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