Sunday, August 25, 2013

LUZ - Esduardo Mariscal Dance Theater

LUZ (light)

Esduardo Mariscal dance theater returned to the stage after many years absence, and his return is a very welcome addition to the Portland arts scene. Mariscal's choreography stands out because of it's "comical surrealism" and his choice of performers. His dances include professional dancers but he also works with untrained people, actors, poets, and visual artists. They all perform together onstage.

The mix of people is very interesting to watch because Mariscal uses each performers skill set to make them shine. It's a very theatrical experience, and althought it's based in dance movement, the dance moves are not the highlights. Each individual performer stands out because of their expression, resolve, and how they embrace the many vignettes Mariscal provides to tell a story of light from darkness to freedom.

Mariscal offered many scenes which included excellent video imagery from Matt Powers. Also effective were the many props and costumes adding to a lush environment. In one section dancers lie on the floor wearing unicorn heads, in another scene a puppeteer manipulates two red dragons. Nothing is obvious and it all makes the audience consider what light means to us and our lives. The final moment for the hour long dance happens when a door at the back of the stage is slowly opened and a brilliant bright white light shines through. Excellent imagery.

To be noted are all the performers: Joni Altshuler, Robin Behl, Dylan Chestnutt, Jeff Decareau, Beth Gorski, Emma Holder, Debi Irons, Ken Kohl, Jennifer Lunden, Philip McCann, Patty Medina, Rodney Nason, Eric Worthley, and Sarah Zucchero.

LUZ at Portland Stage Company, August 22-24, 2013 - Portland, Maine

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Bridgman | Packer Dance

*Visual Poetry of Bodies Moving without Bodies.
*Choreographic Video images that Transform reality on stage.
*Sensory Overload in a really Great way.
*Stunningly beautiful design of dance, space, and sound.

Bridgman|Packer Dance at the Bates Dance Festival. Take a look at a video excerpt from Under The Skin the first piece performed.

Art Bridgman and Myrna Packer are amazing artists that have elevated the use of video with dance to extraordinary heights. Many choreographers use video as an element to add another layer to their work. But here, instead the video is a partner. They integrate their live movements with video images leaving the audience to question and decipher- what is live and what is virtual? It's hard to tell sometimes, and that is so exciting.

There was so much going on in Under The Skin. The dance begins with Ken Field playing live saxophone onstage. He played along to other taped musicians creating a layered rich jazzy sound. Then as the video and two dancers join him, the stage is taken over with a force of sound and light, creating a powerful enveloping energy. Bridgman and Packer call their work Video Partnering. They say it's used to "expand the possibilities of dance by multiplying, transposing and manipulating their own life-size video images and integrating these with their live performance. At a given moment, Bridgman lifts Packer as her video image emerges from within her and rises. The performers’ bodies become screens; live-camera projections switch and merge their identities..."

The technical element of this is so visually stunning that I found myself gasping and saying "oh wow" which is surprising in our age of advanced computer generated effects and technology. And not to be overshadowed by technology were their physical and generous movements as dancers. The two made very good choices to highlight their strength and finesse. They are fluid and very experienced partners that show comfort working with each other as well as their own dynamic individuality.

The second piece Voyeur featured a set that had many angles of walls with windows and a door that were transformed with video projections. The set changed from the interiors of a house, to the outside of a brick building, to looking down a street, then being the Portland Custom House building, to the ocean, and so many more images. Again, the dancers interacted with each other, and with video images of themselves to the ever changing images of the set. The work uses the paintings of Edward Hopper as it's point of departure. Take a look at this video excerpt from Voyeur.

Bridgman | Packer Dance at the Bates Dance Festival, August 2, 3 2013, Lewiston Maine

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Oasis - U.S. Preimere

Nejla Yatkin and her NY2/Dance company performed Oasis on Friday and Saturday night at the Bates Dance Festival and the subtitle was - "Everything you wanted to know about the Middle East but were afraid to dance." Well, The company jumps straight into the fire of middle eastern politics through the voice of movement and they don't really hold anything back. The topics covered were rape, repression, torture, voiceless women, and being degraded. All depicted through dance and movement which was a powerful medium to approach such heavy topics. The fine company of seven dancers took us through a journey that began with love. Oasis starts out with two lovers exploring each others bodies with such fluidity and restrained passion that their desire to be together is overwhelming. They are blindfolded, that only makes the movement more important because they can't see each other, but they can touch, sense, and feel each other. Danced by Fadi Khoury and Nejla Yatkin. They need to be together. This is based on an old traditional love story similar to Romeo and Juliet. And like that tale, these lovers are separated and never to find true love.

