Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Designing Dance Audio Documentary

Here's a 30 minute audio dance documentary I produced in 2007.

It's called Designing Dance and I present it here in 3 parts.

Part 1 features Liz Lerman and Rennie Harris (10 minutes)

Part 2 features Bebe Miller and David Dorfman (10 minutes)

Part 3 all four choreographers (10 minutes)

Monday, November 8, 2010

Jump Rhythm Jazz Project

On Saturday, October 2nd, my favorite dancer of all time performed in Camden, Maine. Billy Siegenfeld, the founder and director of the Chicago based dance company Jump Rhythm Jazz Project performed with his entire company. I first took classes from Billy in the late 1970's in Minnesota when he was dancing with the Don Redlich modern dance company. I later moved to New York city in hopes of dancing with Billy one day, and....it did happen. I love this man.

This posting is an appreciation of what he does, not a review.

Think tap dance without tap shoes, it's got all that exciting syncopation. It's drumming without the drum set and sticks. The beats are within the arms, legs and torso, it all combines to make a lush rhythm. There is vocal sound without songs. The dancers are doing a sort of scat singing while they dance. It's quirky and complex and it doesn't quite make sense but it moves you because of the power of the rhythm. On top of it all it's cool modern dance movement and skilled choreography with all that rhythm. Sigenfeld is a great storyteller. He and his dancers show a great amount of joy when they perform, it's the kind of full bodywork that exudes electricity, vibrancy and humanity. These are performers who look to connect to the audience, they are not removed or aloof they are really showbiz without the dazzle.

If you get to Chicago check this company out or take a dance class with Sigenfeld if you're ready to find your rhythm mojo.

Jump Rhythm Jazz Project performed at the Camden Hills Regional High School Strom Auditorium

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Review-Different Voices at Bates Dance Festival

A diverse collection of dancers presented their work Friday night at "Different Voices." This annual show at the Bates Dance Festival is a way for an audience member to sample many artists in just one evening. Presented were highly skilled movers, with a range of experience as choreographers making the overall program uneven. But one of the festivals mission is to provide a place for artists to take risks and festival director Laura Faure states that "we showcase new works as they come to life on the stage. In doing so, we honor the central role the creative process plays in art making while acknowledging the risks in the creative journey." We saw new work from emerging artists that will surely evolve over time and get refined and edited to be more coherent. But we also saw some outstanding dance from experienced choreographers.
Donna Mejia performed and choreographed "Homage." In this belly dancing solo she wore a beautiful golden traditional costume that was highlighted by the exception lighting design of Bryan Nydegger. Mejia danced with fluidity and control luring the audience into her hypnotic spell until she sharply changed by accentuating and isolating body parts with a dynamic force. Is this the origin of hip hop's popping moves? Exquisite command of the dance form that moved from hips shaking to chest undulating. Mejia also presented another solo, a work-in-progress that used her Near Eastern dance movement vocabulary in a contemporary way. This dance was striking in it's successful dramatic conveyance of violence against women. Omar Currum is a contemporary dancer with the dramatic force that is more commonly associated with ballet or broadway dance. His presence onstage is big and commanding. In a duet with Surasi Lavalle the dancers strong technical prowess excelled. And in the solo "Joan" choreographed by Michael Foley, Carrum's subtle body nuances shown throughout. Standing still in the middle of the stage facing backwards he was bare chested and wearing a long enormously full skirt. Slow gestures built into moves that made the oversized heavy skirt dance. Beautiful visual imagery and powerful storytelling. Carrum is a member of Mexico's Delfos Danza Conemporanea as well as co-founder Claudia Lavista who performed "From Certain Deserts." Lavista possessed all the same strong dance qualities as Carrum and added a wonderful video-animation element to her piece. Changing from children's images to nature at the end she walked slowly towards the back of the stage and was enveloped into the image and disappeared, very cool effect.

Also of interest were dance artist Panaibra Gabriel Canda from Mozambique. His "Time and Space series" was a work-in-progress and was performed with live music by Jesse Manno. The remaining artists on the bill presented heady works that brought up images and ideas but didn't quite translate into a cohesive whole. But as the program notes suggest, Bates is about supporting the artist's journey. And that is becoming a rarer event in concert performances these days.

