“Harbor Me” by Alvin Mayes was a beautiful piece of yearning and inter-connectivity shown at this year’s Spring Dance Concert at Montgomery College. Accompanied with music partially written by the choreographer and performed by nine dancers, the dance very obviously relied on just as much hard work and effort as it did emotion and suspense. Mayes has choreographed, “more than 200 works,” and taught at the University of Maryland. The dancers involved all have various accomplishments both at and outside of MC, and that experience was evident in the performance execution. Overall, it was a poignant, heartfelt and fascinating piece that was well worth watching.
The dance focused on traveling people, sometimes reaching for each other, sometimes pushing each other away, all while trying to navigate the muddled masses of a public transportation depot. They arrived on stage with suitcases, clad in different outfits of beiges, tans, browns, greys, and accents of red and maroon. One man held his sleeping roll tight, seemingly scared. Two women found each other in a crowd, running towards one another with open arms until they embraced, then lost each other again. Others paced, searching for an unknown friend or place, wandering to and fro along the stage. Sometimes they broke off into pairs or triplets, other times they wandered lost and alone. Throughout the piece, the movement maintained a perfect balance between quiescence and alacrity.
Some of my favorite moments occurred when groups of people would gather together with their backs turned to the audience or other dancers, and the other dancers would try to leap into the group from behind. They were usually denied entrance, and fell back down only to try once more. This persistence was admirable, and was what I thought was a beautiful representation of the fervent human spirit to keep going despite any obstacles.
There were a few instances that were somewhat unexplained to me, although I interpreted them as ones where the dancers were reacting to horrible news, which I suppose is both historical and pertinent to today. Several times they would place their hands over their mouths and drop their suitcases, seemingly in fear, and pause. A tension developed in the stillness which was only broken when a new movement emerged. The dance even ended in this manner, with several of the dancers appearing to be shocked or afraid. I can’t help but wonder if this is in reference to the refugee crisis in Syria, and the name, “Harbor Me” would certainly lend itself to the idea of refugees.
Another set of moments that seemed strange to me involved swinging and contracting motions made by the dancers. Several times different dancers would swing both arms from a low height downstage up to above their heads upstage, (or upstage to downstage) and then contract and recover. Sometimes this would be followed by an embrace, and other times it would be followed by something completely different. Either way it was something, the meaning of which, I didn’t understand. That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy it, however – the shapes it presented were fascinating and it was intriguing to witness. And even if I didn’t understand these moments, they did not detract from the feeling of the piece.
As far as expressionism goes, I would consider the work to be a very successful art piece. The ideas of human connection in this busy world came forth with great intensity, even through the subtler movements. The exploration of human relationships in such a physical manner was both appealing and compelling, and expressed well through the various movements executed. The use of suitcases as props was unique to the piece and served not only to impress the audience with how well the dancers worked with them, but also to symbolize the heights to which human emotion and energy can transcend. If I am correct in my interpretation of the piece being related to refugees, than I would consider it to be very well done instrumentally, as it encompassed an issue pertinent to today. One of the finer parts about the piece is that it could be lengthened or shortened, yet the same messages would come forth because of how well done every instance of movement was. Lucky for us, we don’t have to echo the same sentiments of yearning and searching while watching this dance, as it (and the rest of the Spring Dance Concert) had everything we could have wanted to see.
This was written in Spring 2016 for a Jazz class taught by Sandra Atkinson at Montgomery College.