Sunday, December 20, 2009

Nutcracker Burlesque-Vivid Motion

Imagine Gypsy Rose Lee as the Snow Queen, and the Sugar Plum Fairy in a see-through nightie with garters and stiletto shoes. Yes its a very different version of the holiday classic. One meaning of Burlesque is "performing in an upside down style" and Vivid Motion aptly portrayed that with their bawdy rendition of The Nutcracker. And another definition of Burlesque states that it "often mocked established entertainment forms." This makes spoofing Ballet's most beloved December show a natural idea. So what would the audience think?

Before the curtain went up the audience was encouraged to show signs of approval with catcalls and whistles. The program notes warned this this is a very naughty show. And looking around there seemed to be more blue collar type guys in the audience too. These people seemed to know what lay in store for them.

The opening Christmas party scene was not for kids, it was an adult swingers party where Clara drank from a magical bottle of liquor that inspired her to dream a more X-rated version of Mouse Kings and Snow Flakes. The Mice battled the nutcracker with Michael Jackson's Thriller choreography. There were plenty of strip teasing in the corp de snow ballet which turned the whole idea of what a back up ensemble is truly meant for.

The dancers technically abilities were varied. But, what was really great were the variety of body sizes. There were skinny dancers as well as well-endowed full breasted dancers. And they all delighted in shimming, shaking, and finding the sex appeal in one heck of a dream.

Performed by a large cast and four live onstage musicians the show was total fun. But, caution, if you're a traditional Nutcracker fan you're going to have to really loosen up your thinking and allow your inner kink to come out.

Nutcracker Burlesque by Vivid Motion at the St. Lawrence Arts and Community Center, Portland, Maine. December 18, 2009

Friday, December 18, 2009

Casco Bay Movers- Holiday Studio Show

At the recent in-house show where students performed for their friends and family, I started thinking about the bigger picture of what goes into training dancers. Seeing the excited kids up close dancing in the studios where they spend a lot of time taking classes and rehearsing, brought to mind all the effort involved in pursuing this art form. Casco Bay Movers is a training ground for kids and adults in Jazz, Hip Hop, Tap, and Modern Dance. The school's philosophy state's they are not interested in competition but rather "in conditioning the body and enhancing creative thinking." This may be a unique outlook compared to ballet students who are all trying to become the top ballerina. Or network TV dance shows that are all about competition where dancers get eliminated and viewers vote for their favorites.

So what does studying dance at the Casco Bay Movers look like and how does it influence the dancers expereince?

The dancers were of all different technical levels and yet they were very good performers. It really stood out that no matter how advanced or beginner a person was, they looked very strong on stage. This is a very difficult task. Making the less expereinced, weaker dancers look good is not easy. I applaud the teachers and choreographers for knowing their students well enough and finding the right movement to showcase each dancers ability. All of the ten pieces highlighted the dancers in the best possible way. This meant the choreography sometimes lacked in order to provide moves that looked good. The choreography was not the star nor the focus.

The first dance featured level 1 dancers which were the youngest. They must be grade school age and they performed a hip hop dance that the audience (mom, dad, and grandparents) loved. Now, when the level 3 dancers had their turn at hip hop, the applause came because they were really talented. These teenagers are training at a very high level and their technique showed. They juxtaposed classic street funk hip and shoulder swivels with classy jazz turns with wide leaps. These kids were seriously hot! Also featured were level 2 dancers of middle school age. Then there were adult dancers. The adults were part of a Modern or Jazz Repertory class and Indiedanceworks. There were some seasoned professionals in these pieces. It was wonderful to be sitting in the studio watching all ages and abilities perform close-up. Seeing the performers exude confidence and skill made me think that all the days and years that go into dance training was paying off.

Holiday Studio Show, Casco Bay Movers,
December 11, 2009 in Portland top photo by Lisa Elizabeth

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Review- Portland Ballet: Stravinsky's- A Soldier's Tale

Igor Stravinsky created what he called "a simpler" musical composition in 1918 out of necessity. Many orchestral musicians were off battling World War I, and rather then stopping Stravinsky wrote for seven instruments rather then the traditional one hundred players. A Soldier's Tale is scaled down, but not at all simple. The work features polyphonic melodies, with narrator, musicians and dancers all performing on stage together. And on Sunday afternoon at the Merrill auditorium a successful recreation of this simple-yet-complex production was presented by the Portland Symphony and the Portland Ballet.