Different Voices, Friday Aug 6, 2010 at the Schaeffer Theater in Lewiston, Maine

Saturday, July 31, 2010

AXIS Dance Company

Dancers have the power to remind an audience just how many ways the human body can move. Part of the wonder of dance from an audience member perspective is that we know our own bodies could never do such things, but we marvel at such skill. Then comes along AXIS Dance Company and they take the notion of skill-dance-and able bodied to a whole new level. Saturday night at the Bates Dance Festival, a display of exceptional strength and artistry was presented by dancers with and without disabilities- this is AXIS dance.

Dancers in wheelchairs, a dancer with prosthesis, and a few dancers without disabilities shared the stage. Watching this company was at first surprising and confusing. It was hard to get past the notion of a disabled person dancing so rigorously. And, for gods sake... in a wheelchair, shouldn't they be more careful? But as the evening proceeds we come to realize it's okay and all the dancers are skilled trained professionals who work at their craft and have such control over their bodies, no matter what state their bodies are in.

It's hard to describe the feeling of exhilaration of watching a dancer in a wheelchair doing a duet with a dancer on her feet where they move together with such grace and passion. Why is it so unnerving? Is it because we usually think of people in wheelchairs as unfortunate and limited, unable to do many things? So here on stage, we see the person in the chair moving with the same intensity and huge range of artistic mobility as the non-disabled dancer and it's disconcerting. It takes awhile to settle in but then it's pretty cool and we start to see them all as dancers instead of as some regular and some disadvantaged people.

Next, what about the dancing and choreographic skill level? The program featured three dances by guest choreographers that all offered complex ideas with challenging dramatic and physical demands. In the program notes of Joe Goode's 2007 "the beauty that was mine, through the middle, without stopping" he wrote "is seeing somehow limited? Does it imply an unneccessary separation between viewer and viewed?" This question is so in your face because it's hard to avoid "seeing" a person dancing who is missing part of a her limbs, yet she IS dancing, and she's dancing along side a person who looks like a traditional dancer who has all four limbs in tack. They move at first as if seeing each other through the frame of a mirror and then as one as their bodies melt together as the reach, roll and lift their legs in unison. The dancers speak saying "this is me."

Alex Ketley's 2008 "Vessel" began with two dancers lying on the floor with an empty wheelchair off to the side. Shonsheree Giles and Rodney Bell move together with alternating tender and angst filled moves as equals with the support of the floor. As Bell moves into the chair his power now comes from the chair and Giles uses her legs. Yet, as they continue it becomes obvious that they are still equals in their abilities to dance with incredible strength and speed. The wheelchairs get turned over with dancers inside them and they get tipped to the point of falling and we have to let go of worry. Next, David Dorfman's 2009 "Light Shelter" showed how adept these dancers were at quick and intricate movement. At one point, as five dancers moved in unison, the two wheel chaired dancers blended seamlessly with the undisabled dancers, so all five people were dancing the same moves, the chairs disappeared. That was a WOW moment. The lighting by Heather Basarab was superb and the original music by Albert Mathias and Michael Wall was hypnotic.

The arts always have the incredible power to move us, but this company inspires awe in the human body to a whole new level.

AXIS Dance Company, at the Bates Dance Festival, Lewiston Maine, Saturday July 31, 2010

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Audio Interview with Doug Varone

Listen to an Interview that aired on WMPG, Greater Portland's Community Radio with Doug talking about his newest dance which premieres in October.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Doug Varone and Dancers

Poetry in motion is Doug Varone and Dancers. At the Bates Dance Festival on Thursday evening in Lewiston Maine, the audience witnessed a torrent of movement. Varone is sculpting the space his dancers move on. Using lush music, lightening and costumes the evening enveloped the senses with a richness and breath taking awe. So many bodies that moved in complex patterns. First with darkness, and then revealing the brightest light.

