Review: Bringing the Issues Front and Center with MJM DANCE in MONOPOLY: THE LANDLORD'S GAME

By: Apr. 20, 2017

MJM Dance, under the artistic direction of Megan J. Minturn, presented their first evening-length piece entitled Monopoly: The Landlord's Game April 13-14, 2017 at the Mark Morris Dance Center. Here, Ms. Minturn in collaboration with her dancers- Leah Antonellis, Michelle Applebaum, Kelli Chapman, Cantata Chen Fan, Anna Johannes, Mara Katz, Chie Kurokawa, and Beverly Lopez, came together to tell the little known history of the game of Monopoly while exposing the injustices of our society and economic system.

The piece began by revealing the story of Elizabeth Magie- the true and original founder of Monopoly, then known as The Landlord's Game. She was quite the remarkable woman for her time as both a feminist and advocate. By the beginning of the 20th century, she had written her own patents for products, such as the typewriter. In 1903 she created the game and wrote the patent for The Landlord's Game and renewed the patent again in 1923. The game was a way to advocate for a more just economic system. However, during the Great Depression of the 1930s, Charles Darrow- a laid off salesman, took the game renaming to Monopoly and sold it to the Parker Brothers as his own invention. He took credit and went onto become the first millionaire game designer! Magie was angry at what Darrow had done and tried to prove she was the original creator of the game. However, she died in 1948 with no mention of her role in developing Monopoly, one of the world's most popular games. It was not until 2015, almost 70 years after her death, that she received any recognition for her contribution.

As you walked into the theater, the dancers were setting up the stage, laying down Monopoly money along the edges of the stage forming a large game board. It reminded me instantly of the bright colors of the board game itself. It made me feel like I was in the game. Each dancer represented a board piece from the original game (shoe, thimble, hat, wheelbarrow, dog, iron)- as some pieces have now been replaced. The pieces were large puppets designed by Dara Ross. If you have ever played the game, you would appreciate some of the concepts- the embodiment of rolling the dice, passing Go and collecting $200, and the ever popular Chance card.

What I appreciated most about this dance, was the 21st century-NYC twist to the game, all while bringing up different issues that the city and the country are currently facing. Topics of discussion included the high cost of living that plagues our city and the gentrification of neighborhoods that is pushing out communities of color. Families struggling to pay bills despite working three jobs- all just to make ends meet. Conversations about the privatization of our jail system for cheap labor for large businesses such as Victoria's Secret, poor working conditions and the enormous number of deaths that occur on the job. My favorite subject that was addressed was economics. All the corruption in the banks and financial industry which led to the Great Recession, "Trumped up trickledown economics" being all about keeping the rich happy and the corruption it causes. It's actually quite scary! This way of living is not sustainable. We have seen it crash before, and what's to say it won't happen again.

This was such a creative way to expose and talk about these issues front and center. There was a back and forth between abstract and figurative work in the choreography which was quite fascinating to watch. Ms. Minturn created her own unique style, fusing contemporary dance with an essence of West African. I appreciated the interesting use of negative space and the transitions into the next scene. The dancers are very talented and have strong technique.

The music was an original score composed by Musical Director Evan Joseph. The piece was performed by live musicians- Cantata Chen Fan, Chris Miley, Scot Zoid, and Mr. Joseph. There was also voiceover, done by the Groovin' Performers, in addition to clips and interviews from the media. It really brought the dance to a new dimension. I applaud the collaborative effort between Ms. Minturn and Mr. Joseph for making this story come to life.

These are the kinds of conversations we need to be having. We need to talk about these issues and stop turning a blind eye. We need to continue speaking up and speaking out. I applaud Ms. Minturn for bringing all these issues to the stage. It made me think about what is happening in our country and in my community. It made me ask myself how I feel about these things and what I can do about it. Thank you for creating a dance with such a strong message speaking out on different issues we are currently facing. As a field, we need to continue making art like this!

Photo Credit: Jeff Schultz


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