What made this successful? Collaboration! The dance was performed to live music. The spoken text provided context to both the movement and music, and the combination of all three elements together enhanced the telling of the tale.

The Portland Ballet took on a formidable task in not only dancing, but also choreographing the program. Like many other ballet and modern dance companies they interpreted the movement for A Soldier's Tale but performed it to the original text and music. That meant movement-wise anything goes? Faced with an open palette, Portland Ballet's resident choreographer Nell Shipman showed restraint using classic movement and minimalism to showcase her dancers. The story follows a returning soldier who is lured by riches from the devil but then loses everything. Tyler Sperry danced the role of the soldier with both dramatic and technical flair. We saw a series of turns and jumps when he first entered that was repeated many times to portray the soldier getting mired into the devils clutches. This simple phrasing was recognizable and worked well to convey the hopelessness of his situation. The devil was Derek Clifford who convincingly lurked and tricked the young soldier. Because the movement was restrained the acting was important and Clifford did it well. Dancing the role of the princess was Morgan Sanborn (why do so many ballets feature princesses?) She was beautiful, polished and technically very fine.

It was interesting to see when the dancers were featured, and when they didn't perform. Choreographer Shipman based her decisions on her reading of the text. She found parts that would feature the dancers and then parts that needed the sole focus to be on hearing the narrator or musicians without movement. This made for a nice unpredictability.

Narrator Peter Wolf of the G. Giles Band was engaging. The seven members of the symphony were outstanding although their names were not listed in the program notes! And conductor Robert Moody should be commended for putting all the pieces together.

A Soldiers Tale, Merrill Auditorium, Sunday November 8th 2009

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Review- Gregory Maqoma

Half way through the performance of Beautiful Me Gregory Maqoma stood on stage in front of the audience asked them "what am I saying to you?" And then, he waited for an answer. No one in the audience moved. This question was one of many Maqoma raised during the dance. Before this question he had just pondered aloud what he would ask the Queen if they met. Or what would he say if he met the Pope? George Bush? Or his deceased father? Maqoma looks at how power, struggle, and assumption can define one's identity.

Near the beginning of the piece Maqoma said the dance was inspired by an idea of wiping away names and wiping away history. The first movement we see him perform is very traditional and tribal with foot stomps and grounded rhythmic elements. He recites a poem in his native South African language. Here is his history. Next he moves as a contemporary dancer with such speed and fluidity of motion that his extremities become blurred. The strength and intensity builds with controlled precision. He is on a mission. Is this his new history? The movement is amazing. He has such control of both large sweeping turns as well as intimate small hand gestures. His range of movement is impressive. Then to address the notion of wiping away history Maqoma talks about all the political leaders from Africa's recent history. If they are named does that give them importance? Or does that relieve them of their power?

Maqoma's stage presence is quite haunting. He is the lone dancer although artistic contribution came from three other choreographers; Akram Khan, Faustin Linyeula and Vincent Mantsoe. Maqoma had one-way conversations with them during the piece when he would stand in front of three empty mic stands. It was as if as when he spoke into the mic , he was speaking with one of the three collaborators. Also onstage were four musicians; Poorvi Bhana, Bongani Kunene, Isaac Molelekoa, Mandienkosi Nhlapo. Playing sitar, cello, violin and drums they created a score and soundscape that varied from melancholy to rapture. The live music was a vital addition that enriched the dance.

Maqoma says "I am a South African dancer, I sell exotic stories to survive." Then he began shaking his bottom and slapping his buttocks. Is this the exotic story? Or is the reenactment he did of Michael Jackson's famous dance moves the exotic story? Between the storytelling and lush joyous dancing the audience is left with many questions about how to understand his world. Maqoma's Beautiful Me takes the audience on a glorious journey into his complex mind. We still have a lot to learn about contemporary dance from Africa.

The performance at the Bates Dance Festival was the premiere show of a US tour which is a project of The African Contemporary Arts Consortium.

