Sunday, October 30, 2011

New Book-"Body of a Dancer"

Renee E 'Aoust has written memoir about her time as an aspiring dancer at the Martha Graham school in New York City. A memoir offers an intimate look into one person's experience. The maniacal obsession that E'Aoust lays out as being her life in dance is a grim one. She takes the reader into her very disturbed world filled with shame and being putdown for not being good enough, thin enough, or suffering enough to make it to the top. She reveals how distorted her thinking was as she pitted herself against the many other striving wannabe dancers. It was cut-throat as they all vied to make it into the dance company, and D'Aoust was filled with insecurities and self-loathing. She writes rawly and holds nothing back. She writes that she honestly loved to dance. But the agony of her day to day existence, that she spells out in great detail, might make readers wonder how anyone would put themself through that kind of pain. Dancers may appreciate her stories, but I think non-dancers might think taking up this profession is insane.

Body of a Dancer, is a book that explores the psychologically of what happens when vulnerable people team up with other insecure people who are then lead by bullies. What D'Aoust went through was more shocking then you can imagine. She has many stories about her time in the studio taking classes, as well as auditioning and performing. She is a strong writer and a good storyteller.

D'Aoust also works as a dance critic, and at times her memoir strays into criticism. This part doesn't work for me. As a dancer she was filled with envy and bitterness towards others that succeeded. Her tone is nasty and snippy as she describes David Dorfman in Act One,
"he thinks he's a choreographer and writer, but really he simply used to be a baseball player so he knows how to squat real well."
I think D'Aoust was hoping to show pettiness to point out how insecure she was by needing to belittle others, but it was jumbled in it's many layers. The writing style here is an unhappy blend of poetic thoughts and, personal memories that just aren't clear in their intent.

Better suited were the chapters where intricate accounts of her day to day existence take the reader deep into the world of dance. There are many tragic souls depicted and D'Aoust writes with tenderness towards a few that struggled along with herself.
"control is always an issue in a dancer's life. Daniela's life was no different... dancer's have a necessarily complicated relationship to their body, known as the instrument"
Danielle weighed just 90 pounds and commits suicide. Dance training and the toll it puts on the body is what D'Aoust is addressing. It's a serious problem for some in dance. This is a worthy book, but please dear readers know that while dance is competitive and demanding this is one person's memoir and experience.

D'Aoust's book Body of a Dancer is due to be released next month by Etruscan Press.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Bates Dance Festival - Different Voices

Nothing was too taboo at The Bates Dance Festival's annual showcase concert called Different Dances on Friday evening. Although there were some serene and light-hearted pieces, a surprisingly greater part of the night had a dark side featuring dances about oppression and violence against women. Unplanned coincidence. What really stood out wasn't the topic matter it was the incredible stage presence of many of the performers. Mesmerizing, So captivating in their portrayals, I found myself awestruck, and that doesn't happen very often. Many of the dancers had really solid stage presence as they tackled some seriously uncomfortable subjects.

There were 10 choreographers represented. The audience really got a chance to see a wide variety of work by the faculty of the six week long festival. Different Voices included U.S. based choreographers as well as International contemporary dancers from Africa, Thailand, and India.

Two outstanding female solos, Immaterial Sensiblity by Seattle based Catherine Cabeen and Isingqala by South African based Mamela Nyamza, both appeared dressed as men wearing suits and ties. In very unique ways they both took on a different part of the male personna. Cabeen presented a cocksure, in your face, look-at-me guy using precision and control with elaborate leg and arm extensions and contortions. Nyamza's guy was in trouble and literally trying to outrun his demons but instead ran out of steam. Facing backward and being seen by just a lone flashlight shone from the audience the drama was intense. Both women were outstanding, they embodied their characters with full bodied commitment, it was creepy good.

Next in intensity was Encounter, a dance theater by Aparna Sindhoor and Anil Natyaveda. A mix of classical Indian dance, song and music to tell a story about a women's fight against brutality. Sindhoor, a brillant performer used both small gestures and eye movement to convey the struggle. Her subtleness and stillness were eerie. Four male dancers added the physicality that showed power and might which culminated in a brutal scene of torture and rape that was difficult to watch.

