In her latest dance exhibition, SAND, Victoria Lynn Awkward takes the concept of sand and builds it into a castle. Through a combination of choreography, spoken word poetry, and a focus on environment as well as movement, the theme of sand is explored and brought to life. “I never set out to create a complete narrative or straight storyline for the audience members to follow. Just like how the ideas appear to me I want the audience to experience my choreography. I want it to sometimes be non-linear and always visceral.”
Victoria has been involved with dance all her life, starting with a cheer show she directed at the age of 8. “After graduating high school I knew I wanted to be a professional dancer but wanted to spend more time honing my craft.” She went on to study at Goucher College, where as a junior she started a collective which served to highlight dancers of color (the Dancers of Color Coalition). Through the direction of two sold-out showcases, she was able to sharpen her skills beyond performance and choreography. This has all led her to where she is now, and the newly formed VLA DANCE. “I started VLA DANCE because I need to create on a very internal level. I also believe that dance brings awareness to my physical body like nothing else can and in a world full of constant distraction this is highly important.”
Much like Victoria, SAND has evolved over time. Originally performed in the round, this iteration of the show was exhibited at the Fountain Street Gallery in South Boston, which is a beautiful, rectangular gallery with a wall in the middle. What might have otherwise posed a challenge was actually one of the show’s strengths, as Victoria tailored the performance to work with the gallery, making the show unique.
This all begs the question, why are they having a dance performance in a gallery in the first place? From a practical standpoint it makes sense (what do you know, a space for art is also a perfect space for other art!) In addition, surrounding the dancers with beautiful paintings helped create a specific mood. In fact, the show included an intermission in which attendees were invited to take time and explore the gallery. This idea of exposing the audience to even more artwork only made the performance more rich.
As much as movement and choreography are essential to a dance performance, it’s the little details that help bring it to the next level. This begins with the careful attention paid to the audio. The poetry of Tatiana Isabel helped bolster the narrative and was a work of art in its own right. The musical choices were also smart, many of the songs having little to no words, and most of them having a sort of ambient quality helping not to distract from watching the dancers move. The costumes (credit to Mitzi Eppley) created a visual impact, with burnt oranges and blue and white combinations that brought to mind the sea and the earth, visually grounding the dancers in the theme.
Dance as an art form is fascinating to me because of the inherent chaos. Unlike viewing a painting or a sculpture, no two performances will ever be the same. And unlike a movie or a stage production, there is no dialogue to drive the plot or forward the idea. One is forced into watching and focusing on the movement of the bodies and the intent behind them. “In that way choreographing is a lot of trusting,” says Victoria, “because I trust that the VLA DANCERS are doing their best (with the understanding that their best will change every day).” And for as much credit goes to Victoria and her vision, it would be nothing without the dancers (including herself) who helped bring it to life: Jess Chang, Kate Dube, Mitzi Eppley, Tabitha Hanay-Reaves, Michayla Kelly, and Jessy Zizzo.
I look forward to seeing where Victoria goes from here, especially as VLA DANCE gains momentum. Her next production is BARE VELVET, which will focus on the theme of resilience. The performance will be located 500 Kendall Square in Cambridge on August 23rd and 24th at 8 PM. “VLA DANCE is partnering with BioMed Realty and we get to work in this absolutely beautiful space with huge open windows.” After watching Victoria’s informed use of space in the Fountain Street Gallery, I’m excited to see how she plays with the new area. You can find a promotional video from (Victoria’s) first encounter with the space here.
For more information you can follow VLA DANCE @dancevla on Facebook and Instagram. You can also find more information on the company’s website. All photos courtesy of Olivia Moon Photography.