Schaeffer Theater, Lewiston Maine, Friday October 16

Friday, October 9, 2009

Pilobolus Master Class

I started this blog 3 months ago to put dance out in the forefront. To showcase all the great movement we see in Maine. To feature reviews and stories about dance just like we've come to expect for movies, music, books or theater. I'm particularly interested in the choreographic process of why and how dancers create their work. One of the most innovative groups around, Pilobolus; came to Portland to perform and offer a Master Class to demonstrate their style of fostering creativity through movement. I had to go see what they would teach.

Pilobolus is famous for making shapes that defy gravity. They seem incredibly athletic and so strong. And yet, they make entertaining pieces that leave people asking, "is that even dance?" So how well can they offer a dance master class? Especially when the students are of varying backgrounds and skills that ranged from a 13-year old ballerina to a 40-year old ex-dancer now teaching high school science.

Leading the workshop were company members Jun Kuribayashi, Andy Herro and Chris Whitney. They told the 34 eager students that when Pilobolus creates pieces, all the dancers collaborate on the moves. And that many of the spectacular shapes they create can only be done through a partnership in trust. Now, much of regular dance training is about mastering the human body through strength and grace. But a lot of time that is done through rigorous dance classes that focus on a repetition of exercises to strengthen the muscles. Plie, tondue, arabesque- individual exercises. None of that classical stuff was offered here. Instead, dancer Andy asked how could you step up and successfully crawl on top of your partner without hurting them? The students did it and strange shapes emerged. Can one of you stand on the others thighs and lean away? They did it to their own amazement. Then, dancer Chris asked the students to become a protezoa pancake, next depict a heavy metal librarian, and then move like a happy paranoid. The students used these ideas to create movement from these nonsensical ideas. Anything can be inspiration but then how do you shape it as you work with your partners. For the young Portland Ballet students who are used to classical training they giggled a lot as they experimented. But, afterwards they said it as fun, different and a good change.

Pilobolus dancer Jun had asked each student at the start of the 90-minute class to leave with an opinion, he said the worse thing was to be indifferent. Whether good or bad, he wanted the students to have an idea about what they created. Bravo!

Master Class with Pilobolus at Portland Arts and Technology High School, October 9th 2009.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Review-Bates College Modern Dance Company

Dance training is a serious business, as the average American now knows from watching popular TV shows like Dancing with the Stars and So You Think You Can Dance. These programs have shown the intensity and rigor required to learn and execute dance movements. Then to become adept at performing dance takes a whole other set of skills. This weekend a very astute group of college students took to the stage to show their stuff in Lewiston. The Bates College Modern Dance Company presented a concert that was part of Parents Weekend. Bates offers a minor degree in dance and these young dancers proved they are working hard to get good grades by offering up a wonderfully mixed dance concert.

The curriculum in the department offers typical dance classes in ballet, modern and jazz, but it also includes Step Crew Dance and Bollywood Inspired Dance. The students were in charge of choreographing five of the seven dances and they used these various dance styles in the program. Ready.go by Senior Gina Petracca featured six dancers in a breezy jazzy dance. Performed to the music of Basia the dancers showed good technical proficiency with a Latin inspired soulfulness. Next, Some ghoulish beings emerged from the audience onto the stage to form a mass of twenty-one zombies dancing to Michael Jackson's Thriller. Here, the step crew slapped and stomped bringing whoops and hollers from the audience. Sophomore co-choreographers Ashley Brooker, Kira Gavin, and Victoria Lowe created a complex display of intricate rhythms. The group's energy used simple yet powerful beats while creating interesting visual patterns. The dance began with all women doing these steps until two men come from the corners to try and take over. The men showed bravado and skill trying to out do the girls. It was comedy that in the end, brought them all together with force and power. Super cool and so unexpected!

Another great surprise was Bollywood Damak Medely choreographed by Harita Dharaneeswaran. Beginning with classic Indian costumes and movements, accompanied by live traditional vocal song, this piece evolved into a hip modern version of Indian dance like we saw at the end of the popular movie Slum Dog Millionaire. Using both classic Indian and new movements made this dance very exciting.

Seniors Nicole Kahn and Gina Petraccca offered a moody duet and Sophomore Shelesma Chhetri danced a joyous solo. Also on the program were dances by guest choreographer Debi Irons and Bates Dance Director Carol Dilley.

This program showcased a group of upcoming committed dancers that we'll have to keep an eye on as they develop and grow during their college time.

