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