Attending The CRay Project production of PINS (Pretty In Nubian Skin) on Saturday, February 8th, at The Long Beach Playhouse, in Long Beach, CA. was a great pleasure. Chatiera “Cookie” Ray and LaRonica “Ronnie” Southerland directed this sultry production. Ray and Southerland along with fourteenth other performers created a space where Black sexuality was explored, honored, and celebrated through the beautiful art form of burlesque dance.
PINS was an intentional and unapologetic mature adult production and the old adage, “If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen!” perfectly describes this high voltage creation of pure sensuality. The pre-show details were exceptional, from the rose covered bed in the foyer, and the cast greeting guests with sweets, to fake money given, which was to be thrown during highpoints throughout performance, and lastly to the seating arrangements. The first two rows were only for those who wanted to interact with the cast.
Act one begins with a spunky piece filled with satire that was choreographed by Ray and Southerland to the music D#ncing Ain’t F*cking from “Showgirls! The Musical” and the piece was entitled the same. The MC and five flirtatiously female performers, Christina Morales-Grace, Adrianna Lanier, Crystal Weaks-Pryor, Sam Sanders and Adrianna Vieux, welcomed all guests.James MahKween choreographed “You Feel Me”, a seductive duet between Mychal Vandell and Adrianna Vieux. This athletic and heavily charged dance had many breathtaking moments. Vieux, an alluring and leggy coquet and Vandell, whose masculine appeal was evident, moved in sequence through steamy stimulating positions and effortless lifts. MahKween did not create this dance for the timid or the faint-of-heart, but for those who have sex positive attitudes.
Ray choreographed the next four dances. “Is It A Crime” danced by the whimsical Makeda Easter who was a joy to watch. Her fluid and graceful movement matched Sade’s velvety voice and put the audience in a state of wonderment. LaRonica “Ronnie” Southerland danced “Carmen Sutra” to Habanera in a playful, seductive, and femme fatale matter. Here comedic timing was impeccable and her command of codified techniques was exceptional. She teased and amazed the audience as she went from a common peasant girl to an audacious mistress who broke barriers by combining twerking and opera music. It is easy to see why she is one of the leaders of the CRay Project. Next, in a low gleaming light and fog, six goddesses, Adrianna Lanier, Makeda Easter, TiYuana Morehead, Crystal Weaks-Pryor, Sam Sanders and Adrianna Vieux, appear seated and standing on three-feet cubes in thigh high six-inch boots, fishnets, and daisy dukes. These divas fiercely danced to Michael Jackson’s Dirty Diana and “slayed” with high battlements, multiple sharp turns, and long luscious layouts. The last dance of act one was “WO.man” performed by Christina Morales-Grace. Stripping from a red ring-leader jacket to reveal a gold bejeweled outfit, Morales-Grace charismatically danced to James Brown’s Man’s World. Her soft, silky, and heartfelt movements took the audience on a enchanting journey.
Ray and Southerland”s collaboration of “No Average Poke”, opened act two during which they shared a comedic moment, and dancers Christina Morales-Grace, Adrianna Lanier, TiYuana Morehead, Crystal Weaks-Pryor, Jon Manuel Rivera, Sam Sanders, and Adrianna Vieux aided in the satire. A lot of fake and real dollars were thrown during this dance and Rivera brought an unforgettable spark to the work with his penetrating majestic gazes and overall polished performance.
Ray created the following three dances. “How Bout It” was the game changer of the evening. Instead of sensual females dancing to Big Spender, Ray challenged the social norm and the burlesque tradition and choreographed a jazz quartet for males. Juquari Baskin, Jon Manuel Rivera, Mychal Vandell, and Daveione Williams took sex appeal to another level. Adrianna Lanier performed to Aretha Franklin’s Dr. Feelgood and Lanier’s leg extensions refused to obey gravity as they carved moments in space, while enticing the audience as she performed in a beautiful red lace negligee worthy of her elegance. For more satire, Ray added “Gigolo”, which was a comedic and highly technical modern-jazz dance performed by Daveione Williams. His soulful expressions and long lingering body fuzzed with his smooth transitions made this a perfect dance for Williams. As a soloist, he interacted the most with the audience and they loved his presence.
Southerland choreographed “Ego Trip” and performed in it along with Vandell. This fun piece situated the two dancers in a lover’s quarrel or a battle of the sexes, and there were dynamic partnering and sensual moments, and these two powerhouses brought to light how beautiful love is even when lovers quarrel.
The finale choreographed by Kendrick Clevór was a hot and steamy piece entitled “Wet” where everyone wore white. Sean Green, August Grey, and Yai-Yai Lawler joined the cast as the “turned up” the playhouse. Clevór’s dance was rousing and brought PINS to an intersexual, climatic, and feverish end. There was fruit, dollars, and whip cream everywhere. What a way to end this show!
With the creation of PINS, Ray and Southerland established a platform where Black sexuality was told through the narratives of those who live in Nubian skin that deconstructed mainstream’s stereotypical images of Black bodies through a lens that was unfiltered and unabashed. It was important for Ray and Southerland to feature dancers with different body-shapes and sizes, from different dance experiences, and sexual orientations to express how glamorous, complex, and raw the human sexual experience can be in Nubian skin. Overall, this was a night of impactful and politically charged dance that illustrated the empowered Black sexualized body without exploitation or shame.
Ray and Southerland included a talk back, which focused on the origins of PINS and other needed information relevant to their mission. My suggestions for this dynamic duo is to find a larger venue for PINS. Although, the playhouse was intimate, which aided in the ambiance, it hindered the full expression of large group dances. The dance “Ego Trip”, needed microphones or perhaps voiceovers so that the audience can enjoy the conversation. However, funding may be at the root of these issues. Lastly, although the last piece was interactive, I felt that the entire audience should have experienced intermingling with this sensational cast.
The CRay Project is located in Long Beach, and in order to help Ray and Southerland continue to do groundbreaking work, support is needed. Please visit their website at www.crayproject.org of more detail.
Written by Kim Gadlin for LA Dance Chronicle, February 13, 2020.
To learn more about the Long Beach Playhouse, click here.
Featured image: The CRay Project – Adrianna Lanier in “Dr. Feelgood” – Photo by Kevin Paul-Lawrence