Sunday, June 30, 2013

"Minced Meat"

The Thick Rich Ones 
CounterPULSE, San Francisco
June 28, 2013

Like any art practice, contemporary and modern dance has gone through and continues to embrace different trends - structural works void of story (“dance for dance’s sake”), genre fusion, site-specific collaborations, technological injections of ‘new media’ and one of the most popular, dance theater. And while trends, or the notion of ‘being trendy’, may come across as negative to some, it doesn’t have to be that way. Trends can also lead to clearer discernment. Being surrounded by a particular choreographic style actually makes it easier to tell what’s good and what’s not. The Thick Rich Ones’ “Minced Meat” definitely falls into the good, if not great, category. With this production, Artistic Directors and co-choreographers Jochelle Pereña and Ashley Trottier have reminded the viewer (and the dance community at large) that when dance theater works, it really works. “Minced Meat” is filled with the expected dance theater characteristics: bizarre absurdity, deranged humor, repetition and artistic collage. But most important, the seventy-five minute piece has a deep and purposeful egalitarianism, which, in the face of the odd and the campy, makes it relatable, comforting and familiar.

As the audience entered the CounterPULSE theater, they were welcomed to a party full of craziness, comedy, shocking displays and intimate interactions. The stage and costume design suggested late 1960s/early 1970s, almost like a scene plucked from Sondheim and Furth’s “Company”. The cast mingled with the patrons, introducing themselves and chatting while serving champagne and hotdogs. And so, from the very beginning, the porous line between the audience and the performer had been replaced with a more egalitarian notion of engagement and participation (of course at differing levels). As the lights dimmed and the dance ‘officially’ began, the established egalitarianism continued. New party guests arrived and we were introduced to a kooky cast of characters. Though each personality was completely over the top, the group represented the wide spectrum of individuals you might encounter at any typical gathering: the fun social butterfly, the quiet loner, the pretentious snob, and the over-imbibed. Similarly, if you broke down the narrative themes (which had all been made highly theatrical in true dance theater fashion) to their essence and core, what emerged were relevant, applicable issues that anyone can connect with: fickleness, jealousy, envy, need. Pereña and Trottier had woven the thread of relatability through the prelude, the setting, and really every seam of “Minced Meat”. A conceptual triumph, the audience was not only imagining themselves at this party, they were truly present. This is how you make successful dance theater.

Pereña and Trottier’s choreographic acumen and the company’s technical abilities shone in two separate quartets, one for the women and one for the men. Both had creative choreography that was steeped in narrative strength. The four women danced a variation utilizing Graham-inspired pleadings; innocent and tortured at the same time. At one moment, the methodical, meditative series spoke to a soothing calm, yet the sudden deep contraction also had a jarring, violent quality. An empty table became a canvas of individual and collective discovery in the men’s quartet. Their movement reflected and revealed a complex self-awareness alongside a sense of camaraderie; alone and together, they were searching for something. Satisfaction? Enough? Happiness? Maybe all of the above.

Pictured: Katherine McGinity, Ashley Trottier and Jochelle Pereña
Photo: Weidong Yang

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