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