DanceFeaturedNew YorkPhysical TheatreReview

The Unwritten Law – Dixon Place, New York

Music: A.J. Khaw & Varuni Tiruchelvam

Writer: Chesney Snow

Choreographer: Rebecca Arends

Director: Rebecca Arends

Reviewer: Robert Price

Chesney Snow is best known for his beatboxing talents, recently utilized in the Broadway a capella musical, In Transit. He executes complex rhythms while mimicking drums and record scratches perfectly. This gift is only a small part of Chesney Snow as a performer. The Unwritten Law is a choreopoem that dives into questions of identity, starting with name. “When your name’s just a little bit unique/ALL OF A SUDDEN/People, forget how to speak.”

Snow uses verse to tell his story, with movement to punctuate his careful composition. His mother Rene is called Pepper because she “left brothers breathless.” His father is Swift Rhyme on the airwaves and Darnell when he’s in trouble. To accompany the storytelling, Rebecca Arends choreographed movement for two bodies. She and Winston Dynamite Brown embody Rene, Darnell, and a host of other figures in Snow’s life. The dance is smooth and unhurried, powerful and subtle, and does not distract. Every movement adds another dimension to Snow’s perspective, especially when the truth is hard to hear. When Darnell leaves and Rene is working as a hospice nurse, she cleans a man who spits racial epithets at her any chance he can. It is his name she chooses for her son, and it is his name that Snow identifies with, not Darnell. 

The poetry sings in familiar cadences as often as it soars on its own currents, inviting us to listen closely so as not to miss a word. Snow wears a lapel mic, and his delivery is aided by musical compositions from Varuni Tiruchelvam and A.J. Khaw. Tiruchelvam plays a cello, sometimes in gliding tones that haunt the disturbing subject matter and sometimes as the simple bass rhythm for a fresh beat. Khaw seems equally as comfortable in dissonant ambiance as he is in righteous jazz and blues. The effect is an augmentation of the words, a performance nurtured from the text with sound and movement dove tailing in wicked harmonies. As Snow examines his family’s history he constructs the context for his future, and for the future of his son.

Runs until 14 August 2017

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