Bates College Modern Dance Company, October 3rd and 4th at Schaeffer Theater

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Review-Maine State Ballet

The Magic Toy Shop

Thinking of the Fall dance season that's underway in NYC, and all the fabulous companies that are performing, I wondered how does the Fall dance scene in Maine compare? We have a rigorous season approaching as well and it's very varied. From South African contemporary dance up at Bates College, to NY's Garth Fagen at Bowdoin College, to Pilobolus at the Merrill and Halloween Spooktacular from the Portland Ballet. Hey, there's a lot of dance happening in the small towns around Southern Maine.

And in on all the activity this weekend was one of Maine's long standing institutions, the Maine State Ballet company with The Magic Toy Shop. This ballet was choreographed by artist director Linda MacArthur Miele who trained and performed under George Balanchine. This was my first time seeing a production from this company and there is a lot of good to be said about what they do. First, their theater within their school building in Falmouth is modern, spacious, and yet intimate. It's nice to see a performance at the school where all the training and day to day work happens. The costumes by associate director Gail Csoboth were outstanding. They were colorful, elaborate and detailed. The dancers that played the dolls in the toy shop did a great job of keeping in character. They had to remain wooden and stiff while they danced showing the mechanical limitations of moving as dolls. They maintained poker faces throughout the 45 minute dance. The character dancers featured were a shop keeper and two families that came in to buy a doll. They didn't dance but they acted. There were a few standout dancers, Elazabeth Dragoni as the Toy Poodle in the cutest costume imaginable. Marissa Patten-Harris as Little Bo Peep was elegant as she woefully looked for her sheep. And the highlighted couple of Janet Davis and Michael Holden as Can Can dolls did a terrific job with some difficult choreography. Their pas de deux was strong, balanced and flowing.

The best part of this show was seeing all the kids in the audience. Little kids too. Imagine how great it is for a 5 year old to watch the dolls come to life. And the kids kept it real. They talked in their small voices whenever something was unclear or if it was a part that dragged on a bit too long. What a great learning tool to see what the innocent critics thought about the dance. The performance will be repeated next Saturday Oct 3rd.

Maine State Ballet's- The Magic Toy Shop
Saturday September 26th, 2009 in Falmouth, Maine

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Review-Portland Dances! New Works Showcase

Dance is alive and well in Maine. Just one week after our internationally acclaimed Bates Dance Festival completed their 27th summer series, and on the same weekend as the Maine State Ballet performs George Balanchine's signature dance Serenade, the Portland Ballet presented Portland Dances! New Works Showcase. The annual event has over the past eight years provided what executive director Eugenia O'Brien called " a Maine dancers job fair." And talent from all over the state got a chance to show their stuff.

Before the dancing began all of the choreographers came onstage and were introduced. This unique opportunity to see the people who are creating, training and encouraging dance to grow in Maine was a unique way to begin the night. They represented a diversity of age and experience as well as locations where the dancers train. These choreographers work in Rockport, Saco, Norway, South Portland, Augusta and Portland.

Now for the hard part, reviewing nineteen dances!

In a nutshell:
The night began with nine dancers moving sweetly, softly, gently in red. Next, happily frolicking muses were spirited by the music of the Waverly Consort. No Choice by Rachel Schwartz rendered Woodstock through movement images of five dancers to make love not war. Then, excellent contemporary ballet dancers showed great lines but also too much unnecessary dramatic gestures. The fifth work also featured red costumes, serious searching and distracting backward somersaults in dresses. Secret by Andrea Michaud Tracy featured twelve classical dancers wearing white tutus and toe shoes who bit by bit shoved, strangled, and kicked each other to employ only one last dancer standing. Fun stuff!

We're only a third of the way into the program!

Playful Spanish dancers were followed by a somber quartet that moved to electronic music as though sleepwalking. Then, Raqs Sharqi by Naya's Trance Belly Dance offered the rare treat of experiencing sensual and playful dance. Five deftly trained women wore beautiful classic belly dance outfits revealing much flesh. This number got the audience clapping along. Then the tenth dance, El Grito Del Tiempo by Esduardo Mariscal featured nine performers who were guided by a ringleader to perform as carnival-like characters and jesters. Dressed in wild silks and gowns while carrying props that filled the stage, visually quirky vignettes offered much fun. The design of this dance was rich, unique and complex.

INTERMISSION - Nine dances left to go!

