Sunday, June 7, 2015

Carne - Esduardo Mariscal Dance Theater

Photo courtesy of Esduardo Mariscal Dance Theater.

The opening sequence of "Carne" performed last week at the Portland Stage, was a visual and aural treat that overwhelmed (in a great way) all the senses. Choreographer Esduardo Mariscal introduced us to his large cast of characters as they invaded the stage in an almost dreamlike procession. A lone figure crouched in front of the audience is the first image we see. Then slowly others appear, a woman enters with a magic wand while performers emerge out of the top of large sculptural blocks. A trap door opens and a body appears from under the stage. It's a processional with so many interesting people and visuals that as an audience member we understand from the first few minutes that this will be a complex, exciting show. The performers range from classical dancers to martial artists to aerialists.

This multimedia performance featured original music by Nicholas Brewer and a mural that was drawn live on stage by Wyatt Barr. Original poetry was delivered by Jennifer Lunden and the lightening design was by Gregg Carville.

Mariscal gathered an eclectic group of performers and used their varying talents to great success. Everyone danced, and danced with much strength and grace. Then some also performed exciting martial arts moves and some acrobat feats on an aerial silken rope. There was humor by Beth Gorski as she donned a red cat outfit and showed us what a feline dancer had to say. Two veteran dancers Nancy Salmon and Jeff Decareau, brought the wisdom of experience as well as strong technique to their characters. While all the performers shined, there were four exceptional stand-out dancers who completed some very beautiful duet work strikingly performed by Victoria Broshes, Pamela Wiley, Kerry Kaye and James Riley. Also in the cast were Dorothea Amara, Tegan Bullard, Justin Cedrone, Bethany Field, Steve Fortune, Debi Irons, Zach Labbay, Simon Skold, Camden Spear, Ella Spear, Simon Spear and Wendy Ward.

Mariscal calls his brand of dance theater "Comical Surralism" and that aptly describes all the twists and turns the company presented throughout the 90 minute show. It was a delight for our eyes, ears and imaginations.

Carne, at the Portland Stage, May 28-30, 2015

Monday, December 8, 2014

Dance USM!

The University of Southern Maine's long time dance director Maria Tzianabos scored a big hit this past weekend by having her dance students collaborate with USM's theatre and music departments on their annual program. The result was a wonderfully rich sensory experience. There was acting as well as dancing, there was also singing, lush visual backdrops and video images. The interdisciplinary approach featured original works by student, faculty and guest choreographers. What was also most impressive was that many of the dancers are not experienced and not part of a dance major program, yet they all shined. No awkward performances, the dancers all looked polished and well-rehearsed.

The first dance on the program Lessons for Ladies featured Callie Cox, Mary Kate Ganza, Sarah Kennedy, Megan C. McQuire, Hannah Perry, and Rhiannon Vonder Haar. This piece was choreographer by Tzianabos and was directed by Theater Professor Meghan Brodie.

The dance began with 5 woman wearing 1950s dresses with aprons who posed as a tuxedoed crooner sang into a microphone "Keep Young and Beautiful." The theme of how women should behave and treat their husbands goes from 1917 etiquette rules which they coyly recount, up through 2009 tips on how to be sweet for your boyfriend. The dancers morph from the downtrodden housewives into modern girls that don't want to be "a pretty girl." Great fun and an excellent theme for these college aged dancers.

Next was a solo The Dirty Boogie choreographed and danced by Brittany Pace. This tap dance piece was high energy and had lots of great jazzy moves. Pace is very skilled dancer with much experience. The only problem with the dance was we couldn't hear the tapping sounds because the music was loud and the floor was not wooden. Pace also choreographed a Hip Hop sextet Bring the Old School Back that featured riffs on urban dance where challenges are played off each others increasingly tricky moves. Colorful graffiti projections were designed by Shannon Zura.

Steam Heat choreographed by USM faculty teacher Vanessa S. W. Beyland was danced by Margaret Brownlee, Callies Cox, Andrea Danforth, Alexandra Gardiner, Sarah Kennedy, Alison Loughlin, Hannah Perry, Braden Socquet, Caleb Streadwick, Emma Thompkins, Abigail Thompkins, Jessie Vander, and Sengmolicka Vuthy. White button down shirts, bowties and Bowler hats adorned the high kicking, jazzy and very broadway-style dancers. This was fun!

