REVIEW: Course of Empire (Breakbone Dance Company)


A provacative and compelling empire



Breakbone Dance Company presents
Course of Empire
Conceived and Directed by Atalee Judy
Viaduct Theatre, 3111 N. Western (map)
through Nov 20  |  tickets: $16  |  more info

Reviewed by K.D. Hopkins

Breakbone Dance Company claims to have been breaking the rules of contemporary dance for their thirteen years as a group. Breaking the rules is a subjective claim in these days of what I call artistic anarchy. The performance/concert Course of Empire is a thoroughly skilled and mellifluous take on society seen through architectural exploration but I’m not sure that it breaks the rules. The concert is a new work a year in the making, created under the direction of Breakbone Artistic Director Atalee Judy.

Breakbone Dance Company - aviatrixCourse of Empire combines industrial techno music and film projection with choreography. The Viaduct Theatre space is the perfect venue for such a production. It is situated literally under a viaduct on Western Avenue along a seemingly desolate street. The interior is sparse and painted black with chains, cinder blocks and scattered metal props. It has a very Teutonic feel that is amplified when the dancers appear. They are dressed like aviatrix explorers with goggles, close fitting helmets, and leather rucksacks. This production features Atalee Judy, Anita Fillmore, and Mindy Meyers. Founding member Suzanne Dado is featured in a video portion of the performance filmed by Carl Weidemann. The audience is led through four stages of building and destruction called excavations. That is the perfect description with the cinder blocks rolling and the dancers taking on the personas of building materials as well as the architect.

Judy, Fillmore, and Meyers expertly jumble their bodies through the growing pains of mankind’s early attempts at putting down foundations and building. They put miniature models of structures from history downstage as a mini focal point. The Roman Coliseum ruins, the Leaning Tower of Pisa, the Taj Mahal, and an incomplete structure are given as visual motif. “Course of Empire is broken into five parts: On Building, Living Architecture, Manifest, Inevitable Destruction, and Rebuilding the Interior.

The descriptions of these parts is what left me wondering what rules were being broken. The choreography is exquisite. Atalee Judy has produced a lyrical blend of modern, jazz, hip-hop, and a surprising touch of spiritual gospel moves set against visuals of destruction. This is a beautiful commentary on society, and maybe the company’s endgame veers towards breaking the rules by documenting architectural destruction through dance. Carl Weidemann’s video accompaniment is a loving look at what was built in the last century that now lay in ruins. An abandoned train station and church in Gary, Indiana is especially poignant knowing how the city still lays abandoned, and a dead city by some media outlets. Course of Empire was inspired by paintings of the same name by Thomas Cole. The paintings show the course of cultural development from an agrarian state to industry and depletion. I found the subject matter especially wrenching because of my own love of 19th and 20th century architecture. (I find modern structures to be cold and void of feeling; new shiny things have no soul and eventually humankind will grow bored and destroy them for the next new thing. Thomas’s “Course of Empire” eloquently shows human nature and how structures have souls seen in the eye of the beholder.


Breakbone Dance Company 01 breakbonedance-dancecastexcavation-carlwiedemann2
Breakbone DanceCo Breakbone Dance Company 08

I was fortunate to attend on the night when Breakbone celebrated its’ 13th anniversary season. There was a guerilla film shown if Atalee Judy dancing through an abandoned rail tunnel in Rochester, New York. It’s a definite moment of rule breaking in film. No permits were granted for the film short that was done with Steadicam on the fly. Ms. Judy claims that such films are the direction that Breakbone is heading. This may be a means of wider recognition, but it would be a shame to not see this company live and in the flesh. Dance is a tangible discipline where one can hear the breath and see the sweat of exertion. Breakbone’s passion is inspiring, and I hope that they don’t go totally viral (ala YouTube) or center just on their video work. Keep it live – that in itself will be breaking the rules. It’s the same as paying homage to a beautiful structure or preserving a treasured building.

Rating: ★★★


More Breakbone videos here.


Continue reading