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  • Writer's pictureBen Kemper

Put Your Graffiti on Me.

Or: Come on, stop being so brilliant! No Fair!

I do not profess to be a dance critic. That world is as strange and wondrous and inaccessible as the surface of the moon. But I flatter myself that I know a bit about good storytelling, and the 39th annual main stage performance is a masterpiece in cohesive tales and generous welcoming of an audience to a world of wonder. So I shall beg you to excuse gross inadequacy as I try to lay out my memories.

Every act, be it merely for the love of the movement or dripping with narrative, is strung together to provide a ride of an evening, laughter to terror to wonder to aww enduing sweetness.

Though my heart prompts me I will refrain from describing each act and will instead focus on the what to my mind were the five finest apples of a lush crop. For those of you angling for the last two performances I will tempt you only with a taste of Lost Balloons, Alcoholism, spirits deadly and benign, a pantomimed argument of five year olds, killer disney clowns, kid pirates, whores with pride, and what can only be described as Munchkins on Acid.

Kindest on the Ear: If I Should have a Daughter, choreographed Kayla Grayson. Based on the recording of Sarah Kay, the poet, describing her mission to bring her daughter up ready to suffer the blows of the world and to breast each wave smiling, two dancers Lamberg and Shimano, one as the mother and as the daughter try to assist and teach each other the movements of going to the world. As the mother slowly comes to a halt the daughter gives over to her movement and abandon. A story of growing up and letting go, of love in unlikely ways. As Kay’s unpretentious thoughts roll forth we are drawn to the physical representation of her words and are ourselves cast far into the future of how we might be have when tried with progeny.

Bitterest to the Tongue: Come to Life, Choreographed by Jacinda Ratcliffe. There is something delicious about a tragedy, people being handed beauty and through their own faults tear it to pieces. This grim little fairy tale might have many interpretations, a little boy growing up to be a psychotic abuser, a prince morning for his lost love, the tale of Pygmalion gone wrong. Johnny Stein as the graceful and proper man, playing with a music box and finding Sarah Hersey an exquisite young lady with whom he sets about a courtship which grows more carnal and more violent. “Davie Jones” provides the leitmotif , building from its sad, forlorn plucking to the roaring wail of the pipe organ of horror. Hans Zimmer is cackling in pleasure somewhere.

Most Tactually stimulating: We’ll be Right Back, Choreographed by Parker Murphy. A mishmash and medley songs, themes, and noises illuminate a family, happy with their lot but apparently enslaved by the need of the television. They tap fidget, squirm and stare into the blank screens with worrying hunger. Katherine Scott (the mother????) in particular proves herself adept in syncing up her movements the lighting quick bursts of movement. Parker Murphy and Kayla Grayson, are equal able at controlling their limbs as the family hops and twines themselves around each other. A shout out to Amelia Bell, the pieces consume designer for creating skirts that both billow and fall in perfect order along with he backs and bellies of their wearers so not a fold is out of place.

Most Pleasant to the Eye: Peryed by Rachel Molinaro. Three boys running for their lives from what looks for all the world like a living forest. Sound hokey? It’s not. With overtures of the Tempest, the harsh staccato of drums and the slow menacing shift of the sprits raise the hackles of the audience in a most pleasant way. The dancing is so precisely spaced that no two actions clash together and they eye is drawn eagerly, and is never torn between two images.

Plays the Heart: Looking Back, Moving Forward. Choreographed by the Seniors. On the back syke archive footage of past Graffiti shows, dances both silly and sultry, tightly controlled or filled with wild abandon. The whistling chorus and foot stamping hope of “Home” by Edward Sharp and the Magnetic Zero’s marches down the ear and into the toes. And here come the four seniors about to cross the waters into the unknown country, saying goodbye to this part of their lives. I normally object strongly to projections in performance for severing the hear and now to the then and there. But here it worked for as each piece of footage switched to a new dance, so to did the dancers flow seamlessly into the steps and gestures of the time before, living out the actions of their past comrades or sometimes just hunkering down and gently gleeking with each other or just embracing and holding close. To see traditions upheld and traditions laid down brought a mist to my eyes and though I knew not one of the dancers I thanked them for so boldly sharing this part of themselves with all, before setting it aside forever.

These were just the highest marks of an evening that thrilled in every inch. From the first joyous twenties-inspired welcome to the last sultry hip-hop pose, The Graffiti dancers reeled me in and carried me though one story after another, each a contrast and a continuation of those that came before. I felt very grateful to be in the presence of such storytellers with a good hold on dance and a chokehold on life and squeezing the most they could out of both.

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