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Review: ’Foodless Food’ at Charm City Fringe Festival

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For every good ad there are a hundred bad ones. This is where Foodless Food by BlueShift Dance starts. The projections of advertising for unhealthy food products takes us from the advent of television up through the modern age. The ads are first directed at children. This morphs into a pitch to children of color, specifically, and ends with the ill-fated Pepsi commercial starring reality TV icon Kylie Jenner. It is at this point that our two dancers take the stage – jubilantly twirling batons which invoke a sense of Americana and then asking the audience whether they would like a Twinkie or a Pepsi. I took a Twinkie.

At first, one might question what purpose dance could serve when addressing the issue of food deserts. The next portion of this act sees one dancer unwrapping Twinkies and eating the plastic, while the other moves dramatically in front of the screen which now projects statistics about food deserts: 1-in-4 Baltimore City residents lives in a food desert, meaning they have to travel over half a mile or more to get to a supermarket that carries a wide array of products and fresh produce while dealing with challenges such as lack of access to vehicles or reliable public transportation and higher prices for non-processed foods.

Then come the voices of city residents, “They always forget about us.” They always forget about us. It’s true. We have forgotten about them. Food is the most essential element we need to stay alive and the products which we are offering economically disadvantaged communities are literally killing them.

Everyone in the audience is given a question. Mine was, “How does it feel to be in a desert?” Sad and lonely, I wrote, with a frowny face. One dancer looks at our responses, laying them out on the floor, then appears to collapse from emotional weight. Classical music begins to play, the second dancer appears, perky and healthy, to move around and over and on top of the collapsed dancer who is pushed around without ever having the energy to respond or move as the other dancer does. At this moment, it occurred to me that dance was precisely the medium needed to portray the depth of this issue.

The classical music is a call out for the white bourgeoisie who inhabit cities like Baltimore, D.C., NYC, and others and thrive while the black population can’t even get its most basic need met. Of course the perky dancer has energy and can push the other dancer around – she isn’t forced to live off of processed foods. As someone who is also a marketing professional, this show really drove home the point that the actions we take in promoting products have real-world consequences. We are burying ourselves and others in a mountain of junk. We are drowning people in sugar.

This was one of the most amazing modern dance pieces I have ever seen. It really distilled the many, many issues we have in this country concerning racial inequality down to something critical, yet so basic that it is often overlooked. Part of the proceeds from this show go to Boone Street Farm, which provides the East Baltimore Midway neighborhood a place to grow fresh produce. There are many farms like this that have taken space in vacant lots and turned them into community gardens. Even then, the very soil in Baltimore is contaminated. How do you address the issue of racism when it has seeped into the earth? As one Batimore City community member once told me, “It’s in the dirt.”

BlueShift Dance is starting the long process of digging, which I believe begins with raising awareness. We need to, as community members, advertisers, and human beings, dig much deeper than we already have to address these issues. If you only have time to see one show at Charm City Fringe, make it this one. It’s a matter of life and death.

Running Time: 50 minutes, with no intermission.

Foodless Food plays through November 12, 2017, at the 322 Stage – 322 North Howard Street in Baltimore, MD. Tickets and Charm City Fringe Festival buttons may be purchased at Fringe HQ (Le Mondo, 406 N Howard Street), the venue, or online.

Baltimore’s historic Lexington Market is joining DC Metro Theater Arts in support of our coverage of the Charm City Fringe Festival. The Market closes at 6 PM on weekdays and is closed Sundays, but we recommend that Fringe-goers stop by on Saturday to grab lunch and take a look around, in addition to checking out the local bands which play from 12:00 PM to 2:00 PM.

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