During the pandemic, many dance companies have put their performances online. In the last few months, we’ve watched long and excellent online programs from New York City Ballet, American Ballet Theater, and Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, not to mention a local production by something called The Creative Destruction Collective.
The idea for the production, titled FEAST, began in late 2018 when artist Corrie Slawson initiated discussions with her ballet teacher, Christina Lindhout. Could Slawson’s art work –a portfolio including many plaster renderings of beef steaks — somehow be incorporated into a ballet about… what, exactly?
As their project gained clarity, they recruited dancers from various local companies; Slawson’s mother, Anita Pontremoli, a professor at Cleveland Institute of Music, gathered a group of musicians; and FEAST took shape as a ballet intended to “illustrate the interconnectivity of environmental degradation, trade, economic theories and wealth distribution.”
Whew! Giving the dancers a running start into that intellectual thicket, the program starts with a half hour documentary that alternates scenes of global poverty and environmental devastation with scenes of the dancers and other members of the collective talking about FEAST. Slawson talks about the “dark history of commodities,” how trade in beef, bananas, sugar, coffee, rubber, timber, and minerals has contributed to environmental degradation and uneven wealth distribution. Environmental journalist Marc Lefkowitz and law professor Dalindyebo Shabalala talk about the need for changes in law and policy. “Collective action, not individual action,” says Shabalala.
The subject is probably not new to anyone but its very complexity guarantees that there’s always something new to learn. The documentary, well filmed and edited by Todd Volkmer of Wasted Talent Media, makes its points with economy and precision.
The actual dancing begins with Kelly Korfhage in a tall pink wig and pointe shoes. Her costume and gestures immediately evoke Marie Antoinette of let-them-eat-cake fame. Slawson in pointe shoes and a mask portrays Marie’s cat, Kat. The dancers of the corps de ballet emerge from under a semicircle of tables heavily loaded with Slawson’s renderings of beef steaks and various other commodities. It’s the Third World ripe for plunder and the dancers enthusiastically go to work transferring everything from the semicircle of tables to Marie’s central table.
Things quickly become messy so, when the dancers exit, Lindhout comes in with a push broom as Tina Putzfrau the cleaning lady, a character she modeled after Charlie Chaplin’s Little Tramp. Her dance is sweet, funny, and whimsical. Nonverbal comedy versus vast economic forces is not as uneven a contest as it might seem. As Slawson says during the documentary, “Art shifts the narrative.”
However skeptical we may be about the ameliorative effect of FEAST on global capitalism, we must admit that it succeeds handily as a musical visualization. The dancers – Daniel Cho, Sabrina Lindhout, Lieneke Matte, Antonio Morillo, Elizabeth Shaeffer, and DeMarcus Akeem Suggs — and choreographers Korfhage and Lindhout should take a well-deserved curtain call.
And the music! Selections of Dmitri Shostakovich’s chamber music provide layers upon layers of meaning and emotion, beautifully performed by a small ensemble of local musicians, Jeannelle Brierley, Leah Frank, Bethany Hargreaves, James Hettinga, and James Thompson. Sound Engineer Greg Slawson recorded them with such fidelity that they sound wonderful even through my old laptop’s speakers. Shostakovich was attacked and slighted by the Soviets during his lifetime, but has been rediscovered as a major composer for dance in the twenty-first century.
FEAST is no longer available online but you can read artists’ bios and more at FeastBallet.com. Corrie Slawson’s sculptures, paintings, and installations along with digital media depicting the choreographic process of the ballet are on display until 12/23 at Akron Soul Train gallery, 191 King James Way, Akron, Ohio 44308. They are open Wednesday thru Saturday 11am – 4pm. 330-573-0517.