The Setup: In Steel Puffs Have Left the Building, Suchu Dance's second full-length work in its new Garden Oaks space, choreographer Jennifer Wood explores the multifaceted nature of the feminine. The all-female quartet of longtime company members Shanon Adams, Sarah Leung, Tina Shariffskul and Prudence Sun investigate the tension-filled space between what is inherently female and culture's narrow prescriptions for how the fairer sex should look, behave and, more important, move.
The Execution: Steel Puffs begins with Adams scurrying onstage, feet together and torso bent, in respectful geisha fashion before stopping abruptly and hurling a mass of red ribbon onto the floor. She looks at the audience, horrified that we have witnessed such an unwomanly bodily function, and then scurries back off again. Then the trio of Leung, Shariffskul and Sun glide into the room in pink gowns and move through a variety of stereotypically female poses and gestures, each gazing coquettishly into the eyes of audience members.
Adams bounds back into the mix of things with an army of stuffed animals in tow, and tries to mimic the movement in a trio, but in a more girlish, immature manner. The implication is clear. The audience, a stand-in for the male gaze, tends to objectify the feminine as lightweight, disposable, childish.
The prom-date costumes give way to shirts and pants in soft tones of pink, yellow and orange, and the dancing becomes stronger, more direct and less fluffy. There's an interesting duet between Shariffskul and Sun in which they cover the space side-by-side, with their arms marking the bell-tone accents of the Fescennine score. The mannered, synchronized movement gives way to a chase between the two. At times Shariffskul is the aggressor, and at others it is Sun. It's an interesting observation of the nature of female relationships. Female friendships are expected to be of the polite, non-tumultuous variety, but in reality, behind what is visible to the outsider, they can be filled with tension, complexity and even torment. Such is the connection between sisters, lovers, mother and daughter, mother-in-law and daughter-in-law, and best friends (or should I say BFFs?).
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Suchu's Garden Oaks home has proven to be a great space for the company's more humorous antics. Take, for example, the show's unexpected and super-fun finale. Dressed in red dresses, hair unleashed and full-bodied, the steel puffs turn to the audience suggestively while flexing their arms, conflating the binary of gender. One by one, they strut to the exit sign at the back of the space, and then leap into a dark precipice. It's unexpected, but then it shouldn't be. After all, a real woman knows how to make a dramatic exit.
The Verdict: There's been a lot of Modern dance presented in Houston this spring. Dance that has been largely uninteresting or uninspiring. Dance that fails to comment on the human experience outside of the studio. And oddly enough, dance that doesn't seem to move. Leave it to Suchu Dance to produce the standout show of the first five months of 2014. Steel Puffs Have Left the Building isn't good. It's really good. The choreography is not only entertaining, but is in the service of important reflection on gendered behavior. These steel puffs may dance in pink, but they're anything but inconsequential child beings. Women warriors are more like it.
Steel Puffs Have Left the Building runs through May 17 at Suchu Dance, 3480 Ella Boulevard. Tickets are pay-what-you-can. For information, visit, www.suchudance.org.