Next to unfold is a brutal torture scene, then humiliation where three couples show what happens when a person dominates and represses another into submission. Very effective was putting a cloth over the head and hijacking the person rendering them helpless. Three different versions were danced with haunting beauty that became nightmarish. As an audience member you wanted to say stop, this is too much. But the pain kept continuing. Ms. Yatkin has really put these human rights issues up close and into our faces in Oasis she is not letting us off the hook. The pain continues into the third section of this evening length piece where we go from "loss" to "discovery" but that doesn't solve the problem. The dancers move energetically but there is an over riding sense that they are still trapped under the veil of oppression even though they are now aware of it. Great physicality from all the dancer. Also in the company were Shay Bares, Sevin Ceviker, Rachel Holmes, Jean-Rene Homehr, and Karina Lesko.

Also of great importance was the original musical score by Portland based musician and composer Shamou. The music complimented and helped create the sense of place with languid and sensuous rhythms which the lovers in the opening scene used to undulate and embrace to: and then to the raw sounds of tense percussion as the torturers preyed on their victims. The music helped move the stories with many different instruments and layers of sound. The lighting design by Ben Levine was dark and exotic which matched the story. Costume design by Ursula Verduzco and Ms. Yatkin was effective and gave a strong sense of flowing fabric that one associates with the Middle East. Over all this was a -lush, complex, disturbing, and important performance.

Oasis-NY2/Dance at the Bates Dance Festival in the Scheffer Auditorium, Lewiston, Maine Saturday July 13, 2013

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Audio interview with Nejla Yatkin and Shamou

This interview is from my radio program Big Talk which airs Thursdays on WMPG-Southern Maine Community Radio. Nejla Yatkin/NY2Dance is performing this weekend at the Bates Dance Festival and I spoke with Nejla and composer Shamou about the work called Oasis.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Dance/Performance opportunity in Portland, Maine

Choreographer Esduardo Marascal is offering a unique dance experience.

If you'd like to work with a master collaborator and visionary artist, get yourself down to the Casco Bay Movers studio on Saturday May 11th.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

So You Think You Can Dance Alvin Ailey?


on Wednesday night- guiltily watching "So you think you can Dance" they announce that Alvin Ailey will perform, and I think whoa, this is different.

Rather then watching the overly sexy tricks by contestants with  inspired routines that wow the TV crowd, here comes a more refined and real dance company to preform.

New executive director of the company Robert Battle is pushing the boundaries and is successful at incorporating his company into the mainstream, yet keeping their artistic value in tact.

This is the latest indicator of how mainstream media and performance art are meeting and finding themselves to be strange but simpatico bedfellows. Who would have thought!

Friday, July 20, 2012

Live! The Realest MC

Kyle Abraham and his company Abraham.In.Motion presented Live! The Realest MC at the Bates Dance Festival on Thursday evening. The above black and white picture is a great representation for the severity of the content that Mr. Abraham deals with. The evening length dance is a serious look at gender roles and norms that lead to bullying, nonacceptance and hatred.  And while the topic is severe this dance is beautiful, poignant, and important.

Abraham created a portrait of a man trying to fit in. He is different. He stands out. Even though he tries to be like the others in the group he isn't. The dance began with Abraham on the floor struggling to move. His hands and feet appeared to be crippled and distorted. He slowly stood and began to walk. The other dancers entered and they are street smart and urban. They moved with speed, power and style. The contrast was laid out at the start, the cool versus the underdog who barely stands a chance. The dance offered many scenes that depicted the ongoing separateness. The movement was subtle combining hip hop with contemporary. In one critical scene Abraham speaks and relives an encounter he had as a young boy. He is being taunted and he says "I didn't doing anything, we were holding hands" and then he cries and keeps repeating "they held me down, they held me down."

