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Toxic creates stunning showcase

Toxic Majorette Dance Line, Brandeis’ first majorette dance line, celebrated their new status as an independent club with “Pick Your Poison,” a performance which brought together dance and performance groups from across campus to create one of the most exciting arts events of the year.

The show was fittingly started with a solo dance by Asia Hollinger ’18, who helped found the group under Brandeis Black Student Organization (BBSO) in 2015 and choreographed their performances through her Brandeis career. She displayed the experience in a captivating performance, starting with subdued movements cloaked in a hoodie then exploding into a fury of defiant movement with a dramatic de-cloaking. With acrobatic movements, which seemingly broke some laws of physics but which flowed near-seamlessly into each other, Hollinger started the event off with a shot of adrenaline.

Her performance was succeeded by her Toxic successors, whose performance was equally exhilarating. Majorette dance, a staple of Southern black culture, evolved alongside the football teams and marching bands it’s often used to support. The variant Toxic dances incorporate elements reminiscent of hip-hop, cheerleading and baton twirling to create a dance form with an energy level to match the most committed fans watching their team win. Led by captain and head choreographer Atia Butts ’19 and accompanied by a pulsing beat, the dancers created a tightly organized delta of defiance. Every movement was deliberate, from their confident parade onto stage to their synchronized movements. And though their first performance was over surprisingly quickly, they took the stage several times throughout the performance, each time bringing increasingly charged music and the moves to match.

They also brought almost all of Brandeis’ many dance and performance groups, who put on similarly impressive performances. An early stand-out was the Platinum Step Team, led by Brianna Lackwood ’21, whose percussive dance demanded attention. With intimidating personas, they confidently clapped and stomped their way to a fluid rhythm mesmerizing to both listen to and watch.

Adagio’s Dance Ensemble slowed it down with a performance of a striking figurative piece “Drowning,” choreographed by Rebecca Kahn ’19. The piece features synchronized pairs of dancers nebulously portraying some relationship between an abuser and victim. Smooth flowing movements show the dancers abstractly exploring their space, with one of the pair subtly blocking the other or not so subtly engaging in dramatized mock violence. Set to the downbeat of Two Feet’s “I Feel Like I’m Drowning,” the piece provides an intriguing canvas just abstract enough you cannot help but project meaning onto it.

The Ballet Company performed a preview of their upcoming performance of the Nutcracker with the famous “Waltz of the Flowers,” a graceful celebration of youth. Following in the tradition of classical ballet, the dancers twirled their way across the stage with just enough flourish to show they were having fun without breaking the elegance of their form. In colorful dresses and tutus, their graceful swirls created a fusion of color and movement which exulted in the simple joy of Tchaikovsky’s waltz.

There were, in fact, too many performances to list in detail. Chak De performed an amazingly smooth Bollywood dance, MAD Band showed what classic pop songs sound like played by a (mostly) brass band, and Poetic Justice’s Kwesi Jones ’21 delivered socially conscious verses. Fafali showcased the unique rhythms of Ghana, and Rebelle, Up the Octave, LatinXtreme and Hooked on Tap and student musicians Jason Baddoo ’19 and Oran Rahamim ’20 all came together to create a massive compilation of Brandeis’ many, many impressive performances.

But the climax undoubtedly came with the guest performances of Bentley University’s African Student Association and Area 51, the only independent majorette team in the Boston area. They filled the stage with dancers in perfect sync, all of whom brought majorette’s uniquely defiant and supportive energy to the crowd. Even the small children who accompanied them joined the routines, many even almost matching the impressive dance moves of the older dancers.
It was this majorette energy which ultimately made “Pick Your Poison.” The audience, partially made up of performers’ family and friends, was beyond excited to see the show and not afraid to let anyone know. Slow performances were met with shouts of encouragement and during the peaks of the majorette performances, the stands came alive with cheering and audience members dancing along. With an enthusiastic community and even more impressive dancing, Toxic temporarily turned the gym into a catalyst for community.

Post-note; Brandeis really needs better performance spaces. As much as it is tradition for majorette to be performed in a gym, they and all the other groups who perform at Brandeis shine much more brightly when there’s no risk of a tennis ball rolling into the middle of the dance floor.

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