Other dances included ariel harness work performed by Elise Adams, Janette Fertig, Codruta Valentina Postache, Jesse Vander, and Emily Waller, also a dance with big silhouetted windows, a trio of Cotton Club performers, and a solo by student Sarah Kennedy who performed with exceptional dynamic power and focus.

Dance USM! December 4-7 2014 at Russell Hall, Gorham Maine

Saturday, July 26, 2014

David Dorfman Dance

Come, and Back Again
A Dance about
mess, joy, loss, and the persistence of love.

The stage is messy. It's filled with an enormous sculpture of everyday stuff that we all collect. There are bottles, a mattress, a laundry basket, a ladder, buckets, wire and it's all painted white and it's a gigantic wall that looms over the stage. There are six musicians sitting along the wall and there is also a small cardboard house. As the dance e begins David Dorfman speaks about his father and how organized he was. Dorfamn says he is the opposite, messy and a collector of stuff that he can't get rid of. He sets the topic of the evening here, it's all about family and how we interact, and how can we let go?

The dancers exude joy. Dorfman is a master at creating many vignettes within a dance to tell a story. He and his dancers are genuinely smiling throughout much of the dance. This can take you aback at first because it's unusual to see such smiling faces within concert dance. So a tone is set. They are moving with reckless abandon, with huge jumps, swings, kicks that show a very playful and wild side. There was a funny monologue about how to calculate how many people in your life you have unconditionally loved. But then, there was also loss. A duet danced by Christina Robson and Raja Feather Kelly showed how hard it is to leave someone. They would push each other away again and again, but couldn't leave each other. In an amazing feat of strength, Robson runs at Kelly and jumps off the floor with her full body slamming into his chest and they together slowly fall backward. Exquisite beautiful partnering. Kendra Portier and Karl Rodgers were the others in his dance family. Also on stage for cameo moments were Dorfman's nuclear family, his wife Lisa Race, and their son Samson Race Dorfman.

In a solo Dorfman gestured come here while looking back over his shoulder. He then gestured to stop. He continued to gesture come and stop at the same time creating a frenzied desire to have both the past and the future. When he wasn't dancing he took a spot with the musicians and played Accordian and saxophone.

The live music was raw, edgy, and rocking featuring the music of Benjamin Smoke, Patti Smith and traditional folk songs. The band had three Bates Dance Festival musicians as well as three performers who travel with the dance company under the direction of Sam Crawford. They were a big presence onstage which added another layer to the complex multi-media piece. Another layer was the costumes created by Kristi Wood. The dancers wore flowing loose tunics and pants of light material that looked comfortable and homey. The costumes softness contrasted with the forbidding wall of junk and the driving music.

Near the end of the evening length dance the dancers say "Time to go" "I can't wait to go" "let's go" "after you." Then Dorfman sits on a chair center stage and using his cell phone calls his wife, and leaves a message for her about how the show went, when he'll be home, and if she could leave him a little something to eat, he promises he won't make a mess. Now that's the The persistence of love.

Come, and Back Again performed by David Dorfman Dance at the Bates Dance Festival in Lewiston, Maine July 25 & 26, 2014

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Camille A. Brown & Dancers

Mr. TOL E. RAncE

Camille A. Brown & Dancers took to the stage in Lewiston, Maine and challenged the audience to look at a piece of history: Minstrel Shows.

Minstrel shows were a very popular part of American theater, yet when the civil rights movement gathered strength in the 60s, they lost favor and stopped being performed. Minstrels relied on stereotypes of uneducated, lazy, yet ever cheerful blacks who would be the brunt of the jokes. Although the minstrels made celebrities out of the African American performers…at what price? This is where Brown begins her examination.

Brown uses the minstrel show as a starting point but includes black performers from television as well. From Amos and Andy, to The Cosby Show, to The Fresh Prince of Bel Air - all are a part of a culture that portrays African Americans still trapped in a "blackface" that can't be escaped. The group of seven performers, or entertainers as they are noted in the credits, fill the stage in ACT 1- "What It Is." Beginning with contemplative slow movement with distinctive downward rounded spine and a body that reads depressed and repressed. This silhouette runs throughout the dance. But then the speed picks up, and all dancers are energetic and dancing up a storm with big movements and wow-we tricks and non stop excitement.

