REVIEW: David Dorfman’s “Prophets of Funk” at the Joyce Theater
[dropcap]M[/dropcap]oving to a favorite song is second nature for most.
And for David Dorfman, in the case of Sly and the Family Stone, this impulse is the departure point for a dance-throwback that not only invokes a full-body experience of funk music but also the particular impact of the band’s legacy. As a result, “Prophets of Funk” lands as a celebration of an era–but one that doesn’t overlook its complexities.
When “Prophets of Funk” opens at the Joyce Theater, Dorfman himself is the torch-bearer: the first mover we see. At first we are distracted by glitzy bell bottoms, afro-wigs and fringed vests, swept up in familiar sequences of ponies, grapevines, and snappy step-touch footwork. As if at a party suspended in time, we tap our foot to the familiar tunes and smile at the performers dancing together. It’s not all laymen’s steps– moments of line dancing are fluidly integrated with smooth turns, drops, and balances à la modern dance. Dorfman’s choreography calls for technique, theatricality, rhythm and charm. Video footage of the band is projected on the back screen and Sly himself is present (played by Raja Kelly). He has everyone in the palm of his hand.
So if Sly Stone’s fame is so intoxicating, the music so undeniably fun and the fans so energized, how does sorrow sneak in? Sly’s glory is subtly dismantled through temporary breaks in devotion from the other 7 performers. Kyle Abraham portrays a fan who has lost much yet still puts all his faith in the funk. He reminds us how easy it is to want to be a part of a wave, declaring that each step done is “his!” In a powerful solo packed with physicality, Whitney Tucker warns that finding a “prophet” may not lead to all the answers, and she sheds her afro wig for her own individuality. The vulnerable Kendra Portier gets intimately close to Sly, only to be dismissed soon thereafter. Although these moments are surrounded by what looks like never-ceasing fun, Dorfman communicates the darker political, financial, and emotional sides of a musical movement that prophesied love and inclusion and called for social change.
And in this, it becomes relevant to us (even those of us who missed Woodstock and can only live through hearsay). We know rhetoric. We know how it feels to hear a message that we support, that feels good, but that may let us down in its unfolding. Dorfman also bets on the fact that we love to get swept up in a song, and in the final moments of the piece, he lets us. Then there we are on stage, experiencing firsthand the joy and quickly forgetting our doubts.
“Prophets of Funk” will continue at the Joyce Theater on Saturday 1/28 at 8 pm and Sunday 1/29 at 2 pm. For tickets visit www.joyce.org.