The beautiful moments in the evening were provided by Sunon Wachirawaraken from Thailand and Lisa Race from Conneticut. More female misery was touched on by choreographers Onye Ozuzu and Jennifer Archibald.

The evenings most outlandish and full of surprises dance was an excerpt from Corresondences a 2009 duet by Kettley Noel and Nelisiwe Xaba. Dressed in incredibly short dresses and high heels the two talked and danced and had a good humored rivalry. They seemed like best friends or sisters that know everything about each other. It was great theater with some focused moment sections. The end was so strikingly beautiful as they stood atop a big heavy long table, as rubber gloves filled and bulging were lowered down from the ceiling. They each bit on one of the fingers/udders where water began flowing they drunk it in, then allowed it to rain down on them. Totally soaking wet, they got to the floor and began sliding across the stage in puddles of water.

Different voices indeed!

Bates Dance Festival performance Friday August 12, 2011 in Lewiston, Maine

Saturday, August 6, 2011

David Dorfman Dance-Prophets of Funk

Please listen to this music as you read my thoughts on David Dorfman's Prophet's of Funk. I'm serious this music will get you in the mood.

Schaffer theater at Bates College became a 60s "happening" on Friday night as David Dorfman Dance presented a visual feast of rhythm, groove and love. Those are words Dorfman used in the program notes. He also stated that after seeing the Original Family Stone a few years ago he made a pledge to "dance to the music." And with this dance he successfully fulfilled this goal. His choreography moves to the music in such a deep grounded way that the dancers were the music. Their movements didn't just mirror the songs or act out the words, their bodies were visually interpreting the beats, notes, horns and drums. It was a very enveloping experience.

Eight dancers and Dorfman acting as a unassuming ringmaster entered the stage dressed in the 60s garb; colorful bell bottoms, fringe vests, and outrageous Afros. They began dancing using all the social dance moves of the era. It's as if it's a big dance party at Woodstock and the it's never going to end. Peace man - make love not war. The dancers made us believe we were back in that era. But Dorman took those familiar themes and exaggerated them into a complex and exciting progression. The entire work used the music of Sly and the Family Stone, who produced some of the most funky sounds of that time period. The music was really loud as if we were at a concert, the music surrounded the senses.

The dancers were superb. Kyle Abraham, Meghan Bowden, Luke Gutsell, Renuka Hines, Raja Kelly, Kendra Portier, Karl Rodgers, and Whitney Tucker all took on different persona's. We saw the hippy guy, the flower power girl, the stoner, the radical. They flew high across the stage with dynamic lifts, kicks and turns with such abandonment that we believed they were those kids that wanted to change the world. These dancers embraced the movement and performed with such skill and power, it was really beautiful. Dorfman's choreography pointed to free love, racial tension, drug use and most importantly a deep respect for the radical music. He is very skilled at crafting a world, and gathering the audience into it. We were there. At the end of the program the dancers went out and invited the audience up to dance with them. Seeing over 100 people jamming together on the stage was a fitting way to close a perfect evening.

David Dorfman Dance, Bates Dance Festival, in Lewiston Maine. August 5 and 6, 2011

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Nicholas Leichter- THE WHIZ

You gotta watch this first!

Okay, now that you've looked at the "trailer" see if my thoughts on Nicholas Leichter's The WHIZ makes sense to you.

The YouTube highlights really capture the outrageous, fun, over-the-top performance. The show performed at Bates Dance Festival showed a dance company that is at home performing both cabaret style dance as well as technical contemporary dance. I'll get to the serious dance later, but first let's talk about pulling off a in your face extravaganza. This adaptation of the classic story of the Wizard of Oz- story line: trouble at home, disaster, fantasy, who is your friend, trouble from a real witch, help from a real wizard, and finding out that there really is no place like home. Yikes- how to do this with movement and dance? This was rendered and brought to life by lots of short sections that used eight dancers and MC MONSTAH BLACK to take the audience along the yellow brick road. He was a campy guide that sang and danced, and, the outfits he wore are awesome.

