Unexpected Influences in Sonia Dawkins’ ‘Vignettes’

Demetrius Tabron and Amber Weiss. 

Sonia Dawkins has a strong background in classical ballet, yet her choreography is anything but traditional. Drawing on elements of theatre, hip hop, and contemporary dance, the snippets of work presented last week in her Vignettes showcase prove Dawkins to be an innovative chorographer with a wide range of artistic design.  

Staged in the Leo K Theatre at Seattle Rep, Vignettes was composed of five works. Dawkins, who founded local Prism Dance Theatre, choreographed three of the pieces, and two were brought in by guest artists. All performances were small previews selected from larger works that will premiere in 2012.

The show opened with RITE, an upbeat piece from Jamaican choreographer (and Cornish College dance professor) Iyun Harrison. The piece demonstrated an investigation of tension—between the dancers, between the floor and the dancers (jumps, kicks, the stomping and dragging of feet), and tension within each dancer individually (jumps that unfurl and quickly retract the limbs). The central segment was set to adagio violin music, and one dancer is caught up in a length of purple cloth, two others holding the ends to make it taught around his waist. He moves around within the confines of the cloth, exploring his own range of movement with his arms and legs. 

The second guest choreographer, Demetrius Tabron, a member of Dawkins’ company, staged a reworking of As This Too Shall Pass…, a piece that premiered in 2008 and originally danced by four males. The re-staging used four topless females, dancing frenetically in long skirts in front of a large rectangle of blue light at the back of the stage. The melancholic music by Ennio Morricone, provided a strong juxtaposition to the dancers’ wild, Martha Graham inspired movement: legs thrown with abandon, hands grabbing shoulders, strong use of the torso. At one point the music stopped and the sound of dancing became the soundtrack: feet slapping the floor, heavy breath, purposeful hissing. The women never turned around to face the audience, as though their grief was too painful and private to share—it created a voyeuristic curiosity never fulfilled.

Dawkins’ work was surprisingly fresh and varied. Love Letters was beautiful, with contemporary choreography unfolding on, under and around a wooden table on wheels that was often shifted and spun around wildly by the dancers. A crumpled piece of paper was fought over and passed between the three performers, sometimes slid sensually up a thigh or transferred to a clutching toe. Each time the paper changed possession the dance changed, sometimes becoming an embracing duet, other times a tabletop show of high arabesques, or a series of strong jumps across the floor.

KRAK (Humanity Broken) was an explosion of stomping feet, fast-paced movement, and the performance of spoken word artist Eddie R. Brown III. His beats were quick and at times hard to understand, but he spoke about a mother addicted to crack cocaine, a soldier in Iraq and a Japanese man caught in the recent earthquake, all an investigation into the word “crack” and its various meanings. Dawkins’ choreography integrated tutting, a technique of abstract dancing modeled on Egyptian hieroglyphics.

The last piece of the show, Jewels of Harlem III “Rent Parties” is, as the title suggests, based off the 1930’s Harlem tradition of throwing a rent party—similar to today’s house party, but with a cover charge. Mixing theatre with dance, there was an MC who started in the audience, then worked his way up to the stage where nine dancers dressed in elaborate 1930’s costumes danced, tapped, twisted and did the swing. The MC introduced each character (Swirling Shirley, Tabletop Tonyessa, Moneymakin’ Marvin) and they performed a small solo. The piece showed Dawkins’ ability to have fun with her dancers, and when coupled with the other two works, prove the choreographer’s successful ability to blend art forms and creating engaging work. Sonia Dawkins is definitely one to watch. 


Image courtesy of SD/Prism Dance Theatre, taken by Nigel Cooper.