Experimental dance has descended upon CSPS, in the body of the artistic director of the Edgeworks Dance Theater based in Washington, D.C.
Helanius J. Wilkins is a remarkable performer. His hourlong solo work, “/CLOSE/R,” was inconsistently compelling, but at times, quite effective. Friday night’s small crowd was most attentive, and eager to support this talented artist. (11/9/12) The event repeated Saturday night.
Wilkins is supported by the National Performance Network (NPN), which provides funding to performing artists for creation, residencies and touring. CSPS is a constituent member of NPN, and regularly presents its promising roster. Wilkins wryly described himself as a “triple threat” artist, who choreographs, performs and teaches master classes.
The performance was a mixed bag, involving direct involvement of the audience, as well as video interviews with the artist, in addition to fully choreographed sequences. The interviews at times were funny, particularly as Wilkins described fighting with his family over the record player: He wanted to listen to Prince’s “Purple Rain” all day long, imagining himself to be a star.
The script developed from confessional text (yes, the dancer talks a lot) to non-verbal expression. It was in the latter realm that the performance came to life. Wilkins is a fine dancer, with long arms and legs, and a strong central core. He has remarkable hands, with fingers as expressive as a Balinese dancer’s.
A powerful sequence began with his mother’s advice to get rid of a cold. “Pee it out, sweat it out.” Put on a layers of clothes, drink a lot of water, get in bed under a pile of covers. This amusing advice led quickly into the dramatic center of the work, a strenuous, disturbing fit of shaking, somewhere between a St. Vitus dance and an epileptic fit. Anguish. Pain. Human identity. All were at stake in this wild exorcism. Wilkins’ stamina and commitment are amazing, as is his honest self-examination.
This led into a powerful, fluid dance sequence, with more formal choreography in post-modern vein (think Bill T. Jones). It was worth the wait. Wilkins is considering the sources of his own creativity, as he takes a look at what his life has been, and who he is now on the stage, at this moment.
Ben Levine is listed in the program as “scenic design collaboration and lighting design.” His work is very, very good, as is that of the entire design team. Eight white squares are suspended above the action, and continue out into the auditorium. Projection surfaces are in the form of hanging white curtains. It is as if the lights are yet another dancer, or dancers, who work closely with the live performer. This is exhilarating conceptual work.
Congratulations to Legion Arts/CSPS for bringing such challenging work to Eastern Iowa.