The soundtrack, costumes, set and lighting help set the mood. The soundtrack is mostly not music, it's industrial and noise, and it's dissonant and evokes what you hear in the city. The costumes all have sequins whether they are black athletic jackets and sweatpants, or shorts and tops. There was a wonderful backdrop made of sleek strips of fabric that extended from floor to ceiling. They changed colors and were used as a video screen as well, very striking. The lighting design by Dan Scully was gorgeous. And the very important prop used near the end of the dance was a microphone and stand that was placed onstage that the dancers approached and retreated from. No sound was heard from the mic. But they tested out their bravado at it. MC stands for both master of ceremonies and mic controller and is one of the four essential parts of Hip Hop. Live! The Realest MC ends with Abraham the downtrodden figure alone at the mic, his back turned, but he's got the spotlight.


Danced by- Brittanie Brown, Rena Butler, Chalvar Monterio, Rachelle Rafaiedes, Addison Sanford, Maleek Washington and Mr. Abraham.

Abraham.In.Motion at the Bates Dance Festival. Thursday July 19, 2012 in Lewiston, Maine

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Rennie Harris Pure Dance Movement

Hip Hop Dance was in rare form at the Bates Dance Festival last weekend. Rennie Harris Pure Dance Movement showed the audience how the excitement of Hip Hop can be enhanced with skillful staging and choreography. Harris knows how to bring the level up to not only a fevered pitch, but he also has the skill to evoke subtle and quiet scenes that show off the full range of hip hop movement vocabulary. Oh yeah...also going for this troupe were eleven very exciting and strong dancers.

The evening consisted of eight dances choreographed from 1992 to 2010. Beginning with "Breath" we watch four b-girls moving in rhythmic and dramatic patterns. Each dancer brought a personalized style to the work. When they were working in unison doing the same steps, they each had a distinctive presence adding individual nuances to the steps. Harris showed the women's power in "Nina Pah-Tina's Troubled Man" where the guys just can't get an edge over the force of the b-girls. It's a light-hearted take on who gets an upper hand, and it's clearly the girls here as the strut and dance and over shadow the guys.

The second half of the show featured some of Harris ground breaking work. An excerpt form "Rome and Jewels" his modern day hip hop take on the Shakespeare classic, featured a performance by Rodney Mason who co-wrote the revised monologue with Harris. Using modern day phrases and words with a rapper personna he revisits Shakespeare and West Side Story using the world of Graffiti and MC's.

The show ended with the 1995 wow-er "Students of the Asphalt Jungle." Watching the six b-boys was breath-taking. Harris has crafted a dance that shows the sheer physical power of hip hop with brilliant staging and use of the intense music of The Good Men. The dancers show incredible strength and virtuosic dancing with tricks and moves that  had the audience cheering and clapping. You must watch some of this piece now from the YouTube clip.

Harris is a master craftsman and ingenious contemporary choreographer. Go see this company perform.

Rennie Harris Pure Dance Movement, Friday July 13 at The Bates Dance Festival in Lewiston Maine.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Allison Chase/Performance

An emotional response to the dance performance by Allison Chase/Performance included in the inauguration of the Portland Performing Arts Festival.

-Amazed.  Beautiful imagery that haunts because it is not quite familiar, yet very animalistic.

-Enchanted.  Can bodies really move that way? I want to do that to because it looks so wonderful.

-Aroused Within. Movement so physical on stage that envelopes the audience, we can't sit passively.

-Spellbound. Two dancers hang upside down from a rope. It's hauntingly frightful yet serene.

-Invigorated. Dancers are diving in mid-air and tumbling to the ground with abandonment and strength. Oh to join them and feel the joy of a body moving with sheer physicality and strength.

-Touched. The music, lighting, and staging take the breath away, it's powerful theater.

Dance is a physical art. Gymnastics is a physical sport.  Allison Chase has mastered how to combine dance with sport and make theater of the finest kind. Chase was the co-founder and artistic director of Pilobolus from 1973-2005. In 2008 she established her own company which is based in Brooksville, Maine. The outstandingly powerful dancers  were: Mark Fucik, Jessica Bendig, Stephanie Fungsang, Rachel Kreiling, Ricky Kuperman, Jenna Liberati, Kenneth Stephen Neil, Shane Rutkowki, Jake Szczypek and Rebecca Anderson Darling. She brings all the unusual physicality that Pilobolus pioneered and continues to astound and help audiences experience unique storytelling through dance and the amazing human body.

