Imagine standing in the midst of human hieroglyphics, contortionists, gymnasts and acrobatic actors engaged in an organic origami of expression. Envision dance styles ranging from ‘bruk up’ and ‘bone-breaking’ to the slow-motion optical distortions of ‘gliding’ and ‘pauzin’ back to basic ‘bubble’ and ‘whining skill.’ Now marry those moves with a political narrative, add in live musicians, two vocalists, and a DJ and you’ll get a show that provides a voice for the voiceless with its poses, passion, and power, which is heard loud and clear.
Enter the stage. Enter the Maze.
The journey starts in a haze — literally. As one steps into the arena, fog and the sound of ominous chords fill the cavernous performance space. Crosses of light dot the area where the audience stands in anticipation. Then comes the drums. Enter the dragon of dancers with bodies beckoning the festivities to begin. You are invited to “party for your right to fight” as the performers weave in and out of the crowd, inviting and engaging, eventually creating a circle of spectators with their movements.
Beholder’s eyes can interpret what unfolds in myriad manners. Maze is dancers dueling dualities submerged in sound and spotlights; freedom and captivity, illumination and darkness, life and death. Ancient Greeks meet city streets as the myth of Daedalus is interpreted in modern-day matrix. The dancers express the labyrinth legend with visual vignettes. Hat tricks mix with the wax-winged flight and fall of Icarus, flexN the tale of the son who flew too close to the sun.
“The piece dwells on personal stories, encounters with police, prison and the justice system and also on broader mythologies,” says Co-Director Kaneza Schaal. Her theatrical expertise combined with the move mapping mind of FlexN frontiersman Reggie “Regg Rocc” Gray to meld motion with mythical musings. “What if the wings he made for his son Icarus were actually aided by the sun’s power?” asks Schaal. “How do we construct our prayers for a next generation?”
Traditional seating is occupied for a spell in the midst of the magic. The show shifts from standing circle to ascending rows of chairs, then back to the cipher. Maze climaxes with the performance turning up into a party. Co-Director Gray asks the audience to join his (Dance Rules Everything Around Me) Ring in revelry. Dancehall and Soca soaks you as the FlexN concludes.
Maze, which ran until August 17th, is merely one example of the precious performance gems to be discovered at The Shed; the artistic epicenter of the Hudson Yards area. Schaal says it plays a complex and pivotal part in New York’s cultural ecosystem. “So often when we walk into our theatres… into our museums… into our elite cultural spaces; we see a sea of white faces,” says Schaal. “That is not representative of New York City. New York City is sixty percent people of color. So, to me, The Shed occupies a complex position and has this tremendous opportunity and tremendous commitment to making a space that serves the population that is New York City.”
The Shed, which opened in April with “Soundtrack of America,” Steven McQueen’s five-concert exploration of the cultural impact of African American music, has a commitment to supporting artists of color. “A lot of work that I do is working with New York City emerging artists,” says Tamara McCaw, The Shed’s chief civic program officer. “And absolutely our administrative focus is really centering on artists of color and people of color here in a large public institution.”
Hudson Yards, with its supreme shopping experiences, skyline sights for seers and Highline proximity, is already a major draw for visitors and locals alike. But if you seek cultural craft that is off the beaten path and splashed with vivid color; it may be more than worth your while to step into The Shed.