Cincinnati’s resident modern dance company MamLuft&Co. Dance, now in its ninth season, opens 2016 with Double|Sided, an eye-opening world premiere. It’s been co-choreographed for the company, known for conceptual nuance and athleticism, by company members Elena Rodriguez and Steven P. Evans, who also dance in the piece. The full-length work is performed in an intimate space without a proscenium. The audience will be seated so that each side can see only half of the stage at the beginning of the performance.
“Jeanne (Mam-Luft, artistic and executive director) approached us about creating work for the Clifton Cultural Arts Center some time ago and told us about her vision of having the audience split, with the action happening between them,” Rodriguez says. She and Evans discussed the idea and became interested in creating a work that was supported by this “geographical” setup.
Both Rodriguez and Evans were frustrated and troubled by what seemed to them a way of analyzing current events that emphasized differences rather than similarities between people and groups.
“We wanted this show to be about something current in our lives,” Evans says. “About getting along, about our cultural frustrations, trying to understand ourselves and our relation to the world.”
“With so many issues dividing our communities,” Rodriguez adds, “we wanted to create a work about acceptance, unity and facilitating change through understanding rather than force.”
For the young dancers/choreographers, it was a deep and personal process in which they were forced to analyze and confront their own personal biases and perspectives, and thereby take responsibility for their roles in creating the social change they envisioned.
First, they asked the other dancers in the piece to go through the process of self-analysis and bring their own opinions and personal experiences to the table. Together, they worked to create movement they felt expressed these. Rodriguez and Evans began to create a story for their dance about finding acceptance and understanding with others who were not like them. “We wanted to build a piece that showed how volatile and aggressive human confrontation can be,” Rodriguez says, “and contrast that with the beauty and understanding of true human connection.”
During this period of discussion, they also talked about ways to physically manifest the division and conflict they wanted to create on stage. They decided to use moveable walls as props. “We wanted to have something that bolstered the piece and didn’t overshadow the whole concept,” Rodriguez says. “We’ve used the walls as both a physical and metaphorical representation of the walls that we put up between one another.”
Evans explains that because the space is so intimate, they wanted the audience to feel as though they might actually be part of the dance. “We wanted them to feel a part of the action,” he says. “The dancers get really close to the audience.”
“Each side of the audience gets to see only one person in a short solo,” Evans continues. “It’s a different way to see a show. In the beginning, you can’t see beyond the walls. But when the walls eventually come down, and the audiences can see both sides — both sides are actually doing the same thing.”
He says the mystery of not knowing is part of the plot. And the desire to know about the unseen, and the revealing of the unseen, is a way to break down barriers between people.
“It seemed to us that by persuasion and manipulation, we are pulled apart from one another,” Evans says. “In Double|Sided the walls represent that which hinders our realization of exactly how we are different or how we are similar, and will perhaps make us just want to take a look and see what is ‘over there.’ In some of the final moments, we try to portray what it is like to overcome our fear, brace ourselves and let go of boundaries.”
“It’s completely Steven and Elena’s show,” Jeanne Mam-Luft says. “I am not choreographing. They are very creative and lending a fresh voice within the MamLuft&Co. aesthetic.”
MamLuft&Co. Dance presents DOUBLE|SIDED Thursday-Sunday at the Clifton Cultural Arts Center. More info: mamluftcodance.org.