Allison Chase/Performance - Saturday June 30, 2012 at Merrill Auditorium in Portland, Maine.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Huffington Post Dance Articles

Here's 2 interesting articles from the Huffington Post about money and being a dancer.

The first is written by Lightsey Darst, a critic and National Endowment for the Arts Fellow.

The Poorest Art: dance and money

And then there is a response by Jennifer Edwards, a cultural critic, consultant, choreographer and speaker.

Response to Dance and Money

Sunday, October 30, 2011

New Book-"Body of a Dancer"

Renee E 'Aoust has written memoir about her time as an aspiring dancer at the Martha Graham school in New York City. A memoir offers an intimate look into one person's experience. The maniacal obsession that E'Aoust lays out as being her life in dance is a grim one. She takes the reader into her very disturbed world filled with shame and being putdown for not being good enough, thin enough, or suffering enough to make it to the top. She reveals how distorted her thinking was as she pitted herself against the many other striving wannabe dancers. It was cut-throat as they all vied to make it into the dance company, and D'Aoust was filled with insecurities and self-loathing. She writes rawly and holds nothing back. She writes that she honestly loved to dance. But the agony of her day to day existence, that she spells out in great detail, might make readers wonder how anyone would put themself through that kind of pain. Dancers may appreciate her stories, but I think non-dancers might think taking up this profession is insane.

Body of a Dancer, is a book that explores the psychologically of what happens when vulnerable people team up with other insecure people who are then lead by bullies. What D'Aoust went through was more shocking then you can imagine. She has many stories about her time in the studio taking classes, as well as auditioning and performing. She is a strong writer and a good storyteller.

D'Aoust also works as a dance critic, and at times her memoir strays into criticism. This part doesn't work for me. As a dancer she was filled with envy and bitterness towards others that succeeded. Her tone is nasty and snippy as she describes David Dorfman in Act One,
"he thinks he's a choreographer and writer, but really he simply used to be a baseball player so he knows how to squat real well."
I think D'Aoust was hoping to show pettiness to point out how insecure she was by needing to belittle others, but it was jumbled in it's many layers. The writing style here is an unhappy blend of poetic thoughts and, personal memories that just aren't clear in their intent.

Better suited were the chapters where intricate accounts of her day to day existence take the reader deep into the world of dance. There are many tragic souls depicted and D'Aoust writes with tenderness towards a few that struggled along with herself.
"control is always an issue in a dancer's life. Daniela's life was no different... dancer's have a necessarily complicated relationship to their body, known as the instrument"
Danielle weighed just 90 pounds and commits suicide. Dance training and the toll it puts on the body is what D'Aoust is addressing. It's a serious problem for some in dance. This is a worthy book, but please dear readers know that while dance is competitive and demanding this is one person's memoir and experience.

D'Aoust's book Body of a Dancer is due to be released next month by Etruscan Press.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Bates Dance Festival - Different Voices

Nothing was too taboo at The Bates Dance Festival's annual showcase concert called Different Dances on Friday evening. Although there were some serene and light-hearted pieces, a surprisingly greater part of the night had a dark side featuring dances about oppression and violence against women. Unplanned coincidence. What really stood out wasn't the topic matter it was the incredible stage presence of many of the performers. Mesmerizing, So captivating in their portrayals, I found myself awestruck, and that doesn't happen very often. Many of the dancers had really solid stage presence as they tackled some seriously uncomfortable subjects.

There were 10 choreographers represented. The audience really got a chance to see a wide variety of work by the faculty of the six week long festival. Different Voices included U.S. based choreographers as well as International contemporary dancers from Africa, Thailand, and India.

Two outstanding female solos, Immaterial Sensiblity by Seattle based Catherine Cabeen and Isingqala by South African based Mamela Nyamza, both appeared dressed as men wearing suits and ties. In very unique ways they both took on a different part of the male personna. Cabeen presented a cocksure, in your face, look-at-me guy using precision and control with elaborate leg and arm extensions and contortions. Nyamza's guy was in trouble and literally trying to outrun his demons but instead ran out of steam. Facing backward and being seen by just a lone flashlight shone from the audience the drama was intense. Both women were outstanding, they embodied their characters with full bodied commitment, it was creepy good.

