I will admit to being a bit trepidatious when I heard Imitation of Christ’s show would be a performance in St Mark’s Church in the east village. Having been a dancer when I was younger, it is a venue that I’ve performed in myself as well as spent many evenings at the performances of my friends. This could be awful or amazing.
While we were waiting to get in (after they had no record of my RSVP), my young assistant Christina whispered to me “This is so unprofessional compared to the other shows” –meaning the officially produced ones at Spring Studio. I tried to give her a little history of the brand –how it was always a bit anti-establishment, ahead of it’s time in terms of upcycling and, that while it wasn’t always understood by Capital F “fashion”, it was the darling of the art school scene back in the day.
“Chloe Sevigny was the first Creative Director” I added –a statement which to me perfectly situated the brand culturally but received a “Chloe who?” in response from Christina. So I simply said “let’s wait and see.”
We stood on the edge of the lawn (it began outside) and watched as the models, all professional dancers, walked down a path onto the lawn then forming a circle while a blues singer, Melodie augmented a feeling, an oddness, amplified by a drone hovering overhead. They were all dressed in a series of simple jersey pieces with situationist quotes on them that question this moment in time such as “If love is under siege, it is because it threatens the very essence of commercial civilization”.
This was a peaceful protest of Dancers striking poses of pain and sadness as a tribute to all the loved ones we have lost due to covid 19. With the dancer/ artist Breanna Helders who spray painted a slash across her womb symbolic to how wrong the new 6 week abortion ruling in Texas is and in support of free choice and equal rights for all. This part finished with a model in a lace gown standing in the circle and drawing a red line across the dress while facing a very pregnant performer as a commentary against the Texas abortion ban.
We then went inside where there was a monk in the center of the room painting a Mandala on the floor. A 19 year old musical artist named Blessing was singing on the stage and one by one the dancers came out in vintage one of a kind upcycled couture collection that were colorful and sparkled and meant to be seen by designers Asia Caldera and Daisy Bourez. As well as pieces by guest artist Gian Manik, who hand-painted detailed portraits onto upcycled denim.. Clothing for post-quarantine, an antithesis to the sweatpants and cocooning comfort clothes of the pandemic. (These one-of-a-kind pieces will be available through The RealReal.)
Head Creative director, owner of IOC and designer Tara Subkoff’s vision was to create a living Mandala with dancers and a monk in the center making a sand mandala. A mandala is a spiritual and ritual symbol in Asian cultures. It can be understood in two different ways: externally as a visual representation of the universe or internally as a guide. The belief is that by entering the mandala and proceeding towards its center, you are guided through the cosmic process of transforming the universe from one of suffering into one of joy and happiness.
This was skillfully brought to life through Imitation of Christ’s collaboration with Isabelle Seiler and Alicia Fotino, two dancers who have a company called Dead Serious NYC who cast and did the movement direction for the production. The lineup showcased 78 dancers from American Ballet Theatre, Dance Theatre of Harlem, The Juilliard School, Broadway, and more.
As Dead Serious NYC explained “The dancers came together in groups of 20, to assure Covid safety protocols were met, for 1.5 hour rehearsals and a quick fitting with wardrobe. A short run through on-location followed on the day of the show before guests arrived.”
While overhead video documentation would show that the dancers were moving in specific patterns, their individual movements were unique and embodied a sense of freedom and joy. It created a poignancy in knowing that we’ll never have that same feeling of being carefree that was pre-Covid while also a hopefulness that we’ll continue to know joy. In short it truly captured this specific moment in time.
The last section of the presentation had the dancers leaving St. Marks and with large balloons going to Tompkins Square Park, bringing their energy to a larger audience.