemble dances into a dark stage, each holding a palm sized warm white light. At first, we see only the wonderous curving paths of the firefly-like glowing pod. As sidelight is added, a group forms, slowly processing their holy lights held in one-palmed offering, casting a beatific glow up onto their serene faces. A subtle soundscape of breath supports the dancers as they move as a one. The final exiting tableau along the diagonal, in which the light dims with the loss of each new exiting, is poetic.

DanceWright brings us a breadth of work we might not have the opportunity to see elsewhere. Dance is a passion rather than a vocation for most of the performers on this evening’s bill. Their enjoyment in performing is palpable as is the appreciation of their family and friends in attendance on this Sunday evening.

Jamie Ray Wright, Director of DanceWright bows with the cast of "Mantaca"

Review by Jen Norris, published October 2, 2023


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