Sunday, June 2, 2013

Review of "Human Metabolism"...Rhapsody James


The course of human life is a study in cyclical formation and destruction. The fact that human beings enter the world helpless and vulnerable, only to one day return to this state, is a transformative process that affects everyone, regardless of race, gender or background. It is this equalizing nature of humanity that is explored in Rhapsody James' new show, "Human Metabolism," currently presented at Dixon Place Theater in SOHO.

As I was sitting in the theater waiting for the show to begin, I curiously searched the term "metabolism" via Wikipedia. Although I remembered the concept from high school science, I wanted to refresh my memory and see if Rhapsody's choice of title might offer any clues as to what we were about to see. In essence, metabolism is the process by which a life form changes matter into energy, a shift of state from food to fuel. Employing enzymes as a catalyst for conversion, this metabolic process happens quickly, efficiently and consistently. So what change then, does "human metabolism" represent and what is driving it?

The structure of the show was a four-part construct, in much the same way that a classical symphony or concerto is composed of musical movements. Herein, Rhapsody's company, R.E.D. (Rhapsody En Dance) would expand on the notion of "temptation," "lust," "illusion," and "rage/ascension." It stands to reason that these loaded guns of emotion are the metaphoric "enzymes" that propel the human experience towards maturity. They are all moments which exist in everyone's life, and once someone has been touched by "temptation" or "rage" they are permanently altered.

Therefore, "human metabolism" is the manner in which an innocent human infant gradually learns who and what they are. They begin to take in experiences and sensations, eventually creating a fully-formed picture of maturity. In order to achieve this effect, Rhapsody's choreography was highly engaging as a fusion between the contemporary modern world, and the vernacular of street-style, urban commercial dance. I felt that her aesthetic paid homage to many of the traditions of hip hop (formations, frontal presentation, isolations, ticks, waves) yet still challenged the audience to dabble with elements outside their comfort zone.

At one point in the show, a solo female dancer performed a fluid, dance-hall inspired seduction for a group of inanimate busts. These blank faces were constantly being manipulated to gaze in her direction, except for one. This "person" would not consent to her siren dance and all of her undulations were in vain. Try as she might, she could never quite break through and make a connection or get "his" attention. I wanted to highlight this moment for two reasons. First of all, for many audience members, an abstract performance like this would typically be described as "weird-ass, hippie shit" or "crunchy granola modern." However, Rhapsody inhabits a very unique place with the NYC dance hierarchy. She possesses the commercial and "flash" credits that enable her to have a legit voice and loyal following, but also has an uninhibited mind and wild sense of creativity. She creates a trust among her dancers and audience, and presents avant guard concepts in a way that is both challenging AND accessible.

The second reason I found this moment compelling, relates to the idea of vulnerability. More than anything, this young woman, who was so desperately seeking approval and validation, allowed us to see her in a state of free-fall, out of control and grasping for something stable. Another moment in the show, entitled "Broken," explored a young man on the brink of isolation and disenfranchisement. By the end of the piece, the dancer is reduced to tears, loneliness and fear. In total silence, Rhapsody asked for complete emotional nakedness, stripping the emotions raw, real and painful. As visually satisfying as the tightly choreographed sections were, these "other" moments are the ones I remember most. They were the moments that choked my throat, punched my gut and forced me to feel a visceral, "human" reaction.

On a side note, I thought that it was interesting that Rhapsody asked her company dancers to perform barefoot. In a community where status and style are frequently conveyed through "sneaks and snapbacks," asking dancers, who are primarily hip hop trained, to dance barefoot, is revelatory in itself. Again, it requires the dancers to shed the "protection" of a shoe, and open themselves up to the potential of hurt and injury. This notion flies in the face of typical b-boy battle culture, where, under no circumstances, would you let your opponent see you cry….or quiver…or break. But Rhapsody is far from typical. In fact, within the metaphor of "human metabolism," Miss James herself is catalyst for change, transforming the lives of every person she meets along the way.