By SUSAN BROILI
ShaLeigh Dance Works’ world premiere of “I Promise” presented as part of Durham Independent Dance Artists’ third season, gave the Sunday (Dec. 17) audience a 90-minute respite from daily anxiety spawned by the Trump Administration and also offered a sense of hope that diverse peoples could peacefully co-exist.
After this affirming work, the world outside seemed brighter even on a cloudy night when no stars could be seen. I felt a sense of peace and calm I had not experienced when I had first entered the performance space in the renovated former Durham Fruit & Produce warehouse in downtown Durham.
The diverse, multicultural cast had modeled what it means to be courageous and conquer fears – even the fear of falling. At one point, Durham native Anthony Nelson Jr. fell on his back in a way that looked deliberate rather than accidental. He just did a backflip and landed knowing no one would catch him. And, he seemed to not have sustained any injuries.
Throughout this work, performers manifested an heroic spirit of going for it in this demanding work.
At one point, we heard the voices of cast members naming their fears in the world outside the theater, such as: “I’m afraid of being judged by stereotypes.” “I’m afraid of you being afraid of me.” “I’m afraid of losing my life because of who I am. “I’m afraid of the rising level of hatred.”
Performers also demonstrated great strength and balance.
While Wushu martial artist Majid Bastani did not demonstrate his championship swordsmanship, he did show incredible physical control, balance and strength such as when he spread his legs wide, knees bent and supported himself solely on the sides of his turned-in feet.
Cast members supported each other throughout “I Promise.”
The group raised individual performers high above group members’ heads and carried them this way. A particularly demanding group effort began with one end of the group lifting a person then passing the person along to other members of the group.
After the subway scene in which humanity pressed together in constantly shifting ways, a distressed female passenger was comforted by another woman who stroked her hands and feet.
Sometimes, they moved as one organism as when, arms raised, fingers locked, they simultaneously moved their arms in a serpentine way.
Couples literally kept each other from falling. In a particularly desperate situation, three couples, each partner’s’ legs so extremely extended that falling seemed inevitably, desperately clung to each other as we heard excerpts from the Tom Waits’ song “Falling Down” that repeatedly mentions falling. This brought tears to my eyes. Who hasn’t felt as if he or she were in danger of becoming unbalanced and falling short of life’s demands especially in a world where difference is often defined as other and therefore feared and hated.
“I Promise” ended with the cast standing close together, one fist raised not with defiance but rather as if to say: “We are here, each different, yet united with one heart.”
Kudos to the cast, who worked with ShaLeigh Comerford for over a year to create “I Promise”: the production crew; Mike Wall, whose original scores and Tom Waits’ cover provided the soundscape as did Walls’ mastered ambient score by Comerford; and everyone else, including the donors, who made this powerful work possible.