Boats Leaving (2006)

Eight dancers standing still scattered onstage
Sacred music fills the auditorium
The dancers move deliberately, at first
Following one another
Wanting to touch
Not wanting to leave each other
They move more forcefully, passionately with grace
They collapse
They shake and twitch
They let go
With quiet conviction
One by one they exit

LUX (2006)

The moon is low on the horizon
Eddie Taketa begins
The rest of the company joins in
Effortless Diving Dropping Rolling
Swooping graceful arms
Dancing as fast as you can
Moving even faster
The moon is rising
Constant beautiful flurry
Exploding as one
Exploding as a whole
And suddenly
The moon is at the top of the sky
Peaceful quiet
Eddie Taketa claims the starry night

A poetic ode - to a beautiful concert.

Stay tuned, Varone and Company will be returning to Maine in February 20011 at the Merrill Auditorium with Portland Ovations.

Doug Varone and Dancers Thursday and Saturday July 15 & 17 at the Schaffer Auditorium 8pm

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Monica Bill Barnes & Company

Monica Bill Barnes is a goofball.

Contemporary Dance can be serious, obtuse and cerebral. Well, that may be the norm generally speaking, but there's one young company on the scene that's breaking the mold by offering choreography filled with humor and sarcasm. Monica Bill Barnes Dance Company is all about messing with your mind and messing with tradition. It takes skill to pull off comedy that is not slap sticky or sophomoric. It takes talent to make an audience believe you are a serious goofball. This company revels in doing what's not supposed to be shown in performance dance. For example: a dancer does "real" movements of turning with an extended leg behind her and then balancing off center and then kicking her leg over head. What a feat! Cool, impressive, but then this same Barnes dancer turns to the audience with a look-what-I-just-did and smiles. Tada! That's not supposed to be seen. But that's what Barnes has got going for her; she's revealing the more mundane humanity that is hidden below the surface in the magic of dance. She mixes skilled movements with everyday gestures and emotions.

At the Bates Dance Festival on Saturday night, the audience was in for an evening of the artist being non-complacent. Think of singers Bjork and Rickie Lee Jones whose style is great but weird. Or Andy Warhol who made soup cans and other regular household items into high art. Some artists have to stretch the comfort level and Barnes' unequivocal use of humor does just that. She isn't dabbling in being funny sometimes, this is who she is, and this is how she thinks.

The company presented three dances. A solo for Barnes and two group pieces. The first group dance "Mostly Fanfare" was a preview of a yet unfinished piece that will be premiered in a few weeks at Jacob's Pillow dance festival in western Massachusetts. Wearing feather headdresses, three dancers went through their paces as if they were remnants from a sideshow that needed the job and didn't have anywhere else to go. The music added a sense of melancholy with the deep vocals of singer Nina Simone. Next, "Another Parade" from 2009 featured four dancers wearing skirts and heavy sweaters with mock-turtle necks with brooches. The costumes by Kelly Hansen were so familiar and so brilliantly strange at the same time. A solo dancer began by alternating between sweeping full-bodied moves to intimate ticks, stares, and facial gestures. Then as the piece continued all four dancers continued to build on this juxtaposition of moving so quickly between the dancerly moves and the everyday moves. This is not easy to do well, and all in the company did it expertly. Barnes choreographic sensibility of combining witty and strange creates characters that are easy to feel a connection to. The music helped enhance the chaos by moving from Bach to James Brown to Burt Bacharach.

Barnes and Company are the first performance of the 2010 Bates Dance Festival. Great start!

Monica Bill Barnes & Company, Schaffer Theater, July 10, 2010 Lewiston, Maine
Photo by Steven Schreiber

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Portland Ballet- Requiem

Requiem is a choral work written by Mozart at the end of his life when he was seriously ill. It's said he was writing this mass for himself because he died before he could finish the work in 1791. The music was written to help the dead achieve eternal rest. The music is dense, heavy, religious, spiritual and enlightening. The Choral Art Society and Portland Ballet staged this epic piece using 70 singers, 4 soloists, and 12 dancers all sharing the stage. Can you imagine what kind of dance goes along with this sound?

