As the lights dimmed for the start of VTDance’s Saturday show at Dance Place, a young woman slipped through the back entrance of the theater, chattering into the cellphone at her ear. For a moment, your internal judgment meter lit up at her seriously bad theater manners, but soon you were in on the joke: She was one of the performers, making her way to the stage with a meandering conversation about everything from Ebola to Starbucks’s forthcoming coffee delivery service.
It was a fitting way to set the stage for “Occupy,” a dance about how major news and cultural events get absorbed into our thoughts and actions and how they are filaments of who we are and sometimes catalysts for us to become someone else.
Choreographer Vincent E. Thomas seems to be making the case that this power has been amplified in the digital era. In one section, a group of smartphone-toting dancers snaps picture after picture of Thomas as he tears through a series of gestures and abrupt kicks. Even though Thomas is steps away from them, the glittering spray of camera flashes shows us that the group is experiencing his movement through their screens. Gadgets, they remind us, have become an essential access point for our information intake — for better and for worse.
Thomas frequently incorporates snippets of spoken word into his dances, and this work was perhaps his most effective deployment yet of that approach. Fervent chants of “Stay strong, we are winning!” were spot-on for a protest scene. It’s the kind of perfectly generic slogan that at once allowed us to ponder the spirit behind all sorts of recent social demonstrations, from political protests in Hong Kong to the rallies in Ferguson, Mo., after Michael Brown’s death.
“Occupy” is thought-provoking, especially for audiences in this city full of news junkies, but it is missing some crucial connective tissue. The abstract dance sections are enjoyable enough to watch, but they don’t do much to bridge the work’s big ideas together. These segments could benefit from the clarity of intention that make the spoken and performance art sections so engaging.