Monday, December 8, 2014

Dance USM!

The University of Southern Maine's long time dance director Maria Tzianabos scored a big hit this past weekend by having her dance students collaborate with USM's theatre and music departments on their annual program. The result was a wonderfully rich sensory experience. There was acting as well as dancing, there was also singing, lush visual backdrops and video images. The interdisciplinary approach featured original works by student, faculty and guest choreographers. What was also most impressive was that many of the dancers are not experienced and not part of a dance major program, yet they all shined. No awkward performances, the dancers all looked polished and well-rehearsed.

The first dance on the program Lessons for Ladies featured Callie Cox, Mary Kate Ganza, Sarah Kennedy, Megan C. McQuire, Hannah Perry, and Rhiannon Vonder Haar. This piece was choreographer by Tzianabos and was directed by Theater Professor Meghan Brodie.

The dance began with 5 woman wearing 1950s dresses with aprons who posed as a tuxedoed crooner sang into a microphone "Keep Young and Beautiful." The theme of how women should behave and treat their husbands goes from 1917 etiquette rules which they coyly recount, up through 2009 tips on how to be sweet for your boyfriend. The dancers morph from the downtrodden housewives into modern girls that don't want to be "a pretty girl." Great fun and an excellent theme for these college aged dancers.

Next was a solo The Dirty Boogie choreographed and danced by Brittany Pace. This tap dance piece was high energy and had lots of great jazzy moves. Pace is very skilled dancer with much experience. The only problem with the dance was we couldn't hear the tapping sounds because the music was loud and the floor was not wooden. Pace also choreographed a Hip Hop sextet Bring the Old School Back that featured riffs on urban dance where challenges are played off each others increasingly tricky moves. Colorful graffiti projections were designed by Shannon Zura.

Steam Heat choreographed by USM faculty teacher Vanessa S. W. Beyland was danced by Margaret Brownlee, Callies Cox, Andrea Danforth, Alexandra Gardiner, Sarah Kennedy, Alison Loughlin, Hannah Perry, Braden Socquet, Caleb Streadwick, Emma Thompkins, Abigail Thompkins, Jessie Vander, and Sengmolicka Vuthy. White button down shirts, bowties and Bowler hats adorned the high kicking, jazzy and very broadway-style dancers. This was fun!

Other dances included ariel harness work performed by Elise Adams, Janette Fertig, Codruta Valentina Postache, Jesse Vander, and Emily Waller, also a dance with big silhouetted windows, a trio of Cotton Club performers, and a solo by student Sarah Kennedy who performed with exceptional dynamic power and focus.

Dance USM! December 4-7 2014 at Russell Hall, Gorham Maine

Saturday, July 26, 2014

David Dorfman Dance

Come, and Back Again
A Dance about
mess, joy, loss, and the persistence of love.

The stage is messy. It's filled with an enormous sculpture of everyday stuff that we all collect. There are bottles, a mattress, a laundry basket, a ladder, buckets, wire and it's all painted white and it's a gigantic wall that looms over the stage. There are six musicians sitting along the wall and there is also a small cardboard house. As the dance e begins David Dorfman speaks about his father and how organized he was. Dorfamn says he is the opposite, messy and a collector of stuff that he can't get rid of. He sets the topic of the evening here, it's all about family and how we interact, and how can we let go?

The dancers exude joy. Dorfman is a master at creating many vignettes within a dance to tell a story. He and his dancers are genuinely smiling throughout much of the dance. This can take you aback at first because it's unusual to see such smiling faces within concert dance. So a tone is set. They are moving with reckless abandon, with huge jumps, swings, kicks that show a very playful and wild side. There was a funny monologue about how to calculate how many people in your life you have unconditionally loved. But then, there was also loss. A duet danced by Christina Robson and Raja Feather Kelly showed how hard it is to leave someone. They would push each other away again and again, but couldn't leave each other. In an amazing feat of strength, Robson runs at Kelly and jumps off the floor with her full body slamming into his chest and they together slowly fall backward. Exquisite beautiful partnering. Kendra Portier and Karl Rodgers were the others in his dance family. Also on stage for cameo moments were Dorfman's nuclear family, his wife Lisa Race, and their son Samson Race Dorfman.

In a solo Dorfman gestured come here while looking back over his shoulder. He then gestured to stop. He continued to gesture come and stop at the same time creating a frenzied desire to have both the past and the future. When he wasn't dancing he took a spot with the musicians and played Accordian and saxophone.

The live music was raw, edgy, and rocking featuring the music of Benjamin Smoke, Patti Smith and traditional folk songs. The band had three Bates Dance Festival musicians as well as three performers who travel with the dance company under the direction of Sam Crawford. They were a big presence onstage which added another layer to the complex multi-media piece. Another layer was the costumes created by Kristi Wood. The dancers wore flowing loose tunics and pants of light material that looked comfortable and homey. The costumes softness contrasted with the forbidding wall of junk and the driving music.

Near the end of the evening length dance the dancers say "Time to go" "I can't wait to go" "let's go" "after you." Then Dorfman sits on a chair center stage and using his cell phone calls his wife, and leaves a message for her about how the show went, when he'll be home, and if she could leave him a little something to eat, he promises he won't make a mess. Now that's the The persistence of love.

