Review: Passion Fruit Dance Company brings the club to the stage

As they do regularly since the start of the pandemic , the father-son DJ duo known as St. James Joy got the party off to a good start, t...


As they do regularly since the start of the pandemic, the father-son DJ duo known as St. James Joy got the party off to a good start, this time at the The BRIC celebrates Brooklyn! Festival Friday night. Then DJ Pfunk and house producer Saadiq Bolden rocked the new Lena Horne Bandshell, with louder sounds and enough bass to rock even seated bodies. The atmosphere of a dance club was taken outside almost intact.

All of this, however, was before the show. The main event was a performance of the next generation Passion fruit dance company, which is dedicated to transferring house and hip-hop dance and culture from club to stage. And something in this transfer seemed blocked, incomplete, trapped.

“Trapped”, in fact, was the title of the work, a first. The skillful dancers started out encased in cocoons of stretchy fabric, and throughout the piece they seemed to be trying to help each other break free. Yet even after manipulating the fabric into skirts and aprons and getting rid of the swath, the concepts and choreography seemed to hold them on a deeper level. The feeling of confinement in the work had more force than his clearly intended vision of escape.

The fabric cocoons might remind “Lamentation,” Martha Graham’s 1930s classic solo inside a textile tube, though Graham’s expression of grief didn’t have the hard-hitting attack of these dancers, their hands slipping upward on a bang snare drum. Whether or not this was an allusion to Graham, the problem early on in “Trapped” was not the idea; the problem was the underdevelopment, the vague shaping over time of the different shapes that the dancers made with the fabric.

This was also true for the other ideas in the book. A shadowboxing section gave new meaning to the boom-bap of music (with imaginative Bolden beats), but morphed into a series of shaggy gestures. Again and again, the build-up was more important than the release. The supporting audience continued to eagerly respond to the dance signals of “here it comes” with cries of encouragement, but the sparks never really caught fire, or not for long.

They are dancers of talent and distinction. Tatiana Desardouin, who founded and directs the group, exuded generosity and quiet power. Gyeun Jeong, also known as SooMissyBoog, jumped with fierce precision. Nubian Néné posed with great finesse. Mai Le Ho and Lauriane Ogay had their moments. But anyone who has seen these dancers in a club setting – or in Rennie Harris’ better constructed choreography – knows they can do more, be more spiritual, take flight.

For me, the most frustrating misstep has been the use of video. For much of the second half of the work, the dancers simply sat on stage, repeatedly giving up their attention to projected images of themselves dancing in more elegant clothing. Whether it was a performance of fantasy, a sad commentary on dancing during the pandemic, or an ill-conceived rest break, it sapped all the energy the dancers were generating. With live and in-person dancing now more valuable than ever, the last thing we need on stage is more screen time.

This is a fixable error, however. And if “Trapped” ended without completely freeing the dancers or the audience, Desardouin had the good idea to bring in the DJ collective Soul Summit Music for a post-show dance party. She knows where the spirit is going, if not quite how to let it free on stage.

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Newsrust - US Top News: Review: Passion Fruit Dance Company brings the club to the stage
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