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Mark Lamb and Company's 'Blind Dates' Elicits Failed Connections

by Bonnie Rosenstock
February 15, 2014
Metro Baptist Church
410 West 40th Street
New York, NY 10018
(646) 265-4782
Going on a blind date is always a precarious proposition. Sometimes no matter how hard you try, the chemistry just isn't there. So it was with Mark Lamb's Seasonal Saturday Sanctuary Salon Series at Seven's "Blind Dates". On a very snowy, blustery Saturday, February 15, I ventured out to Hell's Kitchen for the one-night winter event, billed as "a spirited evening of dance, music and storytelling." There was dance and music, but a paucity of verbal content. The performers, for the most part, had spirit and enthusiasm, but lacked the ability to comfortably interact with each other. In other words, like many blind dates, it was best just to call it a night.

The sanctuary of the church, a former Polish Catholic house of worship, with its smooth wooden floor, religious scenes painted on the high ceiling in deep red, green and yellow, and stained glass windows was the perfect venue for the intimate show. As a salon experience, the audience, more than 60 strong, who seemed to have a personal connection to the performers, had ample time before and after the show and in between the three 25-minute sets to schmooze with each other and the artists, while sipping and sampling the lavishly laid-out homemade beverages and snacks.

The "blind dates," were 18 dancers, singers or musicians of various genres and ages, whose names were picked out of two separate baskets by audience members to be paired for an improvisational duet or trio. There were also "second dates" so that performers who had collaborated in the past would have another opportunity to get reacquainted. Because it was the day after Valentine's Day, the performers were decked out in various combinations of red and black, which gave a nice look to the overall production.

Many performers had deep resumes, spanning multiple disciplines. But in most cases, the effect was of two (or three) talented people attempting to relate with mixed results and lost opportunities, or doing their own thing (one playing an instrument or vocalizing upstage, the other dancing downstage), coming together only at the beginning and/or end of their turn.

Some pairings were more hit than miss, but never on target. Musician Marlon Cherry and dancer Deborah Goldstein, on their second date, had a familiar dynamic. They played hand drums and flutes and shared an African finger harp as call and response. Both performers were loose and fluid with body language, and with more encounters they would evolve into a fine duo.

Helen Yee on violin and dancer Sarah Pope read each other's physical (musician Yee was very comfortable with movement) and musical (Pope related well to the violin) cues. When Yee initiated a conversation, it was a jolt, as it was the first and virtually only time that a performer spoke. Although the dialogue felt stilted and devolved into some kind of sexual thing, it was a trifecta of possibilities.

Noteworthy were Dean Johnson on bass, who has worked with many top jazz musicians and knows how to riff, and can move his weighty instrument across the floor as if it were a feather; Layla Isis, a belly dancer, who is used to taqsim (improvising to music), beautifully danced downstage while Terre Roche (one of The Roches) played ukulele seated upstage; Kyoko Kitamura on piano and Jennifer Wilenta, dancer, had some nice voice and movement moments. One of the best moments was off the cuff when Lamb and a few performers pushed the piano off to the side. Not only was there unselfconscious playfulness, but also the lighting on the back wall gave off spectacular looming black silhouettes.

Kentucky-born Lamb, now residing in Brooklyn, is a talented dancer with tremendous stage presence, as well as a veteran storyteller and performance artist. He recently won the 2014 storytelling slam championship XXXI at the Peabody award-winning Moth storytelling series at the Music Hall of Williamsburg with his "A Boy and His Dolly." He is also the artistic director of Mark Lamb Dance, which he founded in 2006, and artist-in residence at the Metro Baptist Church, where his company rehearses, presents concerts and leads workshops open to company members and the public. He initiated the salon series in 2010 in order to encourage artists to expand their expressive horizons and learn to interact better with their audience. It is a worthy undertaking to meld artistic disciplines and get the creative juices flowing and evolving in new ways. But there is still work that needs to be done to make these dates truly compatible.

Photo © & courtesy of Sam Kanter

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