I entered the dimly lit, almost cavernous Kelly Strayhorn Theater on the evening of Saturday, May 20th already in a sort of ethereal fugue state. Delirious from a cross country flight mere hours earlier, I clambered into the spacious venue with my senses disoriented, but perhaps all the more primed to be invigorated, electrified in ways I was maybe unprepared for. I had some precursor details as to what I could expect from Attack Theatre’s staging of their collaborative show, The Next Stop—an interpretative, cooperative effort that would feature the visions of visiting talents of luminous dancers and choreographers, Helen Simoneau and Norbert De La Cruz III. The Next Stop was borne from ongoing, multidimensional projects, involving several master classes and a plethora of dynamic, tireless collaboration sessions which wed the outstanding physical acumen of the established dancers of Attack Theatre and the scintillating rhythmic ideas of Simoneau and De La Cruz. As is often the case with modern dance performances, though, whatever background information I had could in no way prepare me for what I watched—or more appropriately, experienced.
The Next Stop was presented almost as a body vivisected. It was staged in three parts: the first, an all female performance created by Simoneau, operated as the head of sorts, a challenging conceptual piece; the second, Under the Rug, choreographed by De La Cruz, featured Attack dancers Anthony Williams and Dane Tooney, functioned as the aching, pulsating heart; and the final, multimember piece that concluded the show as the appendages of the body, twitching with reflective muscle memory of past Attack shows and leaping forward to the company’s future. Typically, segregation by gender in a diverse company’s show is something I find off-putting, or, at the very least, overly simplistic. However, given the dramatically distinct essences of each segment, the gendered demarcations of Simoneau and De La Cruz’s pieces seemed far less programmatically designed to fit some sort of play on or resistance to gender stratification. Of the two guest choreography pieces, Simoneau’s was perhaps the most compelling, and most fascinatingly teased and manipulated the implicit viewer expectations of seeing an all-female dance performance. Featuring Attack dancers Kaitlin Dann, Sarah Zielinski, and Ashley Williams (along with the robustly talented Sonja Gable and Chelsea Neiss), Simoneau’s piece was cerebral—perhaps too much so for some viewers—and the hyper-calculated, almost inorganically methodical movements of the dancers in the piece challenged the conceptions of what dance means in a visual sense. This piece, in which the women were clad in black, hindered on a fierce sort of symbiosis, in which each movement interconnected to create a dynamic, group symmetry. Simultaneously, though, each movement was striking enough that it accentuated the individual dancers importance. There was a quality of unutterable cravenness to Simoneau’s choreography, a kind of grappling with something indiscernible that made the piece seem like a cognitive process expressed through physical motion. It left me disoriented, but not in a way that was a sensory affront. Rather, Simoneau’s direction and the dancers physical translation of it conveyed a sort of curious dislodging I hope for in watching a performance of that kind.
The transition to De La Cruz’s Under the Rug capitalized on stark visual contrast. Where Simoneau’s piece was ensconced in darkness and almost machine-like sterility in terms of set design, De La Cruz’s piece, that featured the electric talents and chemistry of Attack company dances Dane Toney and Anthony Williams, was replete with picturesque props and a stage designed to evoke a dream-like day in a park from a distant memory. This juxtaposition from the brutal, dark expressionism of Simoneau’s set design and choreography to the vivacious, joyous, longing imagery of both De La Cruz’s staging and choreography highlighted the perceivable transition from pensive, cerebral struggle to an agonized whimsy, the true “heart” of things. This odd sense of agonized whimsy, of a delight over memory but an aching over these memories being forever in the past, was exquisitely portrayed in the physical beauty enacted by Toney and Williams. The two men maintained such a riveting, palpable connection and an extraordinary relationship to each other and to the props that surrounded them, that their interactions enlivened some of the more tedious moments of the piece’s narrative.
The final, multimember portion of The Next Stop, was ambitious and enchanting in theory. However, for audience members (like myself) who had seen previous Attack shows, the reversion to choreography and themes from previous shows was a bit stymying. This recollection was certainly successful in making the conclusion of the show be appendage-like (to finalize my harping on this body metaphor), as the many members on the stage seemed to be lunging towards or furiously surging against something in a way legs or arms may. It would have perhaps been more personally enjoyable, as the finale of a major performance, to incorporate or focus on new or experimental choreography rather than recycle moments from past shows. Regardless, the outrageous talents and visions of all individuals involved in the production of The Next Stop and Attack theatre are continually inspiring and invigorating.