The second half featured work by veteran choreographer Debi Irons, magnificent dancing by Ann Dubensky, and nice ensemble work by the dancers performing for Katie Collins. The final dance by Josh Robinson stood out for it's overall cohesiveness using nice lighting by Jamie Grant, costuming by Douglas B. McDonald and music by Puccini and the Penquin café Orchestra to enhance the strong dancing.

I applaud Portland Ballet for providing a forum for local dancers of varying experience to stage their work. As an audience member it's a lot to take in. Good problem?

Featured dance companies and schools were: Artmoves Dance Company, Collective Motion, Inner Motion Dance Collective, Terpiscope Dance, Kennebec Dance Centre, Rockport Dance Conservatory, Portland Ballet, Naya's Trance.

Featured dancers were: Natalie Arbour, Katie Beach, Anne Bartlett, Michelle Bernier, Heather Bauer, Angela Bell, Chloe Beaudoin, Vanessa Beyland, Megan Buckley, Cory Bucknam, Sheryl Bernard, Ann Barksdale, Tegan Bullard, Emily Belanger, Susan Thompson-Brown, Jennifer Bourgeault, Sarah Bickford, Katie Cyr, Sasha Cambell, Brittany Cates, Kari Cameron, Emily Delamater, Jeff Decareu, Ann Dubensky, Quincy Dean, Annie Erkkinen, Adriana Fox, Linsey Feeney, Tara Fahey, Bethney Field, Wendy E. Getchell, Rubie Gaudette, Nicole Getchell, Tracey Garland, Erin Hamlin, Zoe Heath, Josie Health, Emily Hricko, Debi Irons, Michelle Kapschull, Caribeth Klemundt, Rebecca Laber-Smith, Andrea Lucas, Robyn LaMarre, Stephanie Leclerc, Tressa Liko, Jennifer Letendre, Katherine Mayo, Abby Menard, Jessica Jane Means, Megan McKeon, Ren Morrill, Megan Nordle, Joanna Petterson, Stephanie Paradis, Gina Petracca, Allison Putnam, Katie Putnam, Josh Robinson, Dominic Rozzi, Amanda Swanson, Morgan Sanborn, Kelley Schaefer, Rachel Schwartz, Emily Sargent,Kate Smedal, Anastasia Street, Amanda Swanson, Rachel Stetson, Lyn Tesseyman, Stephanie White, Laurel Whipkey, Hannah Wallace, Mattie Woodside


Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Audio Interview with three African Choreographers

Listen to a conversation about contemporary dance from three choreographers from Nigeria, Kenya, and the Ivory Coast. You'll meet Qudus Onikeeku, Opiyo Okach and Michel Kouakou.

These artists are part of the Bates Dance Festival's special exchange program called the African Contemorary Arts Consortium which was founded in 2004. Established due to the lack of viable exchange programs in the U.S. for artists from Africa, the Consortium is currently comprised of 11 diverse U.S. arts organizations, including festivals, performing and visual arts centers, producers and universities. Each member has made a long-term commitment -- on a curatorial, institutional, and personal level for multi-dimensional and multi-directional cultural exchange.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Review- Bebe Miller Company

Evoking images of family, growing pains and finding ones way in the world, Bebe Miller's new dance "Necessary Beauty" is a complex and fascinating piece of abstract art. Miller creates work using what she calls "cross-disciplinary explorations…to expand the language of dance." Miller joined her five powerful dancers along with video, animation, text and live music to offer a dense palette for the Bates Dance Festival audience on Saturday night.

The staging managed by Elisha Clark Halpin was rich with all those layers. The dancing comes first and foremost but is complimented by the other art elements that strengthen the overall impact of Miller's piece. Two large video screens with images on the rear stage frame the dancers as the story unfolds. Designed by Maya Ciarrocchi and Vita Berezina-Blackburn: first seen is a rocking ocean with dark clouds that change to mountains within a forest. But next, the video closes in to become a frame on the wall and the set portrays the inside of a house. Next, a door on the screen reveals daily lifescapes, standing in a crowded room, a day at the beach, and cars at as intersection of traffic.

