I Promise listed as one of five exceptional dances from 2017!

Photo by Beth Mann

Five exceptional dances from 2017, listed in chronological order

Wednesday, December 27, 2017


“Comerford’s new ensemble work represented a significant development: a series of uncertain encounters with the Other across international, intercultural & interpersonal borders, in response to the polarization that’s been turning us into “a nation of Others” since the 2016 elections. In this still emerging work’s first stagings, design elements smoothed over some of the starkest verities Comerford and her dancers had discovered. In rehearsal, its nuanced social metaphors and raw emotional realism reminded me of Pina Bausch.” 

Read the full article here.


“I Promise” Powerful

photo by Dick Costa


A Review


ShaLeigh Dance Works’ world premiere of “I Promise” presented as part of Durham Independent Dance Artists’ third season, gave the Sunday (Dec. 17) audience a 90-minute respite from daily anxiety spawned by the Trump Administration and also offered a sense of hope that diverse peoples could peacefully co-exist.

After this affirming work, the world outside seemed brighter even on a cloudy night when no stars could be seen. I felt a sense of peace and calm I had not experienced when I had first entered the performance space in the renovated former Durham Fruit & Produce warehouse in downtown Durham.

The diverse, multicultural cast had modeled what it means to be courageous and conquer fears – even the fear of falling. At one point, Durham native Anthony Nelson Jr.  fell on his back in a way that looked deliberate rather than accidental. He just did a backflip and landed knowing no one would catch him. And, he seemed to not have sustained any injuries.

Throughout this work, performers manifested an heroic spirit of going for it in this demanding work.

At one point, we heard the voices of cast members naming their fears in the world outside the theater, such as: “I’m afraid of being judged by stereotypes.” “I’m afraid of you being afraid of me.” “I’m afraid of losing my life because of who I am. “I’m afraid of the rising level of hatred.”

Performers also demonstrated great strength and balance.

While Wushu martial artist Majid Bastani did not demonstrate his championship swordsmanship, he did show incredible physical control, balance and strength such as when he spread his legs wide, knees bent and supported himself solely on the sides of his turned-in feet.

Cast members supported each other throughout “I Promise.”

The group raised individual performers high above group members’ heads and carried them this way. A particularly demanding group effort began with one end of the group lifting a person then passing the person along to other members of the group.

After the subway scene in which humanity pressed together in constantly shifting ways, a distressed female passenger was comforted by another woman who stroked her hands and feet.

Sometimes, they moved as one organism as when, arms raised, fingers locked, they simultaneously moved their arms in a serpentine way.

Couples literally kept each other from falling. In a particularly desperate situation, three couples, each partner’s’ legs so extremely extended that falling seemed inevitably, desperately clung to each other as we heard excerpts from the Tom Waits’ song “Falling Down” that repeatedly mentions falling. This brought tears to my eyes. Who hasn’t felt as if he or she were in danger of becoming unbalanced and falling short of life’s demands especially in a world where difference is often defined as other and therefore feared and hated.

“I Promise” ended with the cast standing close together, one fist raised not with defiance but rather as if to say: “We are here, each different, yet united with one heart.”

Kudos to the cast, who worked with ShaLeigh Comerford for over a year to create “I Promise”: the production crew; Mike Wall, whose original scores and Tom Waits’ cover provided the soundscape as did Walls’ mastered ambient score by Comerford; and everyone else, including the donors, who made this powerful work possible.

Click here for the original review.

ShaLeigh Dance Works’ I Promise Shows Honest, Personal Divided America

photo by Dick Costa

ShaLeigh Dance Works’ I Promise Shows Honest, Personal Divided America

December 15, 2017 – Durham, NC:


A fresh, new dance group is quickly making upward progress on the Triangle scene. ShaLeigh Dance Works on Friday premiered its third offering, I Promise, in the intimate Durham Fruit and Produce. Like it’s venue, ShaLeigh is quickly becoming known in and out of Durham for its inclusive and adventurous programming. Indeed, a sense of communal gratitude from the audience and artists was felt on the opening performance as if collectively both were saying, “I’m so glad you’re here.” This love for the emotional experience of dance was immediately shown in artistic director ShaLeigh Comerford‘s opening remarks in which she dedicated the performance to her beloved (friend and advocate) John Brinkman. Anyone familiar with the Durham dance scene recognizes Brinkman, the long-time costume designer for American Dance Festival. The promise ShaLeigh saw, and Brinkman no doubt recognized, was honored in this stirring performance.

Another sort of honor was bestowed in the opening act: a spontaneous dance-commercial for a Durham gaming bar called the Atomic Fern began the evening. Framed as “the story of the Drunk Sugar Plum Fairy,” three of the men in the ensemble played versions of themselves playing a Christmas themed Dungeons and Dragons game. In typical magical realism fashion, the game and their own interactions with it became more real as the piece progressed, with a deranged doll and anatomical bomb thrown into the mix. This hors d’oeuvre of tongue-in-cheek dance was a snow-filled valentine to the bar – you can draw the conclusion that there must be more to the bar than D&D to play.

