Finding ourselves through dance


By Adrienne Urbanski

‘The Only Tribe’ explores societal identity


As residents of one of the world’s most populous cities, New Yorkers often find ourselves—and our ideas about who we are—in flux. We rush in and out of subway cars, to and from work and our tiny apartments. Balancing a sense of individuality with involvement in disparate communities can be trying. “The Only Tribe” explores this balance, noting how we interact in social groups and individually, exploring the way we separate and integrate ourselves.


Fittingly, this exploration of sociology was first conceived by sculptor Roland Gebhardt in advance of a large 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 interminge, 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. The group moves in synch with members sometimes breaking off into their own rhythm always returning to the movement of their group. Other than differing arrangements in eye and mouth holes, the heads of the dancers remain near identical. Their flowing movements lead them to resemble a moving city skyline.

Their dance is cleverly complemented by video screens that transpose footage of the group onto the stage, magically transforming a dance group of eight into one of sixteen. Later, when the group appears donning triangular and titled rectangular shapes, the original troupe remains on stage until the audience is given 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.

 Later, 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 there blank faces become a symbol for empty identity-less citizens, whose sense of self is established through consumerism and celebrity.

 While an intriguing and visually compelling work, there seems to be much room left to take the piece further. Although the dancers in the piece are obviously skilled in their movements, the choreography remains too subtle and rudimentary for the power of the piece to be fully expressed and explored. The question of identity is also one that could have been extended beyond the parameters of the dance’s material. While worthy and entertaining, the work seems too short and too small, a sample of what could become a more compelling piece.

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.