Nine Dancers Show the Complexities of Human Relationships

United StatesUnited States MamLuft&Co. Dance, “Double/Sided”: Jeanne Mam-Luft (artistic director), Steven P. Evans and Elena Rodriguez (choreographers), Clifton Cultural Arts Center, Cincinnati, Ohio. 16.1.2016. (RDA)

Dancers: McKenzie Barkdull, Christina Cairns, Steven P. Evans, Clint Fisher, Amelia Koper Heintzelman, Susan Honer, Neile Martin, Elena Rodriguez and Nicole Suzel

In the latest piece by MamLuft&Co. Dance, nine dancers riveted attention during the two halves of Double/Sided, an evening-long exploration of the chaotic multiplicity of human relationships.

Many of the themes of classical dance are about male-female interplay, and the whole aesthetic anchored on that Romantic sensibility. Not so with modern dance, in which human relationships in all their manifestations are explored. And so it is with the work of Jeanne Mam-Luft’s corps of dancers in Double/Sided, in which nine men and women offer ceaseless exploration of dance as a language that can express a variety of ideas and emotions.

The work is specifically staged for the unusual space of the Clifton Cultural Arts Center, a large ballroom in which the audience sits on two sides of a long rectangular stage. On a white floor the nine dancers begin and end each of the seven sections of Double/Sided in a blackout. Low side lighting, casting shadows on the walls, throws their movements into sharp relief. The complex sound design was jointly conceived by the choreographers, and sets the mood for each section. The dancers, dressed in white and grey, realize the inventive choreography of Steven P. Evans and Elena Rodriguez with inexhaustible energy and flawless technique.

The theme of Double/Sided is expanded upon in duets, trios, or more, though never in a predictable way. There is strife, dissention, bullying, striking and breaking up of allegiances. Loyalty is trampled upon, people gang up on each other, and there is often menace toward whoever steps in to protect the victim of the moment.

Two large square white flats, carried by two groups of dancers, are introduced at the very onset. These props become walls, fences, roofs and surfaces on which to walk, or arenas on which to stake out a territorial claim. The ensemble shows great versatility in using these portable architectural features: climbing on them, jumping over them, pounding on them, rushing them, being crushed by them, or letting them crush the opponents. The use of these props is never repetitive, always surprising, and ever connected to the theme: how walls separate us, divide us, isolate us, and protect us from the world outside. Only at the very end of the evening, a moment of group cohesiveness is glimpsed, as the nine inhabitants of the troubled world of Double/Sided finally bond, and slowly exit in silence into the unknown.

With each of the three evenings by this indispensable group, I have witnessed stunning growth, immense technical and artistic risk-taking—and just plain theatrical derring-do. I count the days until May when their next venture debuts at the Aronoff Center for the Arts, and interestingly, with a similar title: The Double, based on Dostoyevsky’s novel.

Rafael de Acha

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