Review: “A My Name Is…” at Theaterlab

Anthony J. Piccione

  • OnStage Contributing Critic

 Alzheimer’s and dementia are among the cruelest illnesses that anyone could be forced to live with. As anyone who’s ever spent enough time around someone with such a terrible disease is all too aware, it is a horrible condition that ravages the mind of a human being unlike anything else. It is an issue that art should certainly do more to raise awareness of, and that’s exactly what A My Name Is… – a contemporary performance piece created by choreographer Stefanie Nelson – attempts to do.

Having recently completed its brief run at Theaterlab this past weekend, this contemporary performance piece is largely intended to capture the feeling and declining thought-process of those suffering from memory loss. Judging by the influential research articles cited in the program, it is clear that victims of Alzheimer’s disease are specifically an inspiration behind this work. To be sure, this is a subject that Ms. Nelson deserves credit for wanting to bring attention to through her work.

It is clear from the performance that dance choreography – as opposed to theatre – is what Ms. Nelson has spent much of her career dedicated to. The choreography itself – staged in the minimalistic setting at Theaterlab, with just a few blue chairs, lots of apples and some lighting effects and projections used in addition – is quite beautiful, and is performed eloquently by Christine Bonansea, Julia Discenza, Cameron McKinney and Emily Tellier. If the show was simply a piece of choreography without any intended message or purpose, I’d probably have appreciated it more, but as it was clearly stated in the program, that wasn’t the case with this piece.

While it was largely inspired by the plights of those suffering from Alzheimer’s and dementia, I couldn’t help but think that wasn’t always what came across during this performance. While there were a few occasional moments in which the confusion and anxiety that come with Alzheimer’s and memory loss were depicted well, I spent most of the performance wondering if I would have even understood what this was trying to depict, had it not been explained in the program. Someone reading this who disagrees might say “I simply didn’t get it”, but as far as I’m concerned, no artist should have to explain what their work is about in the program just so that the audience can even understand why it was even conceived.

Contemporary theatrical performances such as these usually tend to be a mixed bag. Sometimes, it can turn out to be a brilliant work of art. On the other hand, it could also prove to be well-intentioned but ultimately incoherent. It often depends on what the vision behind the work may be, and whether or not the artists are successful in living up to that initial vision. In this case, there was a clear purpose behind the choreography, and while the dancing and choreography itself was well-done, it’s hard for me to say that it was successful in depicting  what it was intended to depict.

If you are a casual fan of dance choreography, this might have been something you’d at least mildly enjoy. However, it was not an event where you should expect to see some thought-provoking art that it seemed to aspire to be. That, more than anything else, is what left this audience member feeling disappointed…

 

A My Name Is…" – presented by Stefanie Nelson Dancegroup – closed at Theaterlab on December 10th. To learn more about the work of Stefanie Nelson, please visit www.sndancegroup.org

Photo by Maria Baranova
L to R: Julia Discenza and Christine Bonansea in A MY NAME IS...