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