Foodless Food is a piece of multimedia choreography, performed by Blue Shift Dance, inspired by food deserts and their effect on Baltimore City. Video, audio, and movement are together throughout the work, which altogether was thought-provoking, complex, and chilling.
“It's important for people to see that this is experiential, were not putting this on, we can really feel this.” Caitlin McAfee, the director of Blue Shift Dance Company, said.
Foodless Food opened with a video compilation of sugary food and drink advertisements throughout history. The dancers and choreographers, Caitlin McAfee and Adrienne Latanishen, enter with happy smiles glued on their faces while trotting around the stage to artificially enthusiastic circus music. They offered the audience Twinkies and Pepsi cans as the piece proceeded with projections of different facts about food deserts, such as “1 in 4 residents live in a food desert” and “fast food chains disproportionately target black children.” The audience members were given paper to answer “what does it feel like to be in a food desert?” as Caitlin, who represents the food industry, sits and eats Twinkies.
During the creation of Foodless Food, the choreographers reflected on what it feels like to be in a food desert, which is why they asked the audience that same question. “Blue Shift Dance Company is collaborative and immersive, we like to involve the audience in our performances,” McAfee said in an interview.
Latanishen began to perform gestural movements that were variations of circular motions of the body and circular pathways on the stage. Her energy quickly changed between internal and external reaching. The pauses she gave between her movements were valuable and lovely as it allowed the audience to view the facts on the screen and back to the dancer.
“That's what I think dancers bring to the table: the human connection. So having bodies on the stage along with the facts is meant to humanize.” McAfee said.
Latanishen, representing affected by food deserts, then collected our papers and placed them intentionally in a circle around herself. We heard audio from real people who are affected by food desserts as Latanishen wrote with her finger on the floor, kneeling in the circle she created. Her writing evolved from being defined and clear, with her pointer finger, to being muddled and difficult, with her shoulder. I saw in her struggle to write with her body a reflection of her struggle to live well. The statement, “They always forget about us,” was repeated consistently on the audio throughout this moment on Latanishen’s knees.
A motif of rubbing the fingers together on one hand, as if trying to spread seeds, or begging for cash, can be seen throughout Foodless Food and interpreted as searching — but search for what? Searching for food? Searching for answers? Searching for a way out? The audience is left to determine this for themselves. Latanishen often returned to this idea of “searching” with her fingers. The audience saw this dancer fighting her emotions as she stood in front of us, holding her chest, then exploded into a large strike of the leg. Latanishen performed a strong solo full of direct movements and reaching with her limbs leaving her barely standing by the end of her movement.
McAfee returned to the stage with the smile from the food industry glued on her face again. She began partnering with Adrienne to help her stay standing on her feet, but it did not work as Latanishen could not remain standing. This section was quite comical as Adrienne moved like a rag doll in McAfee's hands. There were many additional striking moments of complete weight sharing, one being when Latanishen was face down on the floor and McAfee was lying on top of Latanishen face-first in a back attitude position. As the duet ended, McAfee walked off the stage cracking open a Pepsi while Latanishen was left on stage rubbing her fingers together again.
In the last movement, Latanishen fought tears and the screen behind her reads “can you drown in sugar?” She is struggling to move her body and eventually lays her body flat on the stage. This solo was heartbreaking to watch, and I felt an urge to run on the stage and embrace her. McAfee walked on stage observing Latanishen’s body on the floor, and began creating a body chalk outline with Twinkies around Latanishen.
Foodless Food came to a close with a spreading of seeds throughout the stage by the dancers and the audience members. Both movers performed a reverent duet to conclude this impactful, thought-provoking piece of choreography. The seeds and the duet revealed to the audience that this ending is not the end, that there is hope to resolve the issues regarding food deserts. There are ways to move to make solutions.
Performed at Mondo in Baltimore on 5/27/17
Written by Shianne Antoine