Moms and dads, this isn’t your grandmother’s dance studio. It’s a group of teachers, students, and performers who are pushing the boundaries of what it means to entertain in this business we call “show.”
Friday night Cincinnati’s contemporary jazz dance performance troupe, Exhale Dance Tribe, put on a macabre event that combined modern movements and music with an age-old reality: death.
The one-night show, “Dead Can Dance” was held at the historic Memorial Hall, nestled just a few steps away from Cincinnati’s majestic Music Hall and across the street from Washington Park, making a trinity of beautiful spaces that audience members could embrace before even stepping into the lobby of the venue.
Once there, we were greeted with undead dancers who moved as though walking through honey, slowly, without deliberation. Their makeup consisted of blackened eyes, hollowed cheeks, and their expressions matched. Hair a mess, they walked among the living participants, setting the tone for what was to come.
A walk up the large, twisting staircase on either side of the lobby took us to another section of Memorial Hall, where the ceilings were high, the windows were large and barred, and the lights were off. The only illumination came from the street lights outside, and fell on more undead dancers. A violinist, a pianist, a singer, a poetry-reader, these characters also wandered about the room randomly providing music, song, spoken word, that were haunting the space. It wasn’t taken lightly; it felt as though we were perhaps in a long-closed insane asylum, and it was hard to leave the space.
But once we onlookers found our ways to the seats and came to grips with the awe-inspiring beauty of the stage and auditorium, the undead joined us, roaming listlessly about the rows, watching the stage curiously as though they were one of us, as though they used to be, anyway. The hostess of the show, who had made an appearance singing next to the barred windows moments earlier, entered the stage among the dancers with an accordion. She wore a small black mask that covered her eyes, and had a strong, matriarchal presence that commanded us to take seriously the celebration of the dancing dead that we were to experience. I couldn’t take my eyes off of her, and was grateful every time she entered the stage.
And the dancers–their fluidity, their choreography, their extensions–were to die for. I could go on about their talents, but that’s a given, so I’d like to express also how much I appreciated their simple costuming, which included skeleton-like pants and black tops. It was effective because it showed their eloquent movements and highlighted their twists and turns, but it didn’t distract from the athletic feats the dancers displayed. The same could be said for their makeup; simple, but powerful.
The music, too was enough to bring goosebumps to one’s flesh because it had so much feeling in it, but it supported the dance, as if it was written for Exhale Dance Tribe. The entire performance reminded me of the theater scene from Interview with a Vampire, sans any violence. I felt as though I were in a different time, a different place that was exclusive only to those personally invited by those who were of the same heart and mind.
The ending of the performance was delightfully surprising, but I don’t want to talk about it here just in case they do an encore performance…yes, it was that wonderful. So I’ll simply say thank you to Exhale, and to everyone who worked to make the evening happen so magically. I don’t know you, but I love you. Thank you for bringing this magic to Cincinnati. I can’t wait to see what’s next.
Until next time,