Come, and Back Again performed by David Dorfman Dance at the Bates Dance Festival in Lewiston, Maine July 25 & 26, 2014

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Camille A. Brown & Dancers

Mr. TOL E. RAncE

Camille A. Brown & Dancers took to the stage in Lewiston, Maine and challenged the audience to look at a piece of history: Minstrel Shows.

Minstrel shows were a very popular part of American theater, yet when the civil rights movement gathered strength in the 60s, they lost favor and stopped being performed. Minstrels relied on stereotypes of uneducated, lazy, yet ever cheerful blacks who would be the brunt of the jokes. Although the minstrels made celebrities out of the African American performers…at what price? This is where Brown begins her examination.

Brown uses the minstrel show as a starting point but includes black performers from television as well. From Amos and Andy, to The Cosby Show, to The Fresh Prince of Bel Air - all are a part of a culture that portrays African Americans still trapped in a "blackface" that can't be escaped. The group of seven performers, or entertainers as they are noted in the credits, fill the stage in ACT 1- "What It Is." Beginning with contemplative slow movement with distinctive downward rounded spine and a body that reads depressed and repressed. This silhouette runs throughout the dance. But then the speed picks up, and all dancers are energetic and dancing up a storm with big movements and wow-we tricks and non stop excitement.

Act 2 - "Change The Joke, Slip The Yoke." Brown has set up the background in Act 1, and now really deliveries a knock out punch in Act 2. The dancers put on white gloves and exaggerated expressions and spoke with repeated modern day catch-phrases -"What are you talking about bitch?" and "Nigga that's me." The words put them in the present but wearing those gloves kept them still stuck in a role based in racism. It was just the right touch to remind the audience of the dancers inferiority. They presented a growing clash with the pride of moving and the heaviness of keeping the facade alive.

In a stunning solo, Waldean Nelson conveys this tension by swooping an arm that ends with a happy face. Then swooping his other arm which brings on a frowning face. He continues to swoop and change faces while increasing the timing and speed until he's maniacally moving and laughing and crying. Brown discusses in the program notes "the mask" that African American performers wear through history for survival. She also notes how much tolerance performers, then and now, need to have to get by in the entertainment field. Brown concludes the evening length dance with a solo where she determinedly tries to fight against the oppression with violent movements. SHe shows the struggle but at the end she stops and gives the audience one last exaggerated smile.

Live piano performed by Scott Patterson made us feel like we were in an old-timey dance hall. Costumes by Carolyn Meckha Cherry evoked the period wear of the minstrelled black-face performers. The company also included Timothy Edwards, Juel D. Lane, Mora-AminaParker, Willie "the" Smith III, And Marlena Wolfe.

Mr. TOL E. RAncE. Camille A. Brown & Dancers, Schafer Theater, July 17th and 19th, 2014.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Prometheus Dance

The Bates Dance Festival began it's 32nd year by presenting Prometheus Dance, a Boston based contemporary company on Friday July 11th.

Heart of the Matter, choreographed by co-directors Diane Arvanites and Tommy Neblett is a dance that "dissects the impact of relationships over time and how we hurt each other in the name of love." Ouch! Who won't agree that this is a universal condition, but is it going to hurt to watch it unfold on stage?

Seven dancers over the course of the evening length dance did paint both cruel and tender tableau's to depict how couples and groups deal with each other. As the curtain opened, there was a video projecting images of nature with flowers, lawns, and outdoor scenes. The dancers were dressed in formal attire, evening gowns for the five women and dress suits for the two men. As a tight group they slowly turned and looked about and reached. This movement slowly turned and traveled across from one side of the stage to the other. It was very hypnotic and peaceful. Then exaggerated breath became the focal point as the group moved from deep breath to holding breath to forcibly breathing. We could see the strong relationship of the group, they moved as one unit that breathed as one organism, they were integrally connected. Then, they slowly stripped off the formal wear and the fighting began.

Frantic movement and high electronic dub step showed the dark side of knowing someone so well. A dancer throws themselves and wraps around another's waist. They fly and embrace and catch each other. They dismiss each other although they remain connected by the slightest toe touching anothers calf muscle. Or they are connected but then break the balance by sneakily pushing a leg out from under their partner. The need for each other and their touch, yet repelled by them too. Can't let go, can't leave. Know each others moves and how to support them but the connection also has to have a bite. It isn't generous, it's spiteful. Are we getting too close to home?

Dancers Kate Neal and Joe Gonzalez excelled at presenting this turmoil in a duet of neurotic and rapturous movement. The dancing was excellent and the entire company showed a fierceness as they went from ensemble work, to duets and trio partnering. The other performers where Naoko Brown, Callie Chapman Korn, Elena Greenspan, Lonnie Stanton and Dave Glista. The lightening was designed by Linda O"Brien with some very beautiful mottled images as well as haunting use of shadows. The sound design by Miguel and Adam Noya very effectively changed from quiet to drilling intensity that helped move the story along.

Prometheus Dance celebrates 25 years of dance and with Heart of the Matter they are not showing any signs of slowing down.

Bates Dance Festival, July 11 and 12, 2014, Lewiston, Maine.