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A Review of “Open Spaces” Dance Performance at the Norton Museum of Art

By Denise Marsh

My love for dance continues to grow, and so the opportunity to see a live performance and review it was more of a “gift” than an “assignment”.  Here is my review.

Behind The Scenes

My friend and I had no idea what to expect.  I enjoy “good” surprises, so I chose to research less and anticipate more.  As we were waiting in the blistering heat to go into the Norton, we saw a small crowd forming in the entrance way.  As serendipity would have it, a middle-aged woman came up to me and asked me: “Is your daughter in the performance?”  I explained how I didn’t have a daughter but was there to review the show.  The woman, “Sarah” pointed to her daughter and her daughter’s friend and proudly mentioned how they were dancers in one of the performances we would be viewing.  I asked if I could feature them in this review and the mom happily acquiesced, the teenage girls were friendly and informative:

“We started dancing at a different venue but it wasn’t available anymore so we were looking elsewhere. As we were venturing out into this experience, we found Branndi Lewis, Choreographer and Dancer who introduced us to Interpretive dance through her choreography in a program called “Grounded”.  Both girls explained how they were part of modern, interpretative, structured and improvisation dance.   – Natalia Celestin and Sophia Larsen

The two girls were definitely “fast friends”, and both smiled as they talked about dance and how this particular program taught them so much, especially meeting people from all walks of life, including teenagers 13 to 18 years of age. 

A “moving” experience

This  was not your typical” sit- in- an- auditorium and -get up -only- during -intermission- type” experience.  On the contrary, the performances were separated into three different ones in different spaces inside and outside the Museum.  The crowd was vast, but the organization was impeccable: museum members, choreographers, volunteers, and staff collaborated by splitting up the audience using colored wristbands.  Each group would view one part of the show at a specific time and in a specific location and each show would rotate to a new group of people  Hence, we got a show and exercise to boot.

Prelude

The first part of the show was an introduction and glimpse into interpretative dance through a short lecture and a series of films courtesy of “Fat Bassett” film festival.  Glenn Tomlinson, the William Randolph Hearst Chief Officer of Learning and Community Engagement, spoke briefly about the Norton’s mission to bring forth ALL OF THE ARTS; not just the visual arts but to find a way to bridge it all together and make it a learning hub for the participants and visitors. He then turned it over to the Founder of Natural Movers Foundation Ericka Squire who is also a dancer and choreographer.  Squire spoke of how the project took three years to pitch and how her dream came to fruition.  She spoke of how “active artists in Palm Beach County, actors, musicians and choreographers had collaborated to make this project possible”.  Squire also paid homage to Aliya Rajnic, Natural Movers Foundation intern and Open Spaces Stage Manager.

“As the curator of Open Spaces, I wanted to be sure each choreographic work—and the intentions behind them—was showcased in such a way to inspire, delight, and get audiences to think deeper. Aliya did a great job serving as my right hand in this production,” said Ericka Squire, founder & CEO of Natural Movers Foundation. “From works communicating joy to those calling out social injustices, the 2023 performance provides space for meaningful dialogue and shifts in perspective.”

The premise behind the show as a whole would be the dancers emulating works of art that they chose that were already in the museum. 

There were four short films on interpretive dance, each subjective for the viewers.  My favorite of the four was a story done through actions and no words about a couple growing older in their relationship together.  I don’t remember the name of the song they used but it was melancholy yet poignant.   There were a few scenes that flowed showing the couple soaking up sunshine, just enjoying each other’s company with simple, everyday experiences. The couple held hands, embraced, put their heads together as if to form “one bond”. At the end the man sat alone on the bench sad, but still wrapped up in good memories of the woman he was in a relationship with.  I found myself wondering if the woman had died or if it was metaphoric and maybe she had dementia. The audience was definitely moved, some to tears. 

Performance 1- Heyman Plaza

The first performance took place outside the museum where chairs were lined up in rows adjacent to the pond/fountain area at entrance to the Norton.  The two dances performed were: “Walk With Me” by Larry Albright, Soloist and “On the Outside” by Branndi Lewis, composer and dancer for Grounded, West Palm Beach. 

Larry Albright performs at “Open Spaces”

I give credit to the performers because it was very humid outside, and Larry Albright was still able to woo us with his “moon walk” in his interpretive dance on racial tension.  It was also exciting to revisit with the “behind the scenes” celebrities pre-show in the second dance.  The Grounded dance “troupe” was brilliant in their modern, contemporary and interpretative type dance where they literally flowed together.  There was a point where they literally danced in front of us round the narrow path of the fountain pond. 

Art and Dance Fusion/Korman Room

One of the highlights here was entitled, “THE SPACE BETWEEN THE WHITE KNUCKLED GRIP AND SLIPPING INTO THE INEVITABLE”.  Olivia Capasso did a duet with Daisia Pulz emulating visual artist Rashid Johnson for the Bruise Painting, “There I go”.  The Composer was Godspeed You!  Black Emperor and Emptyset.  I was mesmerized by the synchronicity and the depth of this particular performance. 

Olivia Capasso and Daisia Pulz’ dance duet

Another performance entitled “The Discussion” had Shanna Woods as the Soloist/Visual artist/Betye Saar and the piece: “Lest We Forget, The Strength of Tears, The Fragility of Smiles, The Fierceness of Love/Composer: Masters at Work and Nuyorican Soul featuring Jocelyn Brown  was equally riveting, especially the music chosen for the piece.  

Great Hall/ Last Performances/ Finale and Question and Answer session with the Choreographers.

The next performances were all chosen to emulate a particular work of art that was present in the museum with a song chosen by each dancer.  The first performance was Ms. GreenE by Clarence Brooks depicting his vision of his favorite painting: “Ruby Green Singing” by James Chopi and the musical composer was Maggie Rogers – and it was quite a passionate piece.  The second was lovely, and the energy infectious in “Dancer looking at the sole of her right foot” emulating Edgar Degas (an artist that I truly love) also with composer Maggie Rogers. Later during the Question-and-Answer segment, the dancer Sarah Claire Smith explained how she was a Trauma therapist and how she helped her patients heal through dance.  Smith also confided in us that during covid she was “afraid she would lose touch that she actually had a body” and so she continued to dance each day, finding therapeutic qualities in the dances she practiced.

In the Finale, Ericka Squire and dance company danced to “Untitled to Janie Lee two. It was hauntingly beautiful, depicting how the hands of time change but are still drawn together by a magnetic force.  The dancers had a wonderful grace to their form, cresting a cascading flow of emotion in their movements.

Question and Answer Session

During the Q and A, the Choreographers (also dancers) sat on a panel answering questions from the audience.  One of the guests asked how the choreographers had selected their particular paintings and background music; did they pick randomly or was there something that ‘drew them in”.  Many of the choreographers said that the music “chose them” and how it was in “alignment” with their dreams and their visions from the Trauma Therapist to the choreographers who wanted to let the audience know that “not everyone with a smile wears that smile all of the time”.  The performance was lively and impressive, and the dancers had a wonderful range in their very diverse selections.

The performances were all wonderful and well-executed.  If you are a fan of contemporary and interpretative dance, this show will be a memorable and “moving experience”.  I found a new perspective and a greater appreciation for this genre of dance.  Thank you to the Norton for its second year of hosting this event and to Aliya Rajnic for her hard work and dedication as the Open Spaces Stage Manager.   Going forward, my hopes are that it will continue to fill up a packed house as this show certainly did.  Bravo to all of those who made it possible.  Encore!