Portland Ballet's artistic director Eugenia O'Brien states in the program notes that "dance must take an an idea and interpret it into movement that defies direct translation, as it evokes a mood and place that is as individual as each audience member. In symbiosis with the singers, the instrumentalists, and the array of emotions present in the music, dance becomes an extension of the score, and ultimately in this performance, an homage to the genius that is Mozart's Requiem." Let's see how well they achieved this goal.

Listen to some of the music while we ponder the performance

The choreography was done by guest Kennet Oberly, who has an extensive background in staging ballets around the world. Oberly takes on this significant challenge of creating a dance to equal the music. The results were a mixed success. As you listen to this dramatic music imagine the dancers interpreting the sound through movement that mimics rather then evokes. This was the disappointment. I could hear the music, I didn't need to see it as well. Literal visual scenes seemed too easy, too pat. Why wasn't subtly tried? The dancers performed beautifully, they looked gorgeous and extremely rehearsed. But the whole looked busy and forgettable. This was a chance to do something unusual.

All in all though, I applaud the Portland Ballet for experimenting and taking on the challenge of collaborating and taking on presenting unusual performances.

"Liber scriptus profectur,
in quo totum continetur,
under mundus judicetur."

"A book, it is written in, will be brought forth,
in which is contained everything that is,
out of which the world shall be judged."

Portland Ballet's Requiem at the Merrill Auditrorium, March 30. 2010 Portland, ME

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Collective Motion "been Here before"

As I sat in the audience watching Saturday evening's performance, I wondered - do you learn to choreograph over time by practice or is it an art that is a gift? Collective Motion is a dance company whose mission is to create work as a collaborative with the dancers taking on both the roles of performer and choreographer. Everyone gets the chance to create. This is the kind of contemporary dance that I grew up in, and relished being a part of as a young dancer 30 years ago. I too had the chance to hone my artistic skills in Minnesota and loved every minute of it. But tonight, as I watched these enthusiastic performers I wondered does this type of training hurt contemporary dance or help to promote it? What makes great dance? Is it the complexity and importance of a program that makes it stand out? Or is it the technical virtuosity that defines a great performance? And, what's more important- good dancers or sophisticated choreography?

The Collective Motion company begs these questions.

What this group has going for it is some great dancers, they are top notch. And getting audiences out to watch contemporary dance in Southern Maine is a good thing and the make it entertaining. Being accessible and not too abstract that's a plus as well. So with all this in mind, I applaud what this company is doing. Of the eight dancers, five had the chance to show their choreographic skills. But this is where it gets tricky for me. They are not all that strong in choreographic design. Remember I grew up in and embraced this model of everyone getting to show their work, but not all dancers are good choreographers. I love the idea of many artists creating and not having one master designer. But, when do you decide who has a handle on designing dance that will appeal and propel the vision in a more professional manner.

The evening length work been Here before focused on the many layered ways that power can play out, ranging from personal to political interactions. They were looking at how history repeats itself and can't break free of self destructive patterns. Many of the nine sections used a comical approach to look at these issues. Unfortunately, they relied on overacting and hamming it up, using pantomime to portray their meaning rather then using dance movement to show their ideas. Too literal in content as well as following the music too literally at times to tell the story. Although, three of the dances stood out for conveying a more subtle approach.

"The Arrow of Time" originally choreographed in 2008 by Jennifer Bourgeault and adapted by Heather Baur, successfully used a sound arrangement by Jennifer Letrendre to create an environment of suspense as we watched the dance. Three dancers Heather Baur, Rachel Schwartz, and Nicole Stroumbes, all wearing black dresses began slowly and cautiously, as if looking over their shoulders. Their pace quickened as a marching off to war drum beat was heard. Their movement of horizontal jumps with arms and legs extending outward into flying lunges brought a sense of desperation. The dancers evoked through the use of simple gestures a more human and real feeling then seen in the previous five pieces. A solo, "Eco" danced by Jennifer Bourgeault showed a connection to the floor as earth with sinewy movement that created a dark and sad feeling. Using birdlike gestures, the dancer used her arms like wings where she tested her strength very slowly aware to not be too bold. This well danced peice was co-choreographed by Boureault and Jennifer Letrendre.