As an overture to I Promise, Duke Ellington’s “Three Black Kings” was a fitting choice. Written as one of his final works and inspired by the occasion of meeting MLK and talking American music with him, the piece set a hopeful, sentimental tone to what was about to come.

Oddly, the hope and promise that the overture conveyed took a while to resurrect. This did not hinder the work, as it explored a group that each stand for what they believe in before uniting, breaking apart, discriminating against each other, finally left to survive on their own.

The dancers, an ensemble of eight, began the evening standing shoulder to shoulder, yet mentally separated. Their blinds twitched, as if to break from the conformism in which they began this journey. When they did, they still stood as individuals, yet raising fists and reaching for a sense of hope, not wanting to see that everyone else is but themselves.

In the first half of the work, Comerford’s dancers existed on two simultaneous planes: one was the group itself moving together in the background while two soloists attempted to connect with mirroring one another’s movements before a sudden violent attack overcame them. In an effort to connect through difference, Comerford saw us as fighting and growing apart from each other when we really should unite.

The evening was a survey of the frustration we as Americans feel at this political moment. Groups are attempting to be heard and stand up for their rights while, in the process, we are alienating ourselves from one another. Comerford’s piece framed this in the abstract as described above but also in the literal in select tableaux that showed the subtle change from intimacy to harassment in relationships. In an exhilarating moment, the ensemble looked ahead, smiling, nearly glowing in a moment of blissful happiness. The moment suddenly ceased when each was pulled away and seized in violent gestures, terror now on their faces.

What this all led to was the final half when the violence teased at in previous episodes of the evening finally erupted against a cover of Tom Waits’ “Falling Down.” Two men fought, one never giving up even though he was obviously defeated. Following that, the group formed again, breathing sharply against their emotional fears and anxiety. We heard audio of presumably the dancers’ voices making promises to love themselves, be true to who they are, and make the world a better place. Breaking free from the group, two of them stood defiant, raising their fists, reaching for hope.

Your personal journey of I Promise may vary, but ultimately it will be haunting and hard to shake. Comerford has assembled a group of dancers whose passion is refreshingly honest, and they clearly understand the emotional journey of the piece, a testament of their talents and Comerford’s control as a director. What also elevated the evening was Comerford’s soundscape, in collaboration with Mike Wall – who also provided vocals on the Tom Waits cover. Alex Maness’ lighting was subtle and creative using little instruments to create sensitive, intimate moments when needed.

As its third production, the evening showed immense promise from ShaLeigh who, when equipped with more resources and funding, will no doubt make an influential mark on the wider arts scene. Given that parts of this evening will be showcases at Lincoln Center as part of the national Association of Performing Arts Professionals (APAP) conference, we can expect this soon. Until then, see this work and experience the hope that, nearly a year ago this same time, many of us thought we lost but have since regained.

Reprinted with permission by Jackson Cooper and CVNC. This review is from CVNC.org on December 15, 2017 and written by Jackson Cooper. The link to the full review is http://cvnc.org/article.cfm?articleId=8769.

Sneak peek: ‘I Promise’ by ShaLeigh Dance Works

The first section opens with something called “Dead Man’s Walk.” Here we are aiming to die to the moment, so to speak, dropping fear, dropping walls, dropping all things that hinder us and keep us from being more fully alive.

By Beth Mann for TriangleToday.com

During the dress rehearsal Thursday night, Artistic Director ShaLeigh Comerford walked us through parts of sections one and two, giving us a peek at the driving force of the movement from the dancers.

Click here to see the full gallery of Beth Mann’s gorgeous photos and read more about what went into the making of I Promise.

With “I Promise,” ShaLeigh Dance Works addresses the nation’s polarization

“How does our nation move forward when it seems like everyone is so divided politically and culturally?

That’s the kind of question that inspired ShaLeigh Comerford, artistic director of Durham’s ShaLeigh Dance Works, to create her latest work “I Promise.”

“It became a philosophical journey into a response to all the polarization we’re feeling,” Comerford said.”

Read the full article by Evie Fordham for TriangleToday.com here.

Indyweek article on I promise

I Promise Snippets

“spaced more than twenty feet apart, dancers Ay-Jaye Nelson and Majid Bastani lean forward and reach toward each other. Tension builds as they exchange longing looks before they run into a fierce embrace. But, rather than parting, their hug only intensifies in the moments that follow. As the dancers intimately grapple at center stage, each desperately stretches his arms behind and beyond his partner, toward two dancers who are now reaching out from opposite corners of the stage.” Continue reading “Indyweek article on I promise”