Act 2 - "Change The Joke, Slip The Yoke." Brown has set up the background in Act 1, and now really deliveries a knock out punch in Act 2. The dancers put on white gloves and exaggerated expressions and spoke with repeated modern day catch-phrases -"What are you talking about bitch?" and "Nigga that's me." The words put them in the present but wearing those gloves kept them still stuck in a role based in racism. It was just the right touch to remind the audience of the dancers inferiority. They presented a growing clash with the pride of moving and the heaviness of keeping the facade alive.

In a stunning solo, Waldean Nelson conveys this tension by swooping an arm that ends with a happy face. Then swooping his other arm which brings on a frowning face. He continues to swoop and change faces while increasing the timing and speed until he's maniacally moving and laughing and crying. Brown discusses in the program notes "the mask" that African American performers wear through history for survival. She also notes how much tolerance performers, then and now, need to have to get by in the entertainment field. Brown concludes the evening length dance with a solo where she determinedly tries to fight against the oppression with violent movements. SHe shows the struggle but at the end she stops and gives the audience one last exaggerated smile.

Live piano performed by Scott Patterson made us feel like we were in an old-timey dance hall. Costumes by Carolyn Meckha Cherry evoked the period wear of the minstrelled black-face performers. The company also included Timothy Edwards, Juel D. Lane, Mora-AminaParker, Willie "the" Smith III, And Marlena Wolfe.

Mr. TOL E. RAncE. Camille A. Brown & Dancers, Schafer Theater, July 17th and 19th, 2014.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Prometheus Dance

The Bates Dance Festival began it's 32nd year by presenting Prometheus Dance, a Boston based contemporary company on Friday July 11th.

Heart of the Matter, choreographed by co-directors Diane Arvanites and Tommy Neblett is a dance that "dissects the impact of relationships over time and how we hurt each other in the name of love." Ouch! Who won't agree that this is a universal condition, but is it going to hurt to watch it unfold on stage?

Seven dancers over the course of the evening length dance did paint both cruel and tender tableau's to depict how couples and groups deal with each other. As the curtain opened, there was a video projecting images of nature with flowers, lawns, and outdoor scenes. The dancers were dressed in formal attire, evening gowns for the five women and dress suits for the two men. As a tight group they slowly turned and looked about and reached. This movement slowly turned and traveled across from one side of the stage to the other. It was very hypnotic and peaceful. Then exaggerated breath became the focal point as the group moved from deep breath to holding breath to forcibly breathing. We could see the strong relationship of the group, they moved as one unit that breathed as one organism, they were integrally connected. Then, they slowly stripped off the formal wear and the fighting began.

Frantic movement and high electronic dub step showed the dark side of knowing someone so well. A dancer throws themselves and wraps around another's waist. They fly and embrace and catch each other. They dismiss each other although they remain connected by the slightest toe touching anothers calf muscle. Or they are connected but then break the balance by sneakily pushing a leg out from under their partner. The need for each other and their touch, yet repelled by them too. Can't let go, can't leave. Know each others moves and how to support them but the connection also has to have a bite. It isn't generous, it's spiteful. Are we getting too close to home?

Dancers Kate Neal and Joe Gonzalez excelled at presenting this turmoil in a duet of neurotic and rapturous movement. The dancing was excellent and the entire company showed a fierceness as they went from ensemble work, to duets and trio partnering. The other performers where Naoko Brown, Callie Chapman Korn, Elena Greenspan, Lonnie Stanton and Dave Glista. The lightening was designed by Linda O"Brien with some very beautiful mottled images as well as haunting use of shadows. The sound design by Miguel and Adam Noya very effectively changed from quiet to drilling intensity that helped move the story along.

Prometheus Dance celebrates 25 years of dance and with Heart of the Matter they are not showing any signs of slowing down.

Bates Dance Festival, July 11 and 12, 2014, Lewiston, Maine.

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.