Finding ourselves through dance

By Adrienne Urbanski

‘The Only Tribe’ explores societal identity

Balancing a sense of individuality with involvement in disparate communities can be trying. “The Only Tribe” explores this balance, noting how people interact in social groups and individually, and examining the ways we separate and integrate ourselves.

 Fittingly, this exploration of sociology was conceived by sculptor Roland Gebhardt in advance of a party he hosted. Gerbhardt created a unique mask for each guest, classifying each design into one of five identifiable tribes. While watching his masked guests intermingle, inspiration was born.

“The Only Tribe” opens with dancers donning tall skyscraper-like shapes (constructed from foam board with toothy gaps cut out) over their heads, giving their faces a jack o’lantern appearance. Other than differing arrangements in eye and mouth holes, the heads of the dancers remain near identical. The group moves in synch with members sometimes breaking off into their own rhythm but always returning to the choreography of their group. When one moves individually, this motion reflects in the dancers’ responses.

Their flowing movements lead them to resemble a moving city skyline. Their dance is cleverly enhanced by video screens that transpose footage of the group on to the stage, magically turning a dance group of eight into one of 16, and adding oomph to the presentation by displaying bursting fireworks. Later, when the group puts on triangular and rectangular shapes, the original assembly remains on stage, conveying the impression of a fleet of dancers, each belonging to a separate social group. The arrival of each new shape upon the stage is presented with fear and apprehension with the two groups moving in hesitant, small steps while ominous sounds from Stephen Barber’s moody score play, an obvious exploration of the intermingling of contrasting social groups. The dance’s story line is based upon a short story by Rebecca Bannor-Addae, although due to its abstractness the contrast of the differing shape masked tribes remains the only discernable plot.

The video technology is put to its most ingenious use as a means to explore our cultural and societal identities. The large white shapes donned by the dancers come to serve as projection screens, and images of advertisements, corporate logos, and various current and historical public figures are flashed upon the faces of the dancers. Here their blank faces become a symbol for empty, identity-less citizens whose sense of self is established through consumerism and celebrity. Alongside the images are fluorescent words describing reactions to the images such as “love” and “greed”. This commentary raises the philosophy of the work to a higher level, bringing up timely questions about our sense of self, however, this segment of this piece is far too brief, especially in comparison to the lengthy, climax-less dance numbers.

Known for its integration of video into theatrical and dance performances, 3LD has successfully produced groundbreaking works. Here however, the addition of video projectionists merely adds a splash of innovation to the displayed social interactions of geometric shapes.

THE ONLY TRIBE. Conceived by Roland Gebhardt and choreographed by Peter Kyle. Music by Stephen Barber. $30 general, $15 students. Through Dec. 20. Wednesdays-Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 3 p.m. 3LD Art and Cultural Center, 80 Greenwich Avenue, (212) 352-3101, 3ldnyc.org.