‘Homeward’ possesses diverse cast, singular message

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In an old dance studio-turned-stage, the Sarah Bush Dance Project’s 10th anniversary show, “Homeward,” captivated its audience for an hour and a half, forcing it to ask the question: “What is home?” The show was centered around how we perceive home and the familial bonds that surround it.

A half hour before the show started, the dance studio was opened to the audience. Inside, each room displayed a different theme representing “home.” Within each room was a dancer who interacted with the audience before performing. In one room, the dancer flipped through a slide projector showing pictures of what home means, with audience members’ own conceptions drawn on slides and inserted into the projector. In another room, a woman danced behind bars. Inside the third room, a piano became the centerpiece, adorned with a note asking people to play it. Two performers would dance when music was played, and when no one was brave enough to play for them, they would meander around the space dejectedly.

In the third room stood a table with loose sheets of paper, on which audience members were asked to write down what few things they would throw in a suitcase if they were theoretically evacuated from their homes. This piece of the opening was used the most during the show, with choreographer Sarah Bush wanting her audience to consider that question above all as it watched the performance.

The choreography within the show itself was beautiful. Each of the five main women performed a solo piece and a duet, but the cast really shined when all five danced together. Using the furniture scattered around the room as well as the suitcases, the dancers kicked, twirled and lifted each other up — literally and figuratively. All of the dancers were phenomenally talented; their stage presence captivated the audience from start to finish.

Beyond being technically skilled, the cast was incredibly diverse. While dance can be misperceived as an art form belonging to young, white women, the dancers represented a multitude of ages and races, allowing their audience members the ability to see themselves in at least one of the dancers and visually connect to the piece. The choreography represented all times in a person’s life, from young to old, and the challenges faced at every age, as an individual and with the help of family.

Though all the cast members were beautiful to watch, the cast member the audience most responded to was Joan Lazarus. Lazarus, the eldest cast member, compelled the audience’s attention as she interacted with the ensemble and threw occasional knowing glances toward the audience. Her solo performance was captivating, and the other dancers seemed to enjoy dancing with her as much as the audience enjoyed watching her dance.

The piece’s use of modern music was highly effective. While modern dance can sometimes appear foreign or abstract, the use of modern music was a pleasant way to usher audience members into the studio with sounds that they recognized paired beautifully with choreography that they did not. From classics such as “It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World” by James Brown — which was especially effective given the all-female cast — to the “Happy Days” theme, the music both encompassed the mood of each portion of the show and provided a pacifying sense of familiarity. The costumes also helped move the story forward, as everyone wore black and white, switching from dresses to pants throughout the show to symbolize both time progressing and people changing.

The piece was a beautiful examination of the bonds between family members. While the piece focused more upon bonds between people than the concept of home, it successfully rose to the challenge of choreographing a way to make human bodies represent home.“Homeward” is an intriguing, heartfelt look at human connections and the ways people feel at home; it left the audience thinking about its own versions of home long after they left the studio.

“Homeward” is playing at the Shawl-Anderson Dance Center on Dec. 16 and 17.

Contact Sydney Rodosevich at [email protected].