The dance depicted the many ways we develop a sense of self and confidence within our family as we age. There are scenes of childhood awkwardness as the dancers shift and gesture to each other in ways that are distorted. The arms scoop outward and end in a shape of hunched-over shyness. A leg extends outward but then stops as if unsure how to proceed. It's a subtle sense of testing out how to interact with your friends and learning the etiquette of socializing. Miller's movement vocabulary combines flowing loose full body moves, with quirky gestures filled with unhurriedness. There are relationships showing mother and daughter, best friends, and what it means to strike out on your own.

Near the middle of the evening-length dance text is introduced as another element. We hear many random thoughts- "because I'm the first born….I called my father….I was fifteen on a sunny street" and then questions-"what was the first time you felt shame...did your mother and father hold hands…do you secretly like canned vegetables?" We enter into their inner thoughts while seeing how relationships grow. The dancers take turns doing a solo while the other five dancers with backs to the audience scrutinize the solo. They stand for a family portrait. They all focus forward looking downward at something and strike poses. Is it a mirror? Are we beautiful enough? Am I necessary? "Necessary Beauty" re-lives memories of how we develop our tastes and learn to accept ourselves.

The music by Albert Mathias and Henry Purcell was performed live. At one point, while all the six dancers move with increasing momentum shared the focus with Mathias who appeared downstage in front of the audience playing an electronic instrument. Together their movement and sound crescendo and slowly the musician moved away from sight. The electronic score provided a mesmerizing, dream-like quality at times with multi layered sounds. Also to great effect were costumes by Mary Yaw McMullen.

Dancers Angie Hauser, Kathleen Hermesdorf, Kristina Isabelle, Cynthia Oliver and Yen-Fang Yu shone as the choreography capitalized on each of their individual qualities. It was very satisfying to see six very different women dancing together yet with what Miller describes as "a singular voice."

Heard on exiting the theater by an audience member "this is high art."

Saturday August 1, 2009 Schaeffer Theater at the Bates Dance Festival

Monday, July 27, 2009

Merce Cunningham dies at age 90

Merce Cunningham died yesterday at his home in NYC. National Public Radio featured a rememberance on their broadcast. And the New York Times has a video retrospective.

His company was performing this past week at Jacob's Pillow festival; Their web page states -July 27, 2009
After a celebratory week honoring his life and work, Jacob's Pillow mourns the loss of Merce Cunningham. Ella Baff, Executive Director of Jacob's Pillow, comments:

"Merce: one word that describes a revolution.

He performed with Martha Graham, who danced with Ruth St. Denis, partner of Ted Shawn, who founded Jacob's Pillow. He belongs to an unbroken lineage of dance in America. Then he created something completely new that influenced the world; it was as if dance began again. It was a joy to celebrate his 90th birthday this past week and to honor him earlier this year with the Jacob's Pillow Dance Award. Merce first performed at the Pillow in 1955, and in what feels today like a profound moment of completion, the performances here were the last he saw of his company - our opening night on Wednesday was streamed to him on his laptop. He always lived in the future, and the rest of us followed him there."

For more information, please visit the Merce Cunningham Dance Company website.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Bebe Miller talking about Landing/Place

Click on the link to hear an audio story of Bebe Miller talking about her 2005 dance Landing/Place.

Photo by Juliete Cervantes

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Review-Battleworks Dance Company

Battleworks is a dance company whose force and sheer power stand up to their compelling name. Choreographer Robert Battle founded his troupe in 2001, and Thursday night's concert at the Bates Dance Festival was his company's first performance in Maine. The evening included 5 dances that showed a trajectory of Battle's work over the past ten years as well as a world premiere. Battleworks have an unmistakable stylistic imprint that clearly runs throughout all of the dances. This style features a blending of sensual flowing moves and percussive violent gestures and dramatic falls. The audience must decipher whether the lines between soft and hard run in opposition to each other or happily coexist?

Dichotomy was forefront in one of his 1998 earlier works Strange Humors. Dancers George Smallwood and Terrance Popular begin onstage while their bare-chested torsos undulate to a hypnotic drum beat. Their serious and sometimes grimacing expressions and gestures convey a sense of aggressiveness towards each other. But then their extended arms and legs moved in such languid fluidity that one sensed more of a brotherly rivalry. Both friends or enemies?

