"Shoulder roll, look left, wave wave, hip swivel, forward fold, forced arch, flat back, three steps back, pas de bourrée!"
Did you get that?
Who dictates the movement of your life, the rhythm of your spirit? Is it the percussions of your heart or the flow of your journey? Is it the drive to fulfill the American fantasy of the perfect body, the perfect job, and the perfect life? Mannequin: The American Dream, premiering April 18 at the Sottile Theatre, is an invitation from Dancefx, Entropy Arts, and Charleston Dance Project to revisit the myth of perfection and experience the possibilities of our own authenticity.
Jenny Broe, executive director of Dancefx studios, collaborated on this project with Sara Cart, artistic director of Charleston Dance Project, and Andrew Walker, composer and founder of Entropy Arts. Mannequin is the first performance of its kind in the Holy City, a production that incorporates modern dance, a broad spectrum of original music, and an organic fusion of sound and storytelling. Broe, Cart, and Walker sat down with us during a rehearsal in the Dancefx studio to discuss the original story, choreography, and score in this hour-long piece.
"We've done the abstract thing," explains Broe. "This is different. We're using every form of modern dance and doing so with live musicians." Mannequin's story is three-fold about the perfect self-image, job, and life. Lead dancers Jeanette Davis, Stephanie Burg, Tim Brown, and Kristen Burgsteiner carry us through these three tales.
Through the choreography, each gesture is packed with meaning such as pageant waves, puppet on a string movements, and marching. The thread of the tales highlight particular characters, but the ensemble indicates that these are not singular tales but universal experiences. As for the music, in classic Entropy fashion, it's nuanced like in the second "perfect job" sequence with wonderful percussion beats.
"There's a businessman character," Walker explains. "He's in an ordinary situation, a mundane world. I didn't want to give any sense of melody or harmony. I wanted it very droning, almost primitive. That entire vignette is very rhythmically based without melody or harmony."
As Mannequin shifts into the third vignette, Walker's music returns to a cinematic sense of America's possibilities. "It really summarizes this beautiful picture of the American dream as a whole with white picket fences. I wanted to make the music really rich and beautiful," he says. "I pushed all the limits in the ensemble, but by the end it's the opposite and returns to meloncholy, very dissonant."
The choreography plays against the rise and fall of the music. But while the dancers have rehearsed to Walker's pre-recorded score, showtime will be with live musicians.
"The dancers have always been able to depend on recorded music: what happens in rehearsal can be counted on to happen in the performance. Not so with live music. Anything can happen, and the dancers, as well as musicians, must be ready for it," Cart says.
But the idea that anything can happen is partly why the three groups chose to collaborate. "It's challenging to create with music and dance. There must be a true connection, co-creation," says Walker. "This project is giving dance more intention, purpose, action, stakes."
The stakes are high. The three directors not only need to communicate well with one another, but the performers must also unite in the moment as well as captivate the audience.
No problem as Cart assures that "No matter what your performing arts preference is, Mannequin has all of it." Broe concurs, "Scratch preconceived notions. This is totally different."