Next in intensity was Encounter, a dance theater by Aparna Sindhoor and Anil Natyaveda. A mix of classical Indian dance, song and music to tell a story about a women's fight against brutality. Sindhoor, a brillant performer used both small gestures and eye movement to convey the struggle. Her subtleness and stillness were eerie. Four male dancers added the physicality that showed power and might which culminated in a brutal scene of torture and rape that was difficult to watch.

The beautiful moments in the evening were provided by Sunon Wachirawaraken from Thailand and Lisa Race from Conneticut. More female misery was touched on by choreographers Onye Ozuzu and Jennifer Archibald.

The evenings most outlandish and full of surprises dance was an excerpt from Corresondences a 2009 duet by Kettley Noel and Nelisiwe Xaba. Dressed in incredibly short dresses and high heels the two talked and danced and had a good humored rivalry. They seemed like best friends or sisters that know everything about each other. It was great theater with some focused moment sections. The end was so strikingly beautiful as they stood atop a big heavy long table, as rubber gloves filled and bulging were lowered down from the ceiling. They each bit on one of the fingers/udders where water began flowing they drunk it in, then allowed it to rain down on them. Totally soaking wet, they got to the floor and began sliding across the stage in puddles of water.

Different voices indeed!

Bates Dance Festival performance Friday August 12, 2011 in Lewiston, Maine

Saturday, August 6, 2011

David Dorfman Dance-Prophets of Funk

Please listen to this music as you read my thoughts on David Dorfman's Prophet's of Funk. I'm serious this music will get you in the mood.

Schaffer theater at Bates College became a 60s "happening" on Friday night as David Dorfman Dance presented a visual feast of rhythm, groove and love. Those are words Dorfman used in the program notes. He also stated that after seeing the Original Family Stone a few years ago he made a pledge to "dance to the music." And with this dance he successfully fulfilled this goal. His choreography moves to the music in such a deep grounded way that the dancers were the music. Their movements didn't just mirror the songs or act out the words, their bodies were visually interpreting the beats, notes, horns and drums. It was a very enveloping experience.

Eight dancers and Dorfman acting as a unassuming ringmaster entered the stage dressed in the 60s garb; colorful bell bottoms, fringe vests, and outrageous Afros. They began dancing using all the social dance moves of the era. It's as if it's a big dance party at Woodstock and the it's never going to end. Peace man - make love not war. The dancers made us believe we were back in that era. But Dorman took those familiar themes and exaggerated them into a complex and exciting progression. The entire work used the music of Sly and the Family Stone, who produced some of the most funky sounds of that time period. The music was really loud as if we were at a concert, the music surrounded the senses.

The dancers were superb. Kyle Abraham, Meghan Bowden, Luke Gutsell, Renuka Hines, Raja Kelly, Kendra Portier, Karl Rodgers, and Whitney Tucker all took on different persona's. We saw the hippy guy, the flower power girl, the stoner, the radical. They flew high across the stage with dynamic lifts, kicks and turns with such abandonment that we believed they were those kids that wanted to change the world. These dancers embraced the movement and performed with such skill and power, it was really beautiful. Dorfman's choreography pointed to free love, racial tension, drug use and most importantly a deep respect for the radical music. He is very skilled at crafting a world, and gathering the audience into it. We were there. At the end of the program the dancers went out and invited the audience up to dance with them. Seeing over 100 people jamming together on the stage was a fitting way to close a perfect evening.

David Dorfman Dance, Bates Dance Festival, in Lewiston Maine. August 5 and 6, 2011

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Nicholas Leichter- THE WHIZ

You gotta watch this first!

Okay, now that you've looked at the "trailer" see if my thoughts on Nicholas Leichter's The WHIZ makes sense to you.

