Venue: The Shed
Co-Directors: Reggie “Regg Roc” Gray and Kaneza Schaal
Dancers: The D.R.E.A.M Ring and the FlexNYC program
Critic: Quilan “Cue” Arnold
I entered into a vast black box that felt nothing of the sort. I was transported into a gallery-vibe where the audience members were sculptures of art—standing on the many crosses of light on the floor— posing for their personal cameras. A flash of light bursts from a tunnel, silhouetting a moving body that captures everyone’s attention like a Michael Jackson concert. Tobias Rylander’s lighting configuration transported me to an ever-shifting universe. A universe to which Flex’n— a form of street dance with roots in Jamaican bruk-up— was the language spoken, and the dancers were of the royal blood line.
“Maze” is a work that uses these artistic expressions in conjunction with live music to represent the layered labyrinth of social issues like “the school-to-prison pipeline” and “systemic racism in the justice system.” Wow, a tremendously important task that can challenge the best of choreographers! Reggie ‘Regg Roc’ Gray— the founder of the D.R.E.A.M Ring Dance company and co-director of “Maze”— the cast, and the production team began the work like they were up for that challenge.
Three black males were in the center of the cypher; energy passing through the bodies with an arsenal of dense dynamic shifts. The space around the dancers is just as active and alive as the bodies themselves. Arms geometrically align with one another like a sophisticated ant farm underneath the earth. Glides of the feet like jellyfish sequencing in the sea—a fist then quickly punches into the space where a chest just occupied. The vulnerability these black bodies hold with one another is vibrant as they portray the violence they face in our society. Images eb-and-flow from abstract to concrete in conversation with the musical arrangements created by DJ Eric B, Justin Hicks, and Kanita Miller Hicks. Arms grab to connect two bodies. The third parkours through, over, and around them as he continuously escapes the entrapment of the squeezing limbs around his body. Then, there’s no escape. Bound, he sways back-and-forth between the grip of his two peers. An arm releases and churns around the central figure’s neck again-and-again-and-again-and…yank. Another strange fruit for all the audience to witness.
This imagery stood out amidst other choreographic sequencing that was difficult to follow. Although the movement of the moment was mesmerizing, the most prominent and powerful aspect was the use of the cypher structure. We, as audience members, were on the floor with the dancers during this time. A spiritual experience was exchanged as both audience and performers partook in the expression of the piece. I looked around the space and witnessed the diverse crowd smiling, recording, and vibrating in stunned excitement as they laid eyes on the shoulder-out-of-socket virtuoso that is a pillar of Flex’n. Yes, this is what the cypher is all about.
Then, the worse thing that could have happened…happened. Okay, no, a fire didn’t erupt in the building or anything! However, the ecstatic flame in my spirit did quickly cool soon after the audience was guided from the floor to the seats. My excitement was replaced with the heat of frustration as the work continued on with lackluster solos and incomplete structural arcs. While on the floor, I felt like the dancers transformed the space to fit them. Now, in this traditional proscenium stage orientation, the opposite was true. These strong black bodies were minimized by having to fit into a traditional euro-centric paradigm without strong choreographic chops to back them up!
I believe, ultimately, the audience still ate it up. It was a good show; a visceral experience filled with spirit! However, it had the potential to be a great show. One that proved to be beyond virtuosic entertainment. Nonetheless, it is a show that anyone able should go see if they want to be a part of the still-new shift of street dance forms in concert stage spaces.