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JKing Dance Company's "UnWrapped": a Captivating Package

by Marilynn Larkin
May 11, 2013
Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater
405 West 55th Street
New York, NY 10019
(212) 405-9000
It was with some trepidation that I agreed to cover Joyce King's latest offerings. I know little about contemporary dance; the pieces I've been exposed to here and there were not particularly engaging, and did not inspire me to learn more. When I saw the program consisted of just three works, each running around 15 minutes, my stomach fluttered. So I decided to take the advice King offered in the program: "I only ask that you explore leaving your protective self at the door and open up your hearts to surrender to where these works may take you." I did just that, and had a marvelous time.

Before I get to each work, I would like to note that the Q&A session at the end of the show gave me confidence in my perceptions and helped explain why I responded so positively. Like me, the mother of one of the dancers said she had questioned whether she would understand and appreciate the works her daughter was performing in. Also like me, she found the pieces moving and accessible. King's years of theatre training infuse all three pieces with a kind of organic theatricality, as well as discernible story lines that still manage to leave much to the viewer's imagination.

The show began with "Phantasm," King's homage to her mother's battle with Alzheimer's disease (photos below). The emotionally-charged work moves through several phases, chronicling the loss of sense of self, the fight to understand, rejection of treatment and, finally, resignation, acceptance, a plea to "Just Let Me Go." The dancers moved between chaos and incomprehension, conveying the haunting symptoms, the power of refusal and ultimately, the exhaustion of defeat.

Next, I gave myself over to the world premiere of "OutSide the BOX." Amazingly, the dancers all lost 10 years, metamorphosing into youngsters in school uniforms romping under the careful yet playful eye of a nun (in the Q&A, it emerged that the teacher was a nun and that these sequences in some ways echoed King's Catholic school experiences). The fun—and naughtiness, when the young people excluded their teacher from their games—was interspersed with childhood fears, manifesting as nightmarish hooded demons. In all, a very energetic piece highlighting the dancers' athleticism and versatility.

The final work, also a world premiere, was "LISTEn," a reminder of how quickly youth and innocence, symbolized by a red balloon, could turn to storm and turbulence (of adolescence? war?), ultimately leading to the dawn of a new day (maturity?). That I actively engaged in speculation and possible interpretations is a testament to the power of all three pieces to draw the audience in—in a sense, inviting us to share in the creative process by triggering our own sensibilities and experiences.

Taken together, the works in "UnWrapped" are provocative, emotional and daring. The dancers clearly are physically strong, but also focused and committed. I learned during the Q&A that most of the time, the company rehearses only once a week for four hours (twice a week in April). I can only imagine the intensity of those rehearsals, and the work each dancer must do on her own to contribute to the vibrancy and professionalism of the ensemble.
Phantasm

Phantasm

Photo © & courtesy of Jaqlin Medlock


Phantasm

Phantasm

Photo © & courtesy of Jaqlin Medlock


Phantasm

Phantasm

Photo © & courtesy of Jaqlin Medlock


OutSide the BOX

OutSide the BOX

Photo © & courtesy of Jaqlin Medlock


OutSide the BOX

OutSide the BOX

Photo © & courtesy of Jaqlin Medlock


OutSide the BOX

OutSide the BOX

Photo © & courtesy of Jaqlin Medlock


OutSide the BOX

OutSide the BOX

Photo © & courtesy of Jaqlin Medlock


OutSide the BOX

OutSide the BOX

Photo © & courtesy of Jaqlin Medlock


OutSide the BOX

OutSide the BOX

Photo © & courtesy of Jaqlin Medlock


LISTEn

LISTEn

Photo © & courtesy of Jaqlin Medlock


LISTEn

LISTEn

Photo © & courtesy of Jaqlin Medlock


LISTEn

LISTEn

Photo © & courtesy of Jaqlin Medlock


LISTEn

LISTEn

Photo © & courtesy of Jaqlin Medlock

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