Simply Three and Epik Dance Company are a match made in a theatrical Utopia. Both groups present a clear historical understanding of their form, but are able to entertain audiences by including elements of pop culture, and exposing their inner stooge (referring to the three stooges).
Simply Three is a string trio with a violinist, cellist and bass player. They recreate string versions of popular songs such as “Take Me To Church,” by Hosier and “Fireworks” by Katie Perry. Their versions of popular songs were more emotionally driven than the highly processed and produced versions we hear on the radio.
During the show, “Simply Epik,” Epik Dance Company and Simply Three attack the challenge of creating urban dance theater layered with elements of jazz, contemporary and other social dance styles. The show was centered around the basic theme of music, and raised questions of how we relate to music as individuals and as a culture.
The show was structured as a Vaudeville performance that switched between acts of spoken word, musical performances, film, contemporary dance, hip-hop and fusion performances. At one point, the curtains closed, and Epik co-founder Weezy and Simply Three came onto the stage to create a game show with the audience. The game was “name that tune,” and Weezy would hand select audience members to figure out the popular song played by Simply Three.
Later in the show there was a similar transition, and two Epik dancers entered the stage, George Jones and Ivory. They proceeded to educate the audience and their peer on ad-libbing in hip-hop with comedic rhymes such as “roses are red and violets are blue,” a scurrying around the stage like a crab, or wiggling like a scorpion under a blacklight.
The vaudeville structure allowed many ideas to be presented in one show, but as an audience member it became exhausting to continuously reset without transitions to guide me between so many high-energy performances.
Within the show, there were several complete works of hip-hop theater. One section was based on an apocalyptic future where the media and government create headphones that trigger pain receptors whenever music is heard.
The piece begins with Epik co-founder, Saza, on the screen playing a newscaster role. The news team interviews advocates for the ban on music, and rebels who represent artists who find solace in music, club owners who make a living off of music, and spiritualists who are working to create a medicinal herb that will revoke the power of the headphones.
The piece develops into heavy music tracks with leading baselines, and movements that reflect hard-hitting crumping and angular tutting. The concept is incredibly theatrical, but exemplifies the skills of the entire company as down and dirty movers. Even the adorable blondes in scientist glasses look fierce as they knock the rebels around with their hands’ energy force.
The strength of “Simply Three” was in the fusion performances. The company is able to create strong contemporary pieces because of their ability to draw directness, clarity, and original movement from their urban dance vocabulary. The fusion worked best when the forms occurred simultaneously in one body rather than groups of dancers performing clearly differentiated styles at one time.
The strongest example of their ability to merge forms was during an improvisation in music and dance structured from the song “Summertime.” (I should also point out that I may be biased to this section since “Summertime” it is one of my favorite songs of all-time, I had many emotional middle school days singing and crying along to the Janis Joplin version.)
Epik Dancer Alix Clark entered the space in a workman jumpsuit, and left my notes reading “kick-ass solo.” Clark had a versatile relationship with the music and understood smoothness, stillness and isolation in the music, and was able to fully encompass the range of the musical ensemble in her precisely chosen movements. The musicians also enjoyed feeding off of her movement, and created the most variation in their improvisation during her solo.
I would have enjoyed an evening length work that focused more on utilizing Simply Three to create more continuity. During a spoken word segment, performer Akellz is referring to music when he says, “if your senses are a family, everyone gets fed.” The live music, and the level of complexity within Simply Three’s compositions created the strongest connection between music, movement and styles. Observing urban dance movements to classical sounding pop-music was an experience that stimulated all of the senses.
This show can be seen at Mesa Center for the Arts on March 6 & 7 @ 7:30pm - $30. For tickets visit: http://www.mesaartscenter.com/index.php/shows/performing-live/simplyepik
Photography by Chris Patrick
Review by Julie Akerly
Thursday, March 5