The Good Dance--dakar/brooklyn
nytheatre.com review by Russell M. Kaplan
December 16, 2009
The Good Dance is a trans-Atlantic partnership between choreographers Andreya Ouamba of Senegal (an avid improvisation fanatic) and Brooklyn's Reggie Wilson (a self-professed stickler for structure). Setting out to merge their two distinct styles, as well as explore the cultural commonalities between their respective homes of Mississippi and Dakar, the creators clearly want to make sure that their process and intentions are understood...so much so that the second "dance" of their new piece is Wilson describing their process directly to the audience. Unfortunately, the fascinating process that he speaks of is not communicated through the dancing itself, and what was undoubtedly a very rewarding project for the artists has resulted in a rather unfulfilling evening for the audience.
The Good Dance (a riff on the phrase "The Good Book") actually starts on a promising note of casual unpretentiousness. The audience enters to a bare stage with low-hanging worklights, and the first dance is an interesting duel between a series of loose-limbed athletic solo dancers and a rather non-athletic (and seemingly oblivious) soloist in her own little world nearby. The dancers then clear the stage for Mr. Wilson's explanatory monologue, which he recites playfully while slowly traversing the stage with a water bottle balanced on his head. The bottle is amusing at first, when the image suddenly takes on new meaning as hundreds of plastic bottles become crucial props and set pieces, constantly being set up, knocked down, thrown, flung, and rolled around the stage by the eight dancers. It's fascinating and occasionally even beautiful at first, but quickly becomes both a physical obstacle and an imaginative crutch for the talented troupe.
And the thing is, there really is some excellent dancing. Where the choreographers have succeeded is in creating an exciting and unique vocabulary of movement, one that merges the raw looseness of African dance with a postmodern elegance and deliberation. And their dancers, drawn from both choreographers' companies, are mostly fully focused and game for the challenge. But the structure on which Wilson supposedly thrives is simply not there. There is little tension ever established between moments, reducing the dancers' impressive and emotive movements to motions in a void. The dancers' chemistry with each other is up and down, and the choreography is generally uninformed at all by the stirring soundtrack, which includes raw and soulful music, from traditional Senegalese song to Aretha Franklin.
The choreographers clearly have a great respect for each others' work, which may be part of the problem: sometimes even two cooks in the kitchen is too many, and The Good Dance suggests that neither artist—while each may have explored exciting territory with the movement—was willing to take charge and establish focus for the piece as a whole. The talent is so strong and the premise so interesting, it's a shame that a promising work-in-progress has been thrust onto BAM's biggest stage well before it's ready.