Saturday, June 25th, the Jacksonville Dance Theatre performed its fourth annual concert at the Florida Theatre. As the audience arrived, the lobby was buzzing with admiring students and supporters of the company’s Artistic Director and co-founder Rebecca Levy. A group of preteen girls still in their dance studio jackets from their afternoon classes were giddy at the thought of one day dancing under Levy at FSCJ’s danceWorks program or even with Jacksonville Dance Theater. At the other end of the lobby, two of Levy’s past danceWorks students reverently nostalgic about studying under the dancer extraordinaire.
Levy was careful to note in the program that “there is not ‘one way’ to view modern dance.” Where audiences of a ballet can generally agree on a defined plot, modern dance skews the boundaries of a beginning, middle, and end giving the audience the privilege of understanding the dances as they need to in that moment of life. To see the piece again, may hold an entirely new and no less valid meaning.
There is no pomp and circumstance in modern dance, all the audience sees and hears serves a distinct purpose. Everything that was utilized by the dancers was critical to their communication with their audience. The dances were only set to music when necessary with several pieces taking long pauses of silence and others using no music at all. The costumes, props, and lighting seem to have bred organically from the movement of each dance.
The highly trained company members moved with a mix of grace and tension, one moment reminiscent of ballet, and the next stark and satisfyingly unsettling. Force and fluidity were crucial to telling their deeply moving stories. Their technique is not to be questioned but unlike more traditional forms of dance, each movement is not extended to showcase the full range of flexibility of the dancers. Instead, process and expression takes precedent, and the audience is left with a much rawer, and often times more communicative experience, that only modern dance of this caliber can provide.
The pièce de résistance was truly the finale dedicated to the victims of the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando entitled “Stakes is High.” The dance consisted of three parts. The first told the story of two characters moving with constriction, experiencing insecurity and anger within themselves and with each other. The tension dispels and the characters find strength in the community of a large group of high energy dancers who move freely and without inhibition. Dancers begin to fall and the music shifts. They begin to move with more synchronization making gestures of prayer and confusion. Their despair is apparent but their solidarity is unshaken. The piece earned the most enthusiastic ovation of the night.
This production, led by Levy and supremely supported by Katie McCaughan, Tiffany S. Santerio, Emily Cargill, Bliss Kohlmyer, James Morro, and Mikey Riouzx, has continued the great modern dance tradition of not merely reflecting our culture but allowing us to engage more deeply though the physical symbolism that dance allows. It facilitates a deeper way to process the Orlando tragedy that only “Stakes is High” choreographer James Morro and the Jacksonville Dance Theatre can consistently deliver.