Charles A. Brown Ice House
March 23-24, 2018
By Samantha Burns
“Crash and burns are pretty much unavoidable. And yet we must persevere.”
These are the words of Sarah Carlson, the founder and artistic director of DANCELINK, and the driving force behind The Body Keeps the Score: Dancing with Trauma and Recovery. Carlson presented this hour long work, in which she collaborated with composer Vernon J. Mobley, at the Charles A. Brown Ice House on March 23rd and 24th. Inspired by Bessel Van Der Kolk’s book of the same name, The Body Keeps the Score explored the tumultuous journey through trauma and the healing process that follows.
The piece opened with the full cast simultaneously performing a series of self-soothing gestures. Soon after, the dancers burst into an improvisational exploration, unique to each performer. Eventually, the chaos would cease, and there would only be one dancer moving, as if relaying their experience to the others. Each performer was immersed completely in their movement, as if they had lived each and every moment of it. This pattern of stopping and starting continued, giving a number of dancers a chance to “speak”. This repetitive structure shows the viewer that there is a strong sense of community among the cast. Every individual experience is felt by the whole. These parallels are the first of many metaphors that Carlson cleverly weaves into her choreography.
Interspersed throughout Mobley's compelling original score were spoken excerpts directly from Van Der Kolk's book. The text's informative tone contrasted the emotional ambiance of the piece, giving the audience more concrete context for what was intended. While the movement itself was rich in meaning, the spoken overlay allowed the audience to focus on the primary message of Carlson's choreography.
One of the most impactful aspects of The Body Keeps the Score was the use of simple, gestural movement to evoke a strong sense of humanity, and thus, empathy, from the audience. One of the best examples of this is present in a sextet that occurred around the midpoint the piece. Six dancers performed a sequence of simple movements, most of which solely utilized the upper body. Through a few modifications and repetitions of these movements, the viewer was brought into a seemingly endless cycle of pain, grief, anger, indifference, detachment, and a number of other emotional responses that occur in the healing process.
There was a balanced use of dance and more “human” expressions. A particularly visceral moment emerged wherein the cast began gasping and wrenching, struggling to breathe normally. This eventually merged into sobbing, and then again into shallow breath. This section was juxtaposed by the solo that was performed shortly after by Sarah Parker. During this solo, a trio of dancers acted as the reverberations of Parker's movement, as if representing the aftershocks that often proceed a traumatic experience. Parker's execution of Carlson's choreography was crisp and fresh; she has a unwavering commitment to her performance, and portrayed times of strength, as well as times of struggle, brilliantly in this solo.
Along with Parker, the rest of the cast in The Body Keeps the Score soared, both individually and as a group. Noelle Cybulski, a frequent performer with DANCELINK, is intoxicating, showing both control and total abandon throughout the work. Neysha Merced is unapologetic in her prowess and attack. Lithe and expressive, Chiedu Mbonu pairs athleticism and artistry seamlessly. Ismael Moscat’s ability to ignite the space around him with his presence is invigorating, and Reinys Beriguete Flores explodes beyond her kinesphere in a liquid yet full bodied manner. William Tucker emulates a rawness and vulnerability that made his performance particularly memorable. Both Adrienne Krause and Madison McCadden possess the ability to elevate their strong technique and intention through unarguable authenticity. And last but certainly not least, Carlson did not merely dance her own choreography well, rather she embodied every moment and became one with the message she set out to deliver.
Carlson and her cast of performers successfully portrayed the journey of one (or many) who experience trauma. The Body Keeps the Score demonstrates that a seemingly step-by-step process is, in fact, a fluid series of progressions and retrogressions. This group of artists were able to expand upon the universal collective of experiences, and present something that resonates with all audiences. Pain is inevitable, but recovery is always possible. Communities suffer if one individual is hurting, and so they must unite to heal, and become stronger as one. Through research, reflection, and collaboration, Carlson and Mobley crafted a highly evocative work of art that reminds the viewer of the undeniable gift of unity, community, and humanity.