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.