The current political climate in the United States is like a carnival, but in Texas it is a full on circus. Never Again, was a contemporary dance performance produced and choreographed by Toni Leago Valle of 6 Degrees. It was performed at the Midtown Arts & Theatre Center Houston (MATCH) on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday Sept 21-23, 2018, in an intimate thrust theatre with two rows on each side, and three rows in front. The lighting, costumes and makeup were black, white and red. The choreography was emotionally and visually thematic: modern vaudeville circus.
The audience was seated in a black cube with four red, arial-yoga textiles draping each corner of the performance zone, a chain and hoop hung from the middle of the ceiling which only dropped down for certain performances. There were twelve dancers, majority of them female, the music was circus-like, punctuated by or spoken word, sound art or silence.
Upon taking a seat I noticed background noise fill the theatre, after a few moments I realized it was voiceover of a woman speaking about women’s political issues. Just before the performance began we were introduced to the show by Leago Valle stating there would be loud gunshot noises, a burlesque element which was not suitable for children, and there would be no leaving the performance once the doors were closed — we were literally a captive audience.
Our circus host for the evening took center stage and set the mood, we were encouraged to cat-call, hoot, holler and clap for anything we enjoyed, but never to touch the red fabric or dancers, and of course, no photography. With a flourish he left and the performance began; he came out only a few other times to introduce specific acts, then at the end to close the show. Several dancers entered from backstage, and a couple from behind the audience, in formation, to a children’s-music-box piano score. Slowly they swung around the performance zone engaging nearest audience members with light touch, facial gestures, or direct eye contact. As the music swelled, the star of the first act entered wearing a long white cloak patterned with red and black swastikas. The cloaked dancer marched down stage amidst the increasing speed of the other dancers who were twirling and careening about, the music gained momentum, and I was sucked into the show.
Throughout the evening, I felt a range of emotions: happy, excited, on-edge, sad, angry and much in between. Most of all I felt connected to the message: Never Again should we be treated like a side-show act; we are all human, we all deserve equal rights.
Three acts in particular stood out to me. The first was the #MeToo solo performance. A blond female stood center stage, barefoot in a 1950’s halter-top, polka-dot dress — each polka-dot had words printed in it from the #MeToo movement. Her performance started with slow gestures that were sensual, and feminine, then she burst into a dance that was erratic, her gestures frantic as she ran around to various male audience members teasing them or lightly slapping at them. She oscillated back and forth between put-together and falling apart. Throughout her performance she whispered, shouted, mouthed, and said: “not asking for it,” emphasizing the words with pauses, volume, facial gestures and movement. The power of this performance came later. After a few other acts had gone by, another solo performer came onstage, a gender-queer dancer wearing a button up shirt made from the same material as the polka-dot dress, red lipstick, black slacks, and white go-go boots. This performer mimicked the female’s performance, but did not engage with any audience member. The counterpoint was very powerful, because women aren’t the only one’s being raped and bullied and told to be quiet. This performance seemed to say that sometimes marginalized people are only brave enough to stand up when a big enough movement has already started, or when a friend has already gone through it, and, possibly, courage only happens after you’ve seen someone else be courageous.
Another act that stood out to me was a quartet of female dancers dressed in black combat-boots, black boy-shorts, red or black sports bras, black latex gloves, and a black butcher’s apron with a coat hanger printed on the front. They were introduced as if they were in a beauty pageant and asked what the best law was for women in Texas. All of their answers revolved around abysmal abortion rights, and, in a cannon, they progressed into the space. In a combination of percussive and sustained movements, they paraded about, shook their hips, got down on their knees, went down to the ground and spread their legs, then closed their limbs, got back up, snapped their hair and marched diagonally off stage.
The third act that really resonated with me was a solo male arial-dancer who performed a suspension piece with chains, to a voice over of hispanic children. His movements were stiff and angular, and mostly in vertical and horizontal directions. Within the chains, he’d use his upper body to contorted himself in adductive movements. It looked like he kept trying to find a comfortable position. Once he’d reach a position, he would hold as if he had found comfort in the stillness, which did not look comfortable at all. Then he would drop down and catch his full weight abruptly in a stiff position against the chains, vibrating against his bindings. The awe of the crowd was palpable. He would use his core-distal to twist and contort into other positions that he would again hold for agonizing minutes. The sound of his chains rattling during the performance was jarring against the voice over.
These three acts were powerful because of their juxtaposition against the other large and dynamic acts. These three had the time and space to direct attention to the details, which would have been lost in the other acts. In that same vein, the dynamic, full-cast performances were also powerful because they were juxtaposed against the smaller groupings. To me, this seemed to mimic the political climate Leago Valle was referencing, sometimes there are small voices crying out, other times there are large movements demanding attention. It felt like the choreographer was trying to say: politicians need to listen and pay attention to both, they are equally important.
Paul Taylor’s appreciation of new talented energy was clear in Leago Valle’s work. She invoked Isadora Duncan with a theme that focused on emotions and social struggles, and Martha Grahm in the theatrics and dynamic storytelling.
I enjoyed Leago Valle’s inclusion of currently marginalized voices and relevant political topics in Never Again. Leago Valle was right not to make the work solely a dark, depressing performance, but to add humor and awe. Young and old alike need to feel like there is hope in this crazy circus we’re living in, and we need to stand unified against our political leaders to make change happen.
A cast of performers and aerialist from the Houston dance scene include Sean Lane, Ruby Leal, Liannet Madrazo, Kylie McIntyre, Mary Catherine McReynolds, Ariel Montemayor, Carlos Perez, Kate Rash, Michelle Reyes, Tyler Scarberry, and Davis Stumberg