Leichter is comfortable choreographing segments that vary from abstract to literal. He sets up a struggle for the audience, we get goofy fun followed by serious dance. He takes us inside and personal with a contemplative songs sung live, then to a rollicking group dance segments that offered grinding rhythmic motion that built to a jubilant frenzy. Or sections that dancers partnered and played with fierce attack. As an audience member it's tough to make the whole show cohesive, but we know the tale and it's actually refreshing to not have to have the whole story laid out in a decipherable way.

The whole production showed very strong performances by the entire ensemble. The cast were all skilled in Leichter's style that varies from embodying difficult movement done in a fluid seemingly effortless fashion. That's a real feat! His dancers also excel at fast-paced more theatrical style movements. And they are good storytellers with their entire bodies and faces. A very pleasing group to watch.

Outlandish Fun.

THE WHIZ at The Bates Dance Festival. Schaffer Theater, Lewiston Maine July 23, 2011

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Merce Cunningham Dance Company at Dartmouth College

The Legacy Tour is the final performances of the MCDC. The tour began in 2009 two years after Merce Cunningham's death at age 90. On July 8 and 9th the tour came to Hanover, New Hampshire. What a treat to see the Cunningham dancers perform work from 1958, 1968, and 1976. They presented three of the seven dances that have been reconstructed since Merce's death. Reviving these dances without Merce has been made possible through an archiving process set up in called "Dance Capsules." It was decided over ten years ago by Cunningham that his company wouldn't continue after his death, but that his work would be preserved for future use by other companies. The dance capsules contain extensive notes by Cunningham himself, and from the dancers. They contain DVD's of performances and details about music, costumes, and sets. Reconstruction of the 3 dances presented at Dartmouth were overseen by company director of choreography Robert Swinson and dancers Sandra Neels, Carolyn Brown, Meg Harper, Gus Solomons Jr. and Jennifer Googins.

RainForest (1968) began with electronic sounds of clicks, beeps and buzzing that radiated throughout the auditorium and was created by David Tutor. The curtain opened to reveal dozens of large silver floating pillows designed by Andy Warhol. They filled the space and as the dancers started to move they kicked them with their legs or pushed them as their arms swept the pillows gently floated, slowly finding a new spot on the stage. All very strangely mesmerizing. The dancers seemed birdlike at times with long limbs perching on balance with total control. This helped convey the power of the creatures inhabiting a forest. It was magically danced by Dylan Crossman, John Hinrichs, Daniel Madoff, Krista Nelson,Jamie Scott, and Melissa Toogood.

Antic Meet (1958), a silly playful dance presented in ten short vingettes had the same kind of feel as Paul Taylor's 1956 dance 3 Epitaphs. They both are strange, funny, and goofy. Cunningham's dance featured music by John Cage that was performed live with sets and cosumes by Robert Raushenberg. Lots of history in this Legacy Tour. Squaregame (1976) ended the evening terrifically danced by 13 company members. This troupe is amazing to watch regardless of what you think of Cunningham's radical approach to dance and choreography. I always remember going to a concert of the MCDC in Minnesota in the 1970s and being amazed that people were walking out of the theater in protest. Nowadays when that happens I know the choreographer might be truly someone to watch. At the American Dance Festival in 2008 we witnessed French Choreographer Maguy Marin's performance of Unwelt as many in the audience left their seats in the middle of the dance. I, along with my fellow NEA dance criticism fellows felt differently, we were blown away by the piece.

It was a bittersweet show for many in the Dartmouth audience who first saw the Cunningham company perform at the college in 1973. MCDC returned to perform again many times after that year. Former dancers, university professors and students, and devoted fans filled the auditorium and at the end of the performance they stood and thanked the company for coming one last time to this small college town.

Merce Cunningham Dance Compnay at the Spaulding Auditroium, Dartmouth College July 8, 2011

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Ends and Edges

Ends and Edges- A professional dance showcase presented by Terpiscore Dance. This is the second year that Maria Tzianabos has gathered together many artists and performers from all over Southern Maine and New Hampshire. Why does she organize a showcase instead of performing just her own work? Tzianabos is continuing the legacy that Maine dancer Lisa Hicks began many years ago when she created Modern Feats- a showcase performance hosted by her studio called New Dance.

