Let’s start this out by saying I am not a columnist anywhere, I am not an expert of ANY world – let alone the world of dance, and my review isn’t going into any fancymag or you know, going to be read by a whole lot of people. I do my writing thang for me, in hopes that someone somewhere (besides me) gets something out of it, gets a laugh, feels uplifted, whatever. I’m just sayin. Also, I’m no dancer.
But I fucking used to be. I was a dance minor for a hot minute in college, actually. I don’t talk about it a lot because it was short-lived and I gave it up pretty quickly. Ever since I was a small child, dance has been a way for me to express everything from joy to sorrow. I may be older now, but I’ve never NOT loved dancing, or watching those that do it a million times better than I ever could.
Enter Keone and Mari Madrid. I don’t watch network TV all that much, had no idea they have been quite the dance sensation. We’ve lived in San Diego since July and are finally getting settled, and I heard about this performance called Beyond Babel that was calling San Diego its home through November on the local NPR arts segment. I looked it up and watched the posted videos about how they basically turned a warehouse-type small building into a theatre, how they came up for the concept for this show, and I didn’t care how much the tickets were anymore. I was instantly captivated by the creators. This show. Holy shit. If you live anywhere in Southern California or are coming to visit anytime soon, you need to see it. If it goes on tour, which I hope it does, buy tickets as soon as you hear about it. But I mean, let’s talk about why. Because me just saying it’s great is all nice and everything, but if I felt so strongly to write about it the minute I got home, there are clearly things you gotta know. IMMEDIATELY.
I appreciate a lot of different forms of dance, and hip-hop is among the most demanding – grueling level changes, impeccable isolations, high energy – I can say, even when I was young, this shit kicked my ass and it wasn’t even super prevalent yet at that time as a form you could learn in a class. What Keone and Mari have done in Beyond Babel is create a story through their choreography that is both timely and timeless – the story of a wall, the soldiers of that wall, of love torn asunder and separated, of death and life, and of the divisions of the world we live in today. Set to contemporary music, every piece is crafted in such a way that you feel this story, not just see it and hear it. The rest of the ensemble, in muted shades of street clothes for most of the numbers, shine – no matter that they are wearing grey. The use of six pieces of tall, rolling chain-link fences, various crocheted designs adorning most, is so inventive and adds a dimension to the story and the dancing that is hard and cold when necessary – bright and joyous at other times, with all of the crochet work on display. The rolling fences, some wooden crates for levels, and crochet yarn – very few props are needed to depict what the performance intends to get across to the audience.
While Keone and Mari created the show along with production company Hideaway Circus, the other dancers in the show are undeniable in their force, their love of what they are doing, and their sheer power demonstrated through every move. The subtle nuances in their upper body movements especially are just fucking amazing. If you are a fan of syncopation and dance being choreographed to more than just the obvious rhythm of a song, you will be amazed. The slower pieces are simply beautiful, with sustained movements and long, slow, controlled expressions. The amount of effort it takes to perform the slow pieces, as any dancer will tell you, is just as intense as a fast and energetic piece.
So I could talk for forever about what I can remember of each piece, but I think what’s more important – and what I think the creators intend – is for me to talk about how it makes me feel. From the opening sequence, I felt hope, pride, beauty at these performers who are 100% emoting all that is happening right now in the world and giving those emotions back to the audience. The producers were sitting behind me and to the left, and I’m pretty sure they thought I might have been nuts – but checking their Instagram feed, I am not the only person that evidently cries during this show. There are movements that are so dynamic, so expressive, so fundamentally a depiction of everything many of us are feeling during the times in which we live that one can not do much else but cry. I have seen a lot of live performances in my life. I have been part of a performance a time or two. I can honestly say that this was like nothing I’ve ever seen and it has made a lasting impression. I want to see it again. And again. And again. Thank you to these amazing dancers that have created something so powerful that people can’t help but talk, write, and think about it for what I think will be years to come. Thank you for taking a snapshot of where we are in history and making it personal – more than that. Making it pivotal.