After months of work among three graduate students in different media, GRIT was presented Sunday night.
By Jordan Ryder
GRIT, the brainchild among choreographer Rebekah Chappell, composer Joshua Marquez, and visual artist Dana O’Malley, took the stage at 5 p.m. Sunday at the Englert, 221 E. Washington St.
It opened with a small group of musicians sitting in a circle on the right side of the stage. They began to play haunting sounds, gradually putting me on edge the longer they played. Behind them was stylized vegetation and a mountain projected onto a screen. One by one a group of dancers slinked on stage and moved in time to the music.
Of the three elements, the dancers fascinated me the most. Their movements seemed primed and aggressive, arms making wide slashes through the air. They moved as predators, slow and deliberate, interspersed with sudden rapid bursts. When all the dancers were onstage, they seemed like animals circling each other, and I half expected a battle to start.
The musicians helped enhance that feeling. Their sounds were eerie from the start with a reliance on high-pitched violin and flute notes. The composer pushed the instruments to their full ranges, creating horrific screeches and wails that added to my tension. For both solos — violin and oboe — the soloist was separated from the group, moving from music stand to music stand, adding to their feeling of being an isolated, lone voice on stage.
The music and dance complemented each other, but each on their own wasn’t particularly strong. Occasionally during a solo, the music dropped so low that it was barely audible; the dancers failed to seem as menacing without music setting the atmosphere. Similarly, there was a middle stretch in which only the musicians were on stage performing. Without a visual accompaniment, I lost most of the tension that had been built up in the beginning. When paired together, working in tandem, they were strongest.
The visual arts were lost on me the most. For each act, a different image was projected, all of them abstract to the point that I didn’t know what they represented. The first one seemed to be a mountain, another a bloody sunrise, and the remaining I couldn’t even speculate. After a while I simply stopped paying attention and focused on the dancers.
Related: UI students mix media in “GRIT”
While technically very good, I felt a lack of resolution with the performance as a whole. The official description reads as: “GRIT is about the perseverance (grit) needed to overcome obstacles (grit) that we confront in our daily lives and the dialogue we need to grow from them.”
GRIT was an admirable performance by everyone involved, but, for me at least, the dialogue didn’t happen. Everything felt the same tonally from start to finish. Maybe it was subtle and I missed it, but I walked out feeling like no point had been made.