Dahlak Brathwaite’s Try/Step/Trip has seen a lot of Los Angeles in its tour this year. The six-person cast has rotated a bit, but Brathwaite anchors them in a powerfully constructed re(re)telling of his story, one he has been exploring through his music, poetry, and more for a long time. This illustration of his experience in a court-ordered drug rehabilitation program explores one count of the ever-present Black experience with the criminal justice system, excavating universal truths and trials in intertwining layers.
I’m grateful to Brathwaite for being willing to share this story, and more than once — he also tells the tale via one-man show. And I also think that his voice and this story are necessary
to the proscenium venue’s season right now, since so many of them profit from tokenizing Black art forms. Part of the thesis of Try/Step/Trip is that there is more to be gained from repetition: “this tale so old,” Brathwaite begins. And this is a story we need to hear over and over to absorb all we can and then change it.
Appearing at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts, this cast is an assembly of gems, performers who hold their own and ooze spirit but also come together as a tightly unified ensemble. Each of them bring their character to its fullest, and Roberta Uno’s direction meets Brathwaite’s artistry in showcasing their strengths well.
Jasmine T.R. Gatewood uses her stunning voice with clarity and finesse, all the while moving with grounded footing. Max Udell, Freddy Ramsey Jr., and Dante Rossi round out the team, each mounting several characters where necessary and sporting utter commitment.
Isaiah Lucas made his impressive premiere Thursday night as a representation of Brathwaite, who sometimes joins the ensemble, sometimes narrates, and sometimes scores the story live. Brathwaite is musical in every step, every note. His poetry, his movement, his concept of the space and the narrative all fit together in a harmonious sequence, including the music co-composed with Teak Underdue.
The movement is well-tailored to the context and the cast: choreographer Toran X. Moore paints steps, motifs, social body language, an entire canvas of movement that sings and flows with the beat and plot. It’s well-rooted in Black dance practices shaped to serve the stylings of each song, the structure of each moment. The choreography turns the story into a journey, and at 80 minutes, it’s a push for the performers. But they achieve it with determination and command the work as a team.
The plot, the verse, the music, and the movement weave into a physical timeline. Lighting by Brianna Pattillo and costumes by Dana Rebecca Woods complete the picture, and Brathwaite’s poetry falls into an expert pace that drives the dance and reveals a glimmer of hope at the end.
Try/Step/Trip’s tour ends here, but if you get a chance to see it somewhere else, it’s worth the time. Beyond its ever-relevant subject matter, something about this recipe bears repeating — and Brathwaite is ready to do just that.
For more information on Dahlak Brathwaite, please visit his website.
For more information on the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts, please visit their website.
Written by Celine Kiner for LA Dance Chronicle.
Featured image: Try/Step/Trip (L-R) Max Udell, Freddy Ramsey Jr., Dahlak Brathwaite, Derek Jackson, Jasmine Gatewood – Photo by MarKing IV Photography @markingivphotography