We open on two women primed for something, expectant and agile, then they nod—acknowledging, consenting. From, there four more women join them and take their place as contenders. The application of athletic tape and the donning of boxing gloves becomes a elegant ritual in SaMel Tanz’s CHAMPIONESS, presented by DanceWorks.
Incorporating elements of combat sport, Latin and contemporary dance, this piece by choreographers Sam Schleese and Mel Hart explores various forms of human connection—aggression, succor and celebration. The iconic defensive stance—arms raised, eyes locked, weight shifted rapidly from between feet—is a unifying motif. The frequent dropping out of music to draw our attention to the reality of physical exertion—flesh contacting hard surfaces, laboured breath—is an vital, grounding aspect.
The soundscape integrates sports announcements and audience cheering to establish a stadium atmosphere. Designers Tina Fushell (costumes) and Arun Srinivasan (lighting) complete this vibe with a boxing ring aesthetic.
My favourite moment occurs near the finale—one of the women, thrashing herself against the brick wall of the space, desperate to break through to some new plane, is pulled away and comforted by the remaining five. In solidarity and communal healing, the removal of gloves and tape becomes a poignant reversal of their earlier ritual.
This resonant progression, the discovery of new physical outlets for their energy and pent-up emotion, is keenly felt. From throwing punches to uplifting each other in a playful dance party, these bodies in motion hint at the human capacity for both violence and tenderness. The moment when competition gives way to trust is quietly exhilarating.