By Walter Rutledge
5 Plus Ensemble presented their premiere salon performance on Friday, December 14th, 2018 at Dance Theatre of Harlem’s studio 2. With a stellar core group consisting of Hope Clark, Carmen de Lavallade, Shelia Rohan, Darryl Reuben Hall and Michael Leon Thomas; this performing arts collective offered five works encompassing pure dance, theatre/musical theatre and prose. The well attended debut reinforced the notion that somethings do get better with time.
Getting It Together by choreographer Roumel Reaux, featuring Hope Clark, Harrison Lee, Audrey Madison, and Michael Leon Thomas, was literally a warm up for both dancers and audience. Reaux’s choreography put the dancers through their paces in a staged pre-performance workout; which functioned as the perfect informal opener.
His instructive cadence on the recording provided an extra layer of omniscient levity. At one point, much to the delight of the audience, Reaux encouraged a reluctant Hope Clark to participate. The work ended after a series of chronic, yet comedic injuries that sidelined the cast.
Dance legend Carmen De Lavallade recited a poignant passage from her cousin Janet Collins’ book Night’s Dancer: The Life of Janet Collins. She shared Collins story of auditioning for the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo; where director Leonide Massine told Collins, she could only appear on stage in whiteface. The tale of social injustice/racism resonated with an audience clearly populated by former black ballerinas. De Lavallade’s measured yet impassioned delivery embodied the concept of less is more.
Michael Leon Thomas offered the only pure dance choreography, a solo entitled Residual Effects. Dancer Rebecca Rigert performed the lyric work with great sensitivity and insight. Set to the music of Lianne La Havas Thomas’ holistic approach created a seamless blend of technique and artistry. This was especially apparent in his use of the torso and port de bra; which were expressive and unencumbered.
Guess Who I Saw Today, inspired by the 1952 jazz classic written by Murray Grand with lyrics by Elisse Boyd, will be forever linked to music icon Nancy Wilson. In a fitting tribute to the late Ms. Wilson the musical theatre work was presented with live music and vocals. Actor/vocalist Marva Hicks confronted her philandering partner Michael Leon Thomas with a dry Martini and a song. As the work concluded it be can clear that Thomas (not the Martini) was the one shaken and not stirred.
The evening culminated on a theatrical note with The Will. Conceived by actor, choreographer and director Hope Clark the witty vignette featured Kim Yancey, LaVonda Elam and Harrison Lee. The Will opened with lawyer Lee disclosing the contain of his clients last will and testament to his daughters played by Yancey and Elam. An ironic plot twist leaves Lee running for the door and the sister engaged in hilarious sibling fisticuffs.
The 5 Plus Ensemble’s debut performance exemplifies the new and growing face of dance; and that new face has both a few laugh lines, and a lot of stage savoy. By offering clever, well-crafted works celebrating the artistry of mature performers this timely artists collective may be picking up the mantle of the now defunct PARADIGM. We applaud their effort and look forward to the next endeavor.