The Border Project
nytheatre.com review by Nick Mwaluko
July 18, 2009
Dance offers its audience an opportunity to extrapolate universal experiences from a universal platform: the body. Articulations of specific body parts, particularly when isolated, can be culturally specific, regions of the body evoking social norms associated with parts of the world. Witness the intricate wrist movements that have become the universal signature for dance from India, for example. This interesting and culturally-specific vocabulary of movement informs the choreography and structured improvisation of The Border Project, dance narratives by Teresa Fellion and her company featured at the BoCoCa Arts Festival in The Archip Gallery Theater.
Five different dance narratives or body stories are thematically connected through a physical response to human migration and its ensuing emotional resonance—dislocation, alienation, resident fear, a dialectic between insiders and outsiders, natives and foreigners; an invitation to belong; the hope, comedy, and tragedy of social isolation as part and parcel of the human condition. These complex themes arose from a variety of source material including texts written by individual dancers within a well-traveled company who have performed in Spain, France, China, and parts of the United States—to list but a few venues. Artistic director Teresa Fellion spent a year in Cameroon where she felt the impact of xenophobia first hand when friends and fellow dancers from the West African country retold stories of their ill treatment in France during the race riots.
All five dances evoke the conditional tense in form and language as evidenced in their titles: "Living in 'IF'," "How Did I Get Here?," "There Moves the Neighborhood." The signature dance piece—"The Border Project"—has a loner, an actress-dancer looking at a cohesive group, clearly an outsider without access to the larger and more cohesive networks of a bigger, seemingly homogenous social order. Another actress-dancer, seeing the loner, guides her into the group, directing her through "the border" towards the center. The power of this dance lives in its performance and story, certainly. What is essential to its creative force is left unsaid and therefore alive; what the dance asks its audience to question within the process of assimilation that is crucial and deadly to those living and yearning at the margins when nursed into the mainstream. Issues of loss and gain, questions surrounding the sacrosanct posture of identity and its survival are left unanswered because they are unanswerable given their subjectivity. That the company embraces its complexity, opting for exploration rather than explanation, speaks to the work's maturity.
On the subject of which, the final dance-narrative—"There Moves the Neighborhood"—is a personal favorite for its comedic value. Dancers Lauren Birnbaum, Corey Bliss, Kristin Dexnis, Kristin Henry, Melissa Plotnick, Gwenaelle Rakotovao, Anna Staloch, and Heidi Turzyn form groups, dance solos, become statues frozen in time, retaining tension through the rigid articulation of upper and lower body parts. The narrative is loose, possibly unresolved, as the actress-dancers bob, shake, and jive their way off the bare stage to conclude an evening of lively, informative, and provocative dance through story.