(MA) Abraxas Dance Company debuts in "Alchemy" - April 28th

by Amy Smith

From the start, I expected “Alchemy” to be a quality show, given its choreographer and company. But I really knew that I was in for something special when I was handed the program on my way in. It’s gorgeous - a booklet rich in text, photos, and graphics, and replete with all the show info a reviewer could wish for. It also includes special features - original poetry by ABRAXAS founder Aria Michaels Paradise.

 “Alchemy” is the inaugural offering from ABRAXAS Dance Theatre. Founded by Aria and husband and collaborator Peter Paradise Michaels, ABRAXAS is best described by its creators:

The goal of ABRAXAS Dance Theatre is to delve into the collective unconscious and tap into myth, media, literature, and art through the ritual of dance. ABRAXAS Dance Theatre calls upon disparate styles of dance from modern and ballet, to jazz, hip hop and contemporary belly dance; a combination of opposites.

Two hallmarks of ABRAXAS are collaboration and experimentation. When I initially spoke with Aria about her vision for the company, the image of a retort came to mind - a vessel used in laboratories as a container for chemical reactions. So alchemy is an especially fitting theme for this company's debut program. 

The Jules Ince Theater (Cambridge, MA)  filled up quickly with a variety of people. I recognized many members of the belly dance community, decked out in lace and sparkles and other finery. The show was sold out - an auspicious beginning and warm welcome for one of the community’s newest artistic endeavors.

Wikipedia defines alchemy as “...an influential philosophical tradition whose...defining objectives are varied; these include the creation of the fabled philosopher's stone, possessing powers including the capability of turning base metals into the noble metals gold or silver, as well as an elixir of life conferring youth and immortality...alchemy differs from modern science in the inclusion of Hermetic principles and practices related to mythology, religion, and spirituality.”

The show took the audience on a journey through the alchemical process of elemental transformation, told through the stories of several characters: the Seeker who sells her soul for power and status; the Maverick who is outcast and is reborn; and two beings who break through the veil separating earth from the celestial realms.

While the story seems complex, its portrayal in dance was eloquent and direct. The dance flowed from one scene to the next. The performers were pitch-perfect in their execution and, more importantly, their story-telling. I feel that passion, feeling, and intent is as integral to a performance as exquisite technique; a dance without feeling is mechanical, while an impassioned performance loses in the telling without good technique. ABRAXAS dancers delivered it all in one beautiful package.

Both the set and the dancers’ costumes were simple and elegant, and functioned as excellent backdrop and frames for the art - the dance. My one and only complaint is that the seats weren't high enough to see one dancer's floorwork; she was fairly close to the front row, but those of in the back rows had difficulty seeing it all.


Photographs courtesy of Ravenwolfe Photography and Michael Harkavy. Used with permission. 

Some program highlights:

  • "Homage to Faust", in which Aria's Seeker strikes a dark bargain with the devilish Bevin Victoria.
  • "Conjunction" - a beautiful duet by Naomi Altman and Quang Pho. Quang is an astounding natural talent, the dancers’ equivalent of someone born with perfect pitch.
  • In "The Nightmare/Mysterium", modern dancer Adriane Brayton discovers that the torn veil reveals a break in “the fourth wall” separating audience from performers, and takes the opportunity to explore that break, to the audience's surprise.

The story played out in Acts 1 and 3, which bookended the solo guest performances in Act 2. Soloists included Bevin Victoria, Adriane Brayton, Lindsey Feeney, and Tempest. Whether it was intentional or just an artifact of the show context, each soloist's performance echoed some aspect of the "Alchemy" story line, from Feeney's impish and fiery tribal fusion performance, to Tempest's transformation to her true dancer self.

My favorite performance of the evening was the final scene, “Ascension”, in which the members of the company were arrayed quietly on the stage in the yogic child’s pose, with candles as the only prop. A recording played of the company members each describing what the term alchemy meant to them. As you heard a dancer’s voice, that person sat up to face the audience. In those moments, the audience was more than observers - we were witnesses to the performer's creative processes. It was powerful and personal.

"Alchemy" is a remarkable debut by a remarkable dance company. ABRAXAS is a fascinating addition to the local dance community, and I look forward to their future performances.

It should be noted that partial proceeds from the evening benefited Bullying.org, an organization dedicated to preventing bullying in our society through education and awareness.