By Walter Rutledge and Adewale Adekanbi Jr.
Maze made its world premiere at The Shed’s Griffin Theater, 545 West 30th Street on July 24. The production explores “the puzzles and poetry of human existence” taking on issues including the school to prison pipeline and systemic racism in the justice system. This new street dance presentation, commissioned by The Shed for its inaugural season, features sixteen dancers from The D.R.E.A.M. Ring and two performers from The Shed’s FlexNYC program.
What distinguished Maze from the typical urban dance performance is the high production value; the skillful use of multiple choreographic elements and cleanly crafted staging. This was not a dance battle in a Flatbush, Brooklyn basement; that rely heavily on improvised movement responses to a single opponent. Instead co-directors Reggie “Regg Roc” Gray and Kaneza Schall have combined an exciting thematic amalgam of contemporary urban dance styles to create an abstract narrative evening of cutting-edge dance.
As you entered the theater lighting designer Tobias G. Rylander vision could be best described as atmospheric. White lights cut through the heavy haze creating a blanket of light that completely hid the raked seating area. The expansive black box space had six shafts of light that projected large X’s (two downstage right, two off-center and two upstage left) on the floor.
Audience members milled around, anticipating the start of what was going to be an interactive first half. The hour plus performance was divided into two parts. The first section (approx. 20 minutes in length) was performed with the audience standing on the stage; in the second section the audience was seated. The performance featured live music and vocals by a seven-member ensemble located on a raised platform upstage.
The work opened with a beam of light cutting across the center of the space dividing the audience into two separate areas left and right of the center corridor. A solo female figure (Diedra “Dayntee” Braz ) appeared from the light blanketed space downstage, and slowly made her way upstage down the runway of light. Braz’s tall, lean and athletic (but feminine) body complimented the dramatic yet sensual movement of Grooving– a style derived from Jamaican dancehall. After two more solo performers made their way down the candescent catwalk the remaining cast entered en masse.
The caravan of Flexers, Gliders, Floor Gliders, Krumpers, Bone-Breakers, Pausers and Animationists eerily entered the space. The entrance reminded me of the movie Close Encounters; that moment when the space ship door opened, and the Extraterrestrials greeted the Earthlings. The 18 dancers divided into smaller groups and began performing on the 6 X’s. After four bars the cast weave through the crowd changing location.
One of the many standout performances in the first half is a solo by bone-breaker and flex artist Sean “Brixx” Douglas with hauntingly sweet live vocals by Justin Hicks. Brixx’s gangly physique coupled with stylized facial expressions gave him the appearance of living West African sculpture. By the time he began a series of “street bourees” floating downstage on the tips of his Nike sneakers the audience had cleared the middle of the space forming a large human ring around the perimeter. The full cast also participated providing secondary supportive movement, and essentially becoming a hip- hop corps de ballet.
The seated second half felt more traditional in design, but this new restriction did not displace the works spontaneity. The group in unison, at times, produced more conventional choreographic moments; that were masterfully counter balanced against smaller multiple groupings happening simultaneously. The visual effect took us from a calming almost pastoral wave of gesture driven movement to the multiple imagery of an abstract dance collage; both produced powerful and oft-times memorable movement passages.
In two such moments a male dancer suspended himself between two other men. One dancer applied an invisible noose pulling on the rope until the center dancer appeared unconscious; then the third dancer cut the imaginary rope and the victim tumbled lifeless to the floor. And in 16 Shots dancer Derick “Spectacular Slicc” Murreid was the victim of a police shooting. Downstage, in front of the ensemble, Murreid performed a series of knee crawls that rivaled the best Russian folk dancer. The use of multi levels and overlapping and varied movement passages on the ensemble created a tense and textural urban landscape.
The evening ended with a protracted, yet focused solo performed by James “Banks Artiste” Davis with live vocal accompaniment by Kenita Miller Hicks. Hicks joined Banks on the floor in an impactful choreographed/staged finale. At the end dancer and singer embraced as the audience were invited to return to the stage and dance with the cast.
Unfortunately, this must-see production ends its five-week run on Saturday August 17. The final four performances begin Wednesday August 14. For more information and to purchase tickets visit theshed.org.
In Photos: 1) Dwight ‘Scorp’ Waugh 2) Diedra “Dayntee” Braz 3) Andre ‘Dre Don’ Redman, R: Risa ‘Risa’ Morales 4) L: Joshua ‘Sage’ Morales, Middle: Derick ‘SpectacularSlicc’ Murreld, L: Sean ‘Brixx’ Douglas, Background: Quamaine ‘Virtuoso’Daniels. 5) Derick ‘Spectacular Slicc’ Murreld (front) with the cast.
Photography by 1) Renata Raksha 2- 5) Kate Glicksberg