Battle used many literal gestures throughout each of his dances. Sometimes it works as in his gorgeous and fierce The Hunt and sometimes it distracted as in Ella. Danced to jazz legend Ella Fitzgerald's scat singing, dancer Marlena Wolfe makes goofy faces that although are funny, detract from the amazing kinetic movements she used to embody (through movement) the same unconventional, quirky, and surprising phrasing of the scat song. This is an example of where Battle could have used constraint; the storytelling was laid on too thickly. The Hunt, a quartet where gesture was literal; a hand covering the mouth to be quiet, or a arm reaching and pointing towards the prey worked well. The dancers build the intensity with the help of a striking lighting design by Burke Wilmore and lush full length skirts for the men by Mia McSwain.

The world premiere of Sidewalk featured an original score by Bates Dance Festival musician Carl Landa. Also on the bill was the quirky and classical Overture with music by J.S. Bach. All eight of the Battleworks dancers were incredibly strong, engaging and exciting to watch.

Robert Battle is an accomplished dramatic choreographer. His sweeping grand gestures are reminiscent of Martha Graham. His interest in showing strife and conflict beckon to Jose Limon. While rooted in classical dance his contemporary vision of life being a battle makes for a unique dance presentation.

Thursday July 16, 2009 at the Bates Dance Festival, Schaeffer Theater

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Review - Kate Weare Company

Relationships are filled with many emotions and can bring much happiness as well as much pain. Saturday night's performance of the Kate Weare Company at the Bates Dance Festival featured dance that showed the complexity of working through how we get along with other people.

Dance is such a wonderful medium using physicality and movement to convey ideas. When the topic is relationships, there are so many ways to use the body to tell a story that so many of us experience on a day-to-day basis. Kate Weare is seriously interested in how we get along as couples, as friends, as lovers. She has been there and as a choreographer is ready to share her insights.

The program featured two dances, her latest 2009 work Lean-To and her 2008 Bridge of Sighs a quartet danced by Adrian Clark, Douglas Gillespie, Leslie Kraus and Ms. Weare. These exceptional dancers found themselves moving in and out of all kinds of adversarial yet loving encounters. Bridge of Sighs begins with a couple standing face to face and suddenly the woman punches his chest with both hands and then slaps his hip and arm all in quick succession. He then slaps her. They move with raw powerful speed accented by stop action stillness where the audience gets to soak in all that they’ve just witnessed. The frozen moment is like a snapshot. Then they continue with more intensity. Is this love? Is this a power struggle? Who has the upper hand it's hard to tell. Weare is adept at making the audience have to work to figure out who is supposed to be with whom. At first the man and woman are a pair, but then the other man is nudging his way in, and then the two men seem to be interested in only one another and then the two women are really steamy together. The lightning by Brian Jones and the music by One Ring Zero added to the dark yet eerily familiar feel of exploring how far to push without pushing someone away.

Intimacy and neediness were explored in Lean-To. Weare again used her dancers strength and grace to show how it can be a struggle to giving into another person's embrace. Do we lose ourselves when we rely on another person? Weare asks us to consider if we can lean on someone and still be strong. The trio danced with powerful lushness that made the audience hold it's breath as the dancers swooped and lifted each other with deliberate and concerned intention.

This young company is one to keep your eyes on.

Saturday July 11, Bates Dance Festival opening night at the Schaeffer Theater in Lewiston, Maine. Top photo by Tom Caravaglia.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

A Poem by Ruth St. Denis

Thursday July 9th- As I anticipate this weekends performance at Bate's Dance Festival of the choreographer Kate Weare I look to a book of poetry on dance that I received from Suaznne Carbonneau. If you don't know who she is, she's a guru of dance history and dance criticism. This poem is from the book called The dancea poem titled;

The Kingdom Within by Ruth St. Denis-

This is my message, the message of a dancer:
May you cease form creating a world of lifeless machinery.
And learn to use your own living instrument of living beauty.
Cease from your pride of material conquest and accept your own inheritance of wealth.
Within your being, within your heart and mind and living body
There lies a kingdom that you little know of,
A world of fearless living, of power and of peace and joy.
A kingdom rich with love's glad sharing,
The unfolding glory of your Infinite Being!

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Welcome to Maine's Dance Review Blog

I'm very happy to begin an ongoing discussion about dance in Maine. Beginning this week, we'll be looking at some performances taking place in Lewiston at the Bates Dance Festival. First up, in their 2009 series is the Kate Weare Company.

Check out this video.