Status Quo: beyond the norm
Part of the 22nd annual Dancing on the Edge Festival, Status Quo is a dynamic and visceral hour-long journey through two solo pieces and one quartet. Choreographed and performed (in part) by Shay Kuebler and Amber Funk Barton, the mandate of Status Quo is to “create movement that is dynamically bold and emotionally captivating due to its velocity, speed, musicality and articulation.” Drawing from a variety of dance techniques (to this untrained eye, there were glimpses of pop and lock, breakdancing, modern, and even ballet), the pieces seemed to physically articulate the relationships and fragmentation of our own society.
The two solo pieces (performed by Shay Kuebler and Amber Funk Barton) both seemed to be studies in alienation and exertion. Shay’s piece, Cabinet, felt like the internal depiction of striving against continual obstacles. His use of isolations, breath, and shifts in speed created a sense of a man struggling to hold his vision steady while continually buffeted by the forces of chaos or emotionality. Amber performed Valentina in a charming yellow dress, initially giving her the appearance of a doll or a puppet. Her sharp movement undercut and challenged the prettiness of the doll-like feminine image. Her hair, an iconic symbol of femininity, was left down for the piece, and acted as another costume piece, whipping around to hide her face, or frantically mussed by her in a frenetic outburst. The artistic mission of these pieces was to “create work in opposition to how they are perceived as artists or individuals.” Frankly, this mission statement is irrelevant to the experience of an audience member seeing their work for the first time, but it does offer an intriguing glimpse into their process as artists. Does Shay feel that he is viewed as impenetrable and unchallenged? Does Amber feel that she’s been trapped in a feminine bottle? While it is not the point of the experience to have these questions answered, it is a tribute to the festival that it can provide arenas for artistic self-reflection and growth. My projections about the work also expose the fundamental and dynamic co-creative process of watching a dance piece without a definitive plot: how much of what I see in their work is their artistic vision and how much is simply a reflection of my own perspective?
The group piece, Quartet (with Josh Martin and Manuel Sorge), “reflects the desire for instant entertainment and satisfaction….(that) combines contemporary technique with an urban aesthetic that abruptly shifts from scene to scene..” The impossibly quick shifts from scenario to scenario – with dancers rapidly repositioning themselves in a new place on stage – was magical and startling. Designed to be a reflection of our generation’s “channel surfing” mentality, the shifts catapulted us into new scenes without that pause to process the previous, creating a dance joyride. Hilarious and familiar scenarios – boys jockeying for the favor if a disinterested girl at a club - intercut with potent explorations of power, control, and the effect of human touch.
Jason Dubois’s lighting design was a fantastic complement to the work. His use of footlights created the feel of vaudeville and being caught in a movie projection. This was particularly funny when the boys found themselves posturing for the movie screen, highlighting our very human need to be on social display. Josh used high side lighting to create ghostly silhouettes, almost as if the dancers were moving with their own shadows. Quartet began and ended with the performers backlit and the lights on the audience, as if to sternly remind us that these scenarios were about us.
Thought-provoking, emotionally moving, and at times riveting, Status Quo is an accessible work that reveals the dynamic flux between human connection and social fragmentation. And if that seems a tad too academic, just trust me that it’s an hour of dance that will move, excite, and challenge you.
Choreographers: Amber Funk Barton, Shay Kuebler
Performers: Amber Funk Barton, Shay Kuebler, Josh Martin, Manuel Sorge
Lighting Design: Jason Dubois
Stage Management: Philomena Sondergaard
Music: Alba Noto, Ryuichi Sakamoto, Tim Heckler, Glenn Branca, Shuttle 358, Madlib, Justice, Radiohead, Talk Demonic, Amon Tobin, Bef Terminal, Roy Avers, M83