The YouTube highlights really capture the outrageous, fun, over-the-top performance. The show performed at Bates Dance Festival showed a dance company that is at home performing both cabaret style dance as well as technical contemporary dance. I'll get to the serious dance later, but first let's talk about pulling off a in your face extravaganza. This adaptation of the classic story of the Wizard of Oz- story line: trouble at home, disaster, fantasy, who is your friend, trouble from a real witch, help from a real wizard, and finding out that there really is no place like home. Yikes- how to do this with movement and dance? This was rendered and brought to life by lots of short sections that used eight dancers and MC MONSTAH BLACK to take the audience along the yellow brick road. He was a campy guide that sang and danced, and, the outfits he wore are awesome.

Leichter is comfortable choreographing segments that vary from abstract to literal. He sets up a struggle for the audience, we get goofy fun followed by serious dance. He takes us inside and personal with a contemplative songs sung live, then to a rollicking group dance segments that offered grinding rhythmic motion that built to a jubilant frenzy. Or sections that dancers partnered and played with fierce attack. As an audience member it's tough to make the whole show cohesive, but we know the tale and it's actually refreshing to not have to have the whole story laid out in a decipherable way.

The whole production showed very strong performances by the entire ensemble. The cast were all skilled in Leichter's style that varies from embodying difficult movement done in a fluid seemingly effortless fashion. That's a real feat! His dancers also excel at fast-paced more theatrical style movements. And they are good storytellers with their entire bodies and faces. A very pleasing group to watch.

Outlandish Fun.

THE WHIZ at The Bates Dance Festival. Schaffer Theater, Lewiston Maine July 23, 2011

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Merce Cunningham Dance Company at Dartmouth College

The Legacy Tour is the final performances of the MCDC. The tour began in 2009 two years after Merce Cunningham's death at age 90. On July 8 and 9th the tour came to Hanover, New Hampshire. What a treat to see the Cunningham dancers perform work from 1958, 1968, and 1976. They presented three of the seven dances that have been reconstructed since Merce's death. Reviving these dances without Merce has been made possible through an archiving process set up in called "Dance Capsules." It was decided over ten years ago by Cunningham that his company wouldn't continue after his death, but that his work would be preserved for future use by other companies. The dance capsules contain extensive notes by Cunningham himself, and from the dancers. They contain DVD's of performances and details about music, costumes, and sets. Reconstruction of the 3 dances presented at Dartmouth were overseen by company director of choreography Robert Swinson and dancers Sandra Neels, Carolyn Brown, Meg Harper, Gus Solomons Jr. and Jennifer Googins.

RainForest (1968) began with electronic sounds of clicks, beeps and buzzing that radiated throughout the auditorium and was created by David Tutor. The curtain opened to reveal dozens of large silver floating pillows designed by Andy Warhol. They filled the space and as the dancers started to move they kicked them with their legs or pushed them as their arms swept the pillows gently floated, slowly finding a new spot on the stage. All very strangely mesmerizing. The dancers seemed birdlike at times with long limbs perching on balance with total control. This helped convey the power of the creatures inhabiting a forest. It was magically danced by Dylan Crossman, John Hinrichs, Daniel Madoff, Krista Nelson,Jamie Scott, and Melissa Toogood.

Antic Meet (1958), a silly playful dance presented in ten short vingettes had the same kind of feel as Paul Taylor's 1956 dance 3 Epitaphs. They both are strange, funny, and goofy. Cunningham's dance featured music by John Cage that was performed live with sets and cosumes by Robert Raushenberg. Lots of history in this Legacy Tour. Squaregame (1976) ended the evening terrifically danced by 13 company members. This troupe is amazing to watch regardless of what you think of Cunningham's radical approach to dance and choreography. I always remember going to a concert of the MCDC in Minnesota in the 1970s and being amazed that people were walking out of the theater in protest. Nowadays when that happens I know the choreographer might be truly someone to watch. At the American Dance Festival in 2008 we witnessed French Choreographer Maguy Marin's performance of Unwelt as many in the audience left their seats in the middle of the dance. I, along with my fellow NEA dance criticism fellows felt differently, we were blown away by the piece.

It was a bittersweet show for many in the Dartmouth audience who first saw the Cunningham company perform at the college in 1973. MCDC returned to perform again many times after that year. Former dancers, university professors and students, and devoted fans filled the auditorium and at the end of the performance they stood and thanked the company for coming one last time to this small college town.

Merce Cunningham Dance Compnay at the Spaulding Auditroium, Dartmouth College July 8, 2011