Under the Same Sun: Margaret Jenkins Dance Company and Guandong Modern Dance Company
Review by Rachel Holdt
“Other Suns” by Margaret Jenkins Dance Company from San Francisco, California, performed at University of California, Riverside this past Wednesday, November 4th to a sold out house. In collaboration with the Guandong Dance Modern Company, the first modern dance company to come from China, Margaret Jenkins choreographed three original works for her company and the Guandong Modern Dance Company (GMDC).
In a personal interview with Sue Roginski, dance instructor at Mt. San Jacinto College, and former MJDC member of almost 10 years, I gained an insightful perspective about the history of Margaret Jenkins herself and the company she leads. Roginski stated that the MJDC utilizes collaboration from the dancers and their individual choreography as a crucial part of the process in creating new pieces. She stated that the individual dancers are given a prompt or task and generate material that is used to compile a dance. This was immediately confirmed as the program for Wednesday night’s performance listed each and every dancer on the program as not only a dancer, but also a collaborator. This aspect of MJDC brings out a deeper appreciation for the individual within the company, and a respect for the talent that each dancer adds to the space.
This politically soothing collaboration between a mainland Chinese company and MJDC was not the first. Collaboration is a theme that obviously resounds with Margaret Jenkins. In a previous collaboration with the University of Berkeley Science Department, MJDC produced an inquisitive work called, “Fault” which examined the political and sociological impact of ‘faults’ in the everyday fabric of our lives. Paul Dresher, whose music principally composed the sound score for “Other Suns,” has worked in collaboration with this company for over twenty-five years.
Sue Roginski’s interest in the current work by MJDC extended to the process of communication between Margaret Jenkins and the Chinese dancers in preparing for this world premier. Specifically, how Jenkins was able to overcome the language barrier and still produce the choreography for them. Jenkins stated about this aspect directly, “ I am thrust into the stark contrasts that exist between what I have come to know about living a life as a Western artist and citizen and what it means to live, translate, and make dances in another culture. Everything is challenged. Working with dancers who have both come to dance and continue to dance for multiple and sometimes different reasons brings into full relief all the fundamental questions about what one wants to communicate, with whom , and why.” The show on Wednesday left no doubt that the language barrier had been overcome. Another aspect that Roginski was excited about surrounded the choreography itself. She was interested to see how much of it would be a hybrid of movement or if Jenkin’s style would still be heavily present. Although this question is left for personal interpretation, what could definitively be seen through all three performances was the fluidity of theme.
The first company to take the stage was MJDC. This piece themed an obvious action and reaction sequence through much of the first few minutes. In a Newton’s Cradle replication, the dancers’ symbolism carried significance about weight distribution, effort, and transference. In keeping with the titled, “Other Suns,” the movement vocabulary in all three dances also centered on the lighting. A constellation of bulbs hovered over the entire stage just above the dancer’s reach. Lifting their hands, feet, or each other’s bodies upward, they repeatedly reached out to these bulbs –‘suns’—throughout the night – never quite reaching them.
The second piece, performed by GMDC revolved around much more directed movement. In the tradition of Eastern dance, intentional footwork lingered, but the cultural intertwining was apparent. Involving considerable floor work, GMDC gymnastically performed this routine. Rapt attention to detail engaged every moment. The GMDC was impeccable and solidly sailed though beautiful partnering, and syncopated fall and recovery.
The final piece of the evening melded the two dance companies together. Fifteen dancers on stage from two separate and very different countries made a powerful statement both artistically and socially. The piece resounded historically as the art of dance flowed through their bodies, onto the stage and out to a receptive audience. The collaboration with these companies was symbolic in so many ways, the most important being the exemplar usage of art as a bridge to shorten the gap between the two cultures. “What connects us heart to heart? What world have we entered – of like limbs, but not; of like minds, but not; yet all under the same sun!” says Margaret Jenkins. Several are the differences, but the seamless dance that was performed showcased the commonalities. Dancers shared their mutual humanity, and citizens shared the space on our planet. The lesson here was strong and beautiful -a lesson that should be shared.