For many small dance companies it's prohibitively expensive to put together a concert, so offering dancers a chance to perform in a showcase without incurring the expense is very popular. Interestingly, I think many audience members enjoy the variety of seeing many groups with divergent dance styles. On this bill eight distinct modern dance groups were featured.

From Terpiscore came three pieces. A sweepingly lyrical duet Not By Choice choreographed by Tzianabos and performed with Jill Eng, brought together two skilled dancers whose quiet strength and control were compelling to watch. A trio Deluge by Wendy Getchell featured three technically strong dancers, Robin Behl, Emily Getchell and Robyn Nast. And the third piece was a wonderful dance performed by the Terpiscope Repertory Class that featured nine dancers.

From New Hampshire-choreographers and dancers Patricia Harms and Christine Simes used three versions of the classic song "Que Sera" that Doris Day made popular, to highlight their choreographic vision in Feminine Mystique. Moving between rivalry to quirky tenderness the dance showed the strong chemistry between the dancers. The versions of the song they danced to were by Pink Martinis, Wax Tailor and the Holly Cole trio.

Collective Motion performed Swept choreographed by Joshua Robinson. I reviewed this company last year and this dance was my favorite piece from that concert. I checked back on my notes form last year - "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."

Portland dancer Jill Eng presented two dances, a solo that was a study or an exercise as she titled it, and a duet co-choreographed with Ron Botting. The solo showed off her technical skills as she moved as if in a ballet class where dancers tackle demanding movements in studied and composed ways. Then her duet featured the opposite; a dynamic, breezy character that convinces a reserved Botting to partner and dance with her. The duet Lancaster Street was sweet and fun to watch. Above photo by Arthur Fink.

Maine veteran performers Karen Montanaro and Debi Irons as well as new comers Sonar and IndieDanceWorks rounded out a very dynamic, eclectic and well performed evening of dance. Bravo!

Ends and Edges, Portland Stage, June 11, 2011

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Doug Varone and Dancers

Last night the audience at the Merrill Auditorium witnessed a dance performance that captured the depth and soul of contemporary dance. Doug Varone and Dancers presented a concert that embodied the core of what makes contemporary dance unique. What a rare treat to see dancers that move fearlessly and gracefully. With strength they throw their bodies onto the floor but then flow effortlessly back up into a turning spin off balance that defies gravity. Their bodies are as strong as ballet dancers but have a humanness that is rarely seen in classic dance. Varone's movement is sinuous and so unpredictable. He finds ways to assemble his company of seven dancers into patterns that surprise with unexpected beauty. The compositions are very complex because he builds so much movement into each moment.

Varone's newest work Chapter's from a Broken Novel was co-commissioned by Portland Ovations and the Bates Dance Festival, giving this Maine audience a sense that we held a stake in the dance. The company danced 14 of the 21 chapters. Intentionally designed to be seen in parts or as a whole, it was curious to wonder what the missing chapters contained. Furthermore Varone has been mixing up the order in which the segments are presented, thereby changing the narrative intent. This dance is rich in many ways. The movement is lush as the dramatic scenarios unfold. This dance had a strong sense of storytelling without being too literal, another elemental component of contemporary dance. But the stories reveal some tender and some very troubling scenes or "intimate portraits" as the program notes called them. The original music score by David Van Tiegham was both overwhelming at times which actually suited the dance composition but then also beautifully refined and gentle.

The other dance on the bill was Varone's 2006 LUX. The dancers- Julia Burrer, Ryan Corriston, Natalie Desch, Erin Owen, Alex Springer, Eddie Taketa, and Netta Yerushalmy moved nonstop in sweepingly beautiful displays of sheer physicality that grew along side as the mesmerizing music of Phillip Glass and The Light intensified. The dancers embodied the music: propelling spinning, swooping, lifting and diving as it built never resting until near the end when Eddie Taketa became alone on stage, slowly turning and reaching overhead pointing to the sky as the light faded and went out.

Doug Varone and Dancers, Wednesday February 16, 2011 at the Merrill Auditorium in Portland, Maine