A projector slowly lowers on a small stage in Hollywood’s Barnsdall Gallery Theatre. Images flash of faces interspersed with pictures of arms painted with such phrases as “hope” and “fear.” Performers silhouetted in blue light take the stage. They stand close together in the darkness as pre-recorded poetry blares: “Dear body, I’m sorry I abused you.”
4C LAB’s premiere work In This Skin combats the negativity of our president-elect’s campaign through the voices of young, ethnically-diverse millennials who are utilizing their artistic abilities to fight for a more inclusive American future.
Artistic director Marissa Herrera founded the company as a nonprofit organization geared toward helping young adults between the ages of 16 and 23 creatively express themselves. Their vignette-style performances, formed in collaboration with community-based organization Say Word, are mostly made up of personal stories with strong political messages. The twenty acts swing from extreme ends of the emotional spectrum to mimic the highs and lows of the journey to self-discovery. Different narratives are portrayed through a mix of dance, video clips and spoken word to present a live arts experience. Despite the production’s running motifs of race, love and self-acceptance which unite the show thematically, the individual scenes are more poignant as stand-alone segments.
The show, which premiered on December 8 of last year, is surprisingly emotionally raw considering that it was put together in only 12 days. And with the inauguration drawing near, powerful statements such as “I want to look as Mexican as possible” are distinguishable as part of the social commentary which forms the foundation of the evening’s body of work.
One memorable moment featured 12 people sitting on the floor disclosing childhood memories. The ensemble is dressed in everyday, neutral-colored clothing. They face the audience as they casually pass the microphone around to set the tone for the upcoming dance scene. Light and humorous anecdotes turn into hard-hitting revelations about race-based bullying and child abuse. Some are still children learning to deal with the repercussions of a world that judges them based on biased societal norms and, more recently, Trump-fueled anti-immigrant remarks giving the audience a necessary reminder that we need change.
The simple sequence allows for a smooth transition into one of the more comprehensive sections of the night: a blend of poetry and interpretive choreography that portrays one woman’s difficulties surviving a lifetime of bullying for her sexual orientation.
Her segment starts off with another one of the company members singing acapella, hauntingly repeating the hymn-like line: “Why don’t you just take all of me?” Shortly after, the main character begins poetically identifying her struggle as both physical and emotional, conjuring images of cages and mental hospitals as the restraints forcefully keeping her from openly and authentically living her life. During her vocalization, a silent dancer begins swaying both to the rhythm of her spoken word and the melody of the singer’s lyrics still heard in the background.
Her dips and rising grooves echo the pitch and sentiments of the poet whose face remains solemn even when describing her ability to learn to endure through her hardships. In contrast, the dancer’s unsteady movements embody the speaker’s inner turmoil, juxtaposing her strength with vivid upward and downward–moving body rolls. Their synchronization is captivating as a compelling arrangement that displays the troupe’s potential for non-narrative story-telling.
Some of the most powerful instances of In This Skin appear in the middle of the production. The one-night presentation of 4C LAB’s inaugural piece is interlaced with engrossing visuals. The show loses a little bit of its power when it relies on overused tropes, like raised fists to signify courage. It’s strongest when it’s not afraid to make bold, unpredictable moves, like the use of lights to illuminate the performers’ silhouettes in a pitch black running scene mimicking a group of people being chased by the police. With their variety in style, there’s much to look forward to for the future of this company as the visionaries continue to use their passion to shape their voices in this upcoming age of uncertainty.