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Paradigm Dance Company

'Stayin' Alive,' 'Stages,' 'Player and Prayer,' 'Three Scenes from Archy and Mehitabel,' 'Three of Clubs; Three of Hearts'

by Elizabeth McPherson

July 9, 2008 - Dance Theatre Workshop, New York City

Paradigm Dance Company was founded in 1998 by Gus Solomons, Jr. with Carmen de Lavallade and Dudley Williams. Also in the company now are Hope Clark, Valda Setterfield, Keith Sabado, and Michael Blake. According to press materials, the company’s goal is to “promote and celebrate the talents of mature artists on the stage, illustrating the eloquence that years of experience bring to the stage, as well as creating a dance repertory specifically for seasoned, mature, professional dancers.”

Each of the dances in this evening’s program made the audience confront the issue of what aging means in our society –  infirmity, isolation, fear, wisdom, knowledge, power, and lack of power. And, even more specifically, what does aging mean for a dancer whose body and ability to move have been their lifeline? These dancers still have the desire and ability to move with such expertise to keep an audience spellbound, but it is not through split jumps and triple pirouettes. It is much deeper than that. Their vast experience and artistry create an environment in which dancing is living, played out on the stage in front of us by people who have spent and are still spending their lives performing.

The first dance “Stayin’ Alive,” choreography by Kay Cummings, was greeted by ripples of laughter as Setterfield, Williams, and Solomons hobbled around the stage in hospital gowns and gripping IV poles, all to the music of the Bee Gees. With a few disco arms and pole movements in canon, the image was one of taking control over one’s hardships with humor and grace. Well, at least as graceful as you can be with your underwear showing through the back of a hospital gown!

Although the sequence of group, solo, group, solo, group, solo was a bit predictable in Robert Battle’s “Stages,” the dance moved me. Blake’s solo with his outstretched arms and hands was permeated with inner strength. Sabado’s solo dove into the deepest and darkest places of fear. Overall, the dance progressed from uncertainty and isolation to a more comforting celebration of community. A repeated motif was feeding each other, which began as an almost unwilling compulsion and morphed into happy caretaking and sharing.

“Player and Prayer” choreographed by Jonah Bokaer had a meditative quality and an even flow. The dancing was accompanied by statements of the performers regarding their first experiences with dance. One voice described impulsively jumping up to dance in church and being reprimanded. Another voice explained the reason she began dancing and continues is that it combines mind, body, and spirit.

In “Three Scenes from Archy and Mehitabel” (choreographed, costumed, and performed by de Lavallade and Solomons), we were treated to a theatrical scene in which movement tells the story as much as the words. Based on Don Marquis’ 1919 news columns, Solomons played Archy, a cockroach with the soul of a poet, and de Lavallade played Mehitabel, a cat who believes she was once Cleopatra. Archy is centered, the voice of reason, while Mehitabel is wild and unpredictable, professing to be living a life that, despite hardships, is “toujours gay.” The performers’ expert use of voice, body language, and movement define the characters with crystal clarity. Archy, although seemingly in charge of the situation, is easily and quickly frightened of Mehitabel and scampers up a ladder. The power balance shifts back and forth throughout the scene.

The final dance, “Three of Clubs; Three of Hearts” choreographed by Solomons, has sumptuous ball gowns/robes (designed by Oana Botez-Ban) as costumes for both men and women. Williams appeared to be playing the king, while members of his court moved around and on and off the stage with a semblance of enacting courtly intrigues. The dance ends as if in mid-sentence with the audience left to fill in the blank or leave as is with a question mark. Perhaps Solomons is suggesting the notion that his dance is still ongoing.

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