The standout piece of the evening was "Swept...(Section 2)" by Josh Robinson for six dancers. Robinson used the lively music of the Penguin Cafe Orchestra and wonderful costumes by Douglas B. MacDonald to cast a joyous background for the dance. The dancers moved effortless with fluidity, strength and grace to highlight this companies exceptional technical skills. I loved that it was pure movement without storytelling. The dancers shined as they performed very demanding steps. There were no awkward moments, it was sheer delight.

Collective Motion has only been around for five years. They are a welcome addition to the dance scene in Maine. I hope they'll continue to hone their choreographic skills as they continue and grow.

Collective Motion, at Harry Garland Auditorium, Saco Maine, March 27th 2010

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Dayton Contemporary Dance Company

Portland is a trendy small city that prides itself on it's diversity. But the State of Maine still ranks as the number one whitest state in the United States. Saturday night, the Dayton Contemporary Dance Company (DCDC) performed a program that could have been considered a 101 primer on what's important in the world of African American Dance. Right On! DCDC follows in the same vein as Alvin Ailey, Ron K. Brown and the Urban Bush Women, companies who dare to look at black history and say what can we learn from it all.

Slavery, chain gangs, spirituality and devotion were featured in four dances performed by this skilled company. The fourteen dancers were standout beautiful in both how they accomplished the technical moves as well as their interpretation of some very heavy emotional themes. The dancing was strong, precise, and yet layered with fluidity. And there was no overacting which was a welcome relief. It is all too easy to overdo the emotions to make your point, and this company struck the right balance.

Beginning the program was J Lawrence Paint (Harriet Tubman Remix) choreographed by Donald Byrd. The dance began by creating a series of "snapshots" depicting people on the move that were looking over their shoulders. And while 12 of the dancers wore contemporary costumes, a solo figure was dressed in a period outfit of a white headscarf and long dress with apron. Dancer Sheri Sparkle Williams represented abolitionist and underground railroad activist Harriet Tubman. Williams commanded our attention as she stood up and pointed her shaking arm in the direction that lead to freedom. The dance had several sections that depicted the many aspects of slavery life from childs play, work, and lynching.

Looking at religion from two different points of view were Vespers and Children of the Passage. Choreographer Ulysses Dove created Vespers in 1986. The dance featured 6 women in black dresses who were caught up in a maniacal pursuit of prayer and devotion. They sat and prayed, and then moved as if searching in vain to find something. This very somber look at passion was approached with sterility and the chastity was enhanced by the relentless drumming music of Mikel Rouse. And from Co-choreographers Donald McKayle and Ron K. Brown their 1999 Children of the Passage looked at what happens to lost souls who are saved by the "spirits". This dance was raucous with the jazzy steaming sounds of the New Orlreans Dirty Dozen Brass Band. The costumes were a gorgeously strange take on Victorian gala wear designed by Omatayo W. Olaiya. Outstanding as the lead lost soul was G.D. Harris, although every dancer in this company is virtuosic.

The highlight of the evening was Donald McKayle's 1959 Rainbow 'Round My Shoulders. 6 men on a chain gang entered the stage moving in unison steps that wrenched their bare torsos from side to front and down. There was such a heaviness and power to each thrust of their arms as they reached overhead and then crashed down. The men continued to move as one as we realized they are doomed to an never-ending cycle of work. Within the dance several woman appear as muses or dreams taking on the role of mother, wife, and sweetheart. The dance ended with one of the men being shot as he tried to escape from the gang. McKayle's dance is timeless, and it didn't seem dated.

Regional dance companies like DCDC are a joy to watch as they remind us that dance is happening throughout the entire United States. These Dancers in Ohio are just as serious, as peers in bigger metropolitan areas, in presenting quality performances.

Dayton Contemporary Dance Company - Saturday March 20, 2010 at the Merrill Auditorium in Portland, Maine