Claiming and reclaiming space, time and more: Nozama Dance Collective’s 10th Anniversary Program ‘RECLAIM’

Nozama Dance Collective in 'RECLAIM'. Photo by Brooke Trisolini.
Nozama Dance Collective in 'RECLAIM'. Photo by Brooke Trisolini.

Boston University, Boston, MA.
December 1, 2023 (viewed via livestream and recorded video).

Nozama Dance Collective has always been bold and taken risks. That’s right in the name; “Nozama” is a play on “Amazon”, a largely derogatory term for a strong woman who takes up her space. The company’s 10th anniversary program, RECLAIM, honored those years of tenacious art making, and set the stage for many years of that to come. Also notable in the program was a cohesive aesthetic, yet also room for each artist’s unique vision within that stylistic direction. It’s clear that this is a group of artists who fit together hand-in-glove as fierce creators. 

It was a lengthy program, perhaps feeling too long for some audience members. Yet, I wouldn’t envy anyone tasked with deciding what to send to the cutting room floor; every work felt deserving of time on that stage. It was a full feast of beautiful dance for all to come and enjoy. Commendable works from Guest Artists Art UnEarths, Collective Moments Dance, and Holly Stone were also part of that feast.  

The program kicked off with Juliana Willey-Thomas’ if this….then what?, a work both kinetically and conceptually rich. Gestures of hard geometric angles juxtaposed curvy spinal undulations – which the ensemble moved through with tenacity and confident clarity. Movement in lines reminisced Trisha Brown’s Line up (1976). Willey-Thomas also wasn’t afraid to take the risks of having no score (no sound at hand apart from the dancers’ feet and breath) and moments of stillness – a challenge for some viewers not accustomed to contemporary dance. Mysterious abstraction was indeed at hand, but one which felt accessible through its tenacity. 

Even with that abstraction, clear to me was a negotiation between the solitary and communal. Soloists broke from the group, but then rejoined the group’s unison movement – enough times to become a cycle, a motif. Towards the work’s end, the dancers formed a clump and reached up. It felt as if in community, they were finally fully empowered. 

Artistic Director Dana Alsamsam’s Day to Day continued the strong, fiery quality of movement at hand. The dancers’ relationship with the table – on, and below, around it – cleverly spoke to power dynamics, as well permission to speak and take up space. Part of me craved more easeful, softer movement moments, less driven by the score’s force. Yet the performers’ pure command of the vocabulary was such that I could, overall, have no complaints. Spoken word in the score discussed the challenges, and importance, of valuing oneself. These dancers held the stage with enough self-assured presence to make that message ring true.

Nell Mancini’s resolute and thought-provoking As we eventual – be – came next. One performer wrote while the two others moved. I imagined that these dancers and their movements, their interactions and stories, were the creations of the third performer’s mind and pen. Their movement was full of pure spirit and physical courage. The atmosphere later softened with hugs, helping hands, and luscious unity in movement. They ended with grooving out and lovingly acknowledging each other – a sweet human moment. 

Katie Logan’s Tripper came next — full of morphing, molding, and resonating geometry in movement, both on the body level and in the wider stage space. The blue of the backdrop reflected the last frontiers of the night sky and the ocean. Dancers embraced, and then described a circle with one arm – finding new possibilities in space. The lights went down on them doing just that. I wondered, are others’ hearts their own kind of frontier? Will we ever fully discover them? 

Five Stages, another by Willey-Thomas,  effectively built the gray, somber feeling of grief. Accented movement illustrated the frustrating plateaus within the healing process. The dancers moved with an appropriate weightedness, but also revealed inner strength by their pure physical force. Through embraces, weight sharing, and unison movement, they also illustrated the strength that they found in each other. To end the piece, they walked off together – cementing that sense of strength in solidarity. 

Shedding, a solo from Alsamsam and danced by Logan, cogently illustrated the “shedding” of what doesn’t serve through shedding clothing layers. Agitated movement softened with each “shedding.” Throughout, however, intriguing articulations and the flow of momentum probed the possibilities of each joint. Alsamsam’s Mother/Daughter employed narrative with just the right dash of abstraction to explore the timeless theme right in the title. Just enough specificity also enhanced the universality at hand. Thoughtful gestures, such as a slow placing of a hand in care, also demonstrated the power in the quietest, softest moments. 

I Am, from Mari Napoli, kept the stage filled with pure dynamism and ferocity. The dancers’ myriad comings and goings reflected the score’s sonic multiplicity. They were not afraid to leap big, reach far, and take up all possible space. That joined with spoken word on rejecting the idea that art and artists are worthless, the work felt like a powerful testament to standing proud as makers and sharers of their own creation. It ended with one dancer onstage; at the same time, proud artistry can be quite a solitary experience. 

The Phoenix Rises, a restaging of a 2017 work, kicked off the second act. As former Artistic Director and Co-Founder Gracie Baruzzi noted, it felt even more poignant post-COVID. As with other works in the program, a tension between the individual and the collective resonated through the work. Yet what resonated louder was how these individuals lifted each other up: literally, in powerful partner work, and energetically, with the ensemble’s physical energy and presence becoming more than the sum of its parts. 

Alsamsam’s Losing Faith created a spiritual air in the ether on top of a foundation of rock-solid technique and athleticism. The soloist, Willey-Thomas, looked up to the heavens as ethereal piano strokes rang through the theater. Ease oozed through long lines, sure footwork, and escalating intensity of movement. She remained accessibly human through each breath, each movement, each moment. 

Awakening, from Olivia Moriarty, offered both subtlety and power on several levels. Alsamsam moved with deep absorption in each kinetic texture. She presented an internal bearing, yet the pure power and size of her movement was an offering that avoided a sense of self-absorption. Mirroring, call-and-response, and unison movement transpired once Madison Florence joined her. An Exhibit A of the unspoken connection between them that resulted: while lying back-to-back on the floor, they simultaneously reached up and found each other’s hands. 

Florence’s Everybody Wants This certainly shifted the atmosphere in the theater. Five dancers moved to a spoken word score about body image struggles common to nearly all women, and how that shifts as we age. The strong yet smooth, pleasantly accented quality of these moving women in black felt like denunciation of harmful societal pressures to be or look any certain way. Jazzy vocabulary, with a pinch of vogueing, communicated the release of such narratives and a joyful embrace of the self – with the fellowship of other women doing the same. 

Alsamsam’s Untold, Retold topped off the show, and kept its layered abundance – both in concept and on the body level – ringing through to the last blackout. Gestures of closing off the mouth, and babbling sounds in the score, established a theme of communication. Movement was integrated and strong, yet – effectively for the theme at hand – also rang with disharmony.

In a new sense of assertiveness, the score proclaimed “The world will know who I am…my story will not be mistold or silenced.” From there, a new stirring of energy emerged. The dancers claimed space more as they moved: stepping up and being known. Helping each other rise higher through partnering evinced human connection helping in that effort. The work concluded with one dancer stepping forward into the spotlight and the score proclaiming “and so my story begins” – and then a gasp. 

Sometimes stepping forward is scary. Yet reclaiming is worth it. The fruits of taking risks are worth it. Nozama Dance Collective’s 10 years of creating and sharing bold, tenacious work is certainly proof right in the pudding there. Congratulations, and here’s to many more! 

By Kathryn Boland of Dance Informa.

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