Did the movement move?
Sitting between two accomplished choreographers at the Jacob Jonas performance last week, I found myself extra critical of the show. Had I sat in the aisle seat I was originally assigned, alone, with only my thoughts my observations of how the majority of the audience received the show, I may have been wowed, as many were. In listening to audience member’s reactions, their ooh’s and ahh’s, the explosive applause, the standing ovation, and the comments during intermission and after the show, it was clear that Jacob Jonas, the Company, left a stunning impression on their Kahilu audience. While I don’t disagree that the dancers were incredible, and the choreography notable, for me, the physicality of the movement was prioritized over the story telling aspect. And with the detailed eyes of choreographers beside me, the costume and lighting choices, along with cleanliness of angles, did not go unnoticed.
The opening number, ‘Transfer’, featured a female dancer, being moved around the stage by various male dancers. The piece was described as a “journey of someone moving from one place to another, having no emotional residence”. Her movements paralleled that of a rag doll, with many beautiful, almost acrobatic moments of partner oriented choreography, much like the work of Pilobolus. The dancers were strong, but the purpose behind the storyline didn’t come across, or perhaps I would say I simply was not moved. Yet it could be argued that was the point, and thus the intention was achieved.
The second piece, ‘One pair off’, included acrobatic movements such as backflips and lifts, as well as breakdancing (head spins, etc.), and extensive partnering work, which was incredible, and requires not only extreme skill and training but also a profound amount of trust between the dancers. And while this level of athleticism was jaw dropping, I was not moved by the story. That is to say that beyond feeling blown away by the way their bodies were moving, I didn’t feel moved myself.
The third piece was choreographed to a speech by Senator Elizabeth Warren, regarding equal pay, and it was entitled ‘To The Dollar’. The piece came across as almost a dance a cappella, without music, choreographed to the cadence of Senator Warren’s voice. There was a clear and concise story here, with a very verbal message, but I found myself experiencing the movement and the speech as two separate entities, almost like when you watch a foreign film and read the subtitles, but then can’t focus on the content of the movie. The costumes didn’t contribute to a sense of cohesion in the piece either, although the intention was clear, and the idea a noble one.
The entire second act was one long piece, and by far my favorite. The trust between the dancers was tangible as they piled on top of one another, jumped and leaped into each others arms, caught and climbed through each other, exploring the idiom ‘to carry the weight of the world on one’s shoulders.’ Featuring a number of series of backflips, the piece definitely wowed the audience, but I was more taken by the sense of the story, the exploration of humanity through the lens of movement. While the piece could have been cleaner (as my colleague next to me pointed out), there was purpose to the choreography, which is ultimately what I look for, and hope to be inspired by, when watching a professional dance company (or any dance show for that matter).
Overall, my experience of Jacob Jonas, the Company, was that the physicality of the movement took priority over the storytelling, which was disappointing to me because when the two are equally present in a dance performance the synergy created is incredibly moving. That being said, we are so fortunate to have such high-caliber dancers at our little theatre on our Big Island in the middle of the Pacific, and it was another wonderful evening at the Kahilu. I was happy to see how much the audience enjoyed the performance, and I hope they left the theatre feeling, but I do think we might be a bit more prudent with our standing ovations…they shouldn’t be so easily earned.
Noelani Isabella Anderson is from the Hamakua Coast, studied Theatre at Chapman University, and teaches Musical Theatre and Acting Technique for Prince Dance Institute, North Hawaii’s performing Arts School, where she is also Managing Director.
Photos: Steve Roby