Houston City Dance Company presents: Random Acts

Mon 4th – Fri 8th August 2014

reviews

Lucy Diver

at 10:35 on 5th Aug 2014

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As the name implies, Random Acts is a series of unconnected modern dance pieces. They vary in style and theme, and don’t form a cohesive whole – but that’s not the problem. The problem is that they also vary in quality and engagement.

‘Ebb and Flow’, is technically faultless but also technically unambitious – if elegant. The long blue chiffon tutus are an excellent costume choice, rising and falling like the jellyfish that inspired the dance. This piece becomes more interesting in the second half, but is ultimately like the marine life that its movements are based on: beautiful, if boring.

‘Phoebe’s Story’ is one of the most compelling dances of the eight, and has a strong sense of story inspired by Phoebe Price’s suicide. It showcases the magnetic talent of Selina Hall, who choreographed and dances the main part. She also dances the main part in ‘Daddy’, which was far and away the best bit: Hall is an expressive, technically superb dancer, and the emotion is palpable.

However, this engagement with story and ideas doesn’t always pay off for Houston City Dance. I can see what ‘Soliloquy: It Raged’ was trying to achieve: the soundtrack is strings remixed with a US lecture on the history of holy wars, and the programme tells us ‘This work explores how one’s definition of morality, when not accepted by others, leads to chaos and death.’ This does not come across. Some of the best modern dance engages with ideas, story, and morality, but this choreography isn’t original enough to be thought-provoking, or technically complex enough to be impressive. Similar problems apply to ‘Battter Up’ and ‘Prison: On the Yard’, which focus too much on banal storytelling and cheesy costumes, rather than creative or exciting movement.

Random Acts is at its best when it sheds cumbersome, heavy themes and has fun, as in ‘Three Women’ and ‘The D’Angelo Trilogy’. The company are clearly enjoying themselves, and I finally start to nod my head along to the music and just watch. I’m not sure what they have to do with ‘empowerment and independence’ or ‘what it means to be a woman passionately immersed in her life’, but I very nearly don’t care – I’m almost enjoying myself.

Some of the dancers are clearly talented: Jacqueline Coleman for instance, as well as Jaimee Vilela Navarrete and Stephanie Sermas, who also choreograph some of the better pieces. They deserve better compositions to show off their skills, engage the audience, and create more fun on stage and in seats.

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Zack Wellin

at 12:38 on 5th Aug 2014

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Random Acts is an impressive show for various reasons. The six women in the company are a variety of shapes, sizes and races, and the brilliant dances they perform are as varied as they are. We are first treated to a wonderfully fluid interpretation of the gentle drift of the ocean, and the slow pulsation of jellyfish, called 'Ebb and Flow'. Accompanied by a soft glockenspiel and strings, the dancers use their long sheer skirts to beautiful effect, as they transform into the translucent bodies of sea creatures. The second song brings in a more elegiac atmosphere, and the progressions of movements across the ensemble are organic and cohesive.

The second dance, a bold and vigorous tale of school bullying and distress inspired by the suicide of Phoebe Prince, is enduringly teenage in its expression of anger and fear, mob mentalities and victimisation. The movement is vital and frenetic, and the juxtaposition of strings against glitchy electronic beats in the soundtrack by Apparat conveys something of the angst and conflict of youth.

The third, a jazz dance to a soundtrack by B.B. King is full of attitude and sass. Jaimee Vilela Navarrete is particularly involving, her wonderful look of enjoyment, and powerful physicality perfectly portray the "empowerment and independence" that the programme mentions.

The fourth, and most memorable of these routines is a solo dance by Selina Hall, an investigation into the effects of child abuse. It is an exquisitely tempered performance, delicate and confused, fearful and furious. Hall is completely captivating, and she evokes a sense of confusion and inner conflict with gut-wrenching pathos. It is elegant, understated and unforgettable.

The next is called 'Batter Up', a paean in tap to the swagger and pride of professional baseball. It depicts enduring characters, though lacks the grace and subtlety of the other sections of Random Acts. The fifth performance is set to a fascinating soundtrack of abstract modern classical music overlaid with stuttering vocal samples. Ostensibly an investigation into morality, it is light and hurried, and communicated with seriousness and formality.

The Sixth, set to the hip-hop soul of D’Angelo, evokes a traditional 50s form of femininity with lots of crossed legs and stroking. It is confidently sensual, and at points escapes innuendo to achieve a more pervasive and genuine sense of passion. The final performance, about women in prison, uses flashes of light to powerfully enlarge on certain moves, and the mashup of tribal percussion and pounding breakbeats allows for strong, uninhibited, frantic movements.

In short, Random Acts is a confident and evocative dance piece, conveying an impressive variety of emotions and experiences. The ensemble are formidable, and their choreography is laudable. This is an eloquent and immersive show which will stay with you for some time.

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