Updated: Feb 26
February 16, 2023
Choreography and Concept: Jordan Ryder in collaboration with the artists
Composer/Percussionist: Stone Mathers
Dancers: Emily Cattan, Chelen Middlebrook, Miriam Rose, Philip Strom, Devon Travis
Lighting: Zack Saunders
Stage Manager: Richard Scandola
What are the ways in which we can return to ourselves, to the places and feelings we define as home? RyderDance’s first evening length work, Homecoming, addresses these questions and uncovers layers of meaning in both the physical and cognitive sense. Visceral, vigorous, and penetrating, Homecoming contrasts gentle sentiment and fierce athleticism to revisit the past while celebrating the present. Artistic Director Jordan Ryder takes advantage of The Tank’s intimate yet spacious theater to draw the eye in from an outer landscape to an internal focus, like a camera zooming inward. Dancers enter and exit from both wings, the audience, and from an upstage door, turning a proscenium stage multi-leveled. Lighting design by Zack Saunders uses shades of blue, pink, and stark white to differentiate memory from reality.
Emerging from the audience, Devon Travis circles a small yellow table. Challenging the position of the table in her space, Travis eventually sinks to her elbow, supported by its surface. The quality of her homecoming is decisive: this is a place of trust. Ryder’s choice of a table as the only set piece in Homecoming is significant in more than one way. Around these ubiquitous furniture pieces we gather with family and friends, discuss important events, play games, bake cookies. At home or at work, tables are places where connections grow and dissolve, ventures initiate and terminate, work is tackled or ignored; and our tables remain stoic and standing through it all.
As more dancers enter and manipulate the table, it is no longer a stage prop. It becomes a partner. Forearms slide along its surface, bodies dive beneath or roll across the top. Relationships between the dancers are sometimes playful, sometimes provocative, yet always supportive. Performers Travis, Emily Cattan, Chelen Middlebrook, Miriam Rose and Philip Strom lift and carry each other with collective effort. Strom and Middlebrook meet on opposite sides of the table in a playful duet that conjures feelings of familial bonds.
Although the table acts as a focal point in the piece, there is much else to see. Ryder combines live music, dance and film to create a momentum that fuels this 40 minute premiere. Her choreography is sequential and athletic with gestural accents that create a sculptural aspect. Intricate and quick without being overwhelming, the movement mirrors Stone Mathers’ driving score. The dancers rush on and off stage with urgency. They repeatedly lift and move the table and each other, breaking down and rebuilding visual constructs as if searching for something that no longer exists. When they stop to watch each other, a sense of remembering emerges. Solo’s peppered throughout the evening give glimpses into each dancer’s search through their collective past while highlighting their unique gifts. Seductive performers all, Strom captivates with his ability to suspend and release in surprising rhythms, moving like an internal dialogue made visible. Middlebrook is a powerhouse, strong and detailed.
There is much joy and camaraderie in Homecoming, but Ryder also acknowledges the darker side to returning. Left alone onstage, Travis slows to a stop. She watches a film being projected on the wall. In it, she is dancing with Cattan, Middlebrook, Rose and Strom, but their choreography is different, as is the structure of their work together. Thematically similar, the movement in the film is less insistent, more suspended. Through the shifting camera angles and perspectives that film allows, we are invited deeper into the choreography. A close up on a web of hands gripped in a partnering sequence or an arm as it slides down the back of another dancer during a lift reinforces the idea of trust that pervades Homecoming. Travis watches in homage to a past experience. When the group dancing on stage continues, moments of observation become more melancholy. Saunder’s blue lighting creates a ghost-like effect, reminding us that our past is a place to which we can only return in our minds. A sense of longing to go back persists, but is not quite granted. Until the end. Gathering together in a series of slow torso undulations, the dancers form a line, turning to face the table and the space they recently occupied. Close but not touching they are home, together.