20TH ANNUAL YES! DANCE FESTIVAL: Presented by K Dance
A Dance-Theater Review by Julinda D. Lewis
At: The Firehouse Theatre, 1609 West Broad Street., RVA 23220
Performances: November 30 & December 1, 2018
Ticket Prices: $25; $15 Students & RVATA Members
Info: (804) 804-355-2001 or firehousetheatre.org
This year marks the 20th anniversary of artistic director Kaye Weinstein Gary’s Yes! Dance Festival. The festival has brought 150 national and international artists to Richmond and enriched the small but resilient local dance community. This year’s program was quite remarkable for its scope and diversity, with performances by Lucky Plush Productions from Chicago, Illinois; Sandra Lacy from Maryland; Pas de Monkéy from Ohio; slowdanger (Taylor Knight and Anna Thompson) from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; Courtney D. Jones/CDJ Dance from Houston, Texas; and Carrots Carrying Water (Logan McGill and Ching Ching Wong) from Salt Lake City, Utah; as well as an offering from the host company, K Dance of Richmond, Virginia.
Pas de Monkéy proved to be a surprising departure from previous years’ guest artists and stood out from others on this year’s program as well due to the hip hop infused genre and subject matter that touched on political hot topics. “Lose It All” was the first dance on the program, following an opening video of excerpts from previous festivals. Kweku Bransah choreographed and performed the solo that held the audience spellbound with his isolations, flowing transitions, and breathtaking muscular control. Bransah pops, waves, breakdances, and glides and his movements also reflect a foundation of pantomime that carries a story of lost love.
Bransah returned in the second half of the program to perform Robin Prichard’s “The Art of Making Dances (Not About Ferguson).” Set to the music of The Whites, Nat King Cole, Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong, Sweet Honey in the Rock and the voice of a grieving mother, “The Art of Making Dances” is overflowing with negative social, political, and racial symbolism. Bransah begins the solo with a noose around his neck, one gigantic clown shoe and one bare foot, and an oversized boutonniere, dancing to the lyrics, “Keep on the sunny side of life.” He looks like a caricature of an American minstrel, a representation that was already an unflattering caricature of black people.
Freed from the noose, Bransah speaks, asking, “How can dance be meaningful when people are getting shot in the streets?” A mother’s voice grieves, a youth cries, and song lyrics urge the dancer to “smile.” This intriguing solo blends hip hop with ballet, turning the dancer upside down to perform pas de bourée while standing on his head, and leaves the audience with the question, “How do you take actions that matter?”
Another highlight of the program was “Let’s Be Honest,” performed by Logan McGill and Ching Ching Wong from the Salt Lake City-based company with the fascinating name of Carrots Carrying Water. A world premiere, the duet featured a couple dealing with and avoiding their emotions. They started in business attire, she in a pencil-skirted suit and heels (worn with socks) and he in a light-toned suit, but the stage was soon strewn with their clothes and shoes as the two engaged in a tension-filled test of wills. The way the two connected – whether touching or not – was intimate and palpable.
Not all was tense or political. Lucky Plush Productions out of Chicago presented a delightfully refreshing trio, “Cinderbox 2.0 Remix” choreographed by founder and artistic director Julia Rhoads, that reshapes parts of an evening length work based on reality culture experiences. The three dancers, Michel Rodriguez Cintra, Elizabeth Luse, and Meghann Wilkinson dance in unison, upstage one another, and take turns sitting on metal folding chairs and one another – all while sipping from a shared bottle of Fiji water. Their dialogue incorporates moments from earlier dances on the program, including the feathers from Sandra Lacy’s “Giving Up the Ghost,” and the teapot table from K Dance’s short play, “Helen Keller visits Martha Graham’s Dance Studio.”
Written by Stephan Kaplan and directed by Jacqueline Jones, “Helen Keller visits Martha Graham’s Dance Studio” is the program’s second premiere. Based on real life, the short scene introduces the audience to an intimate moment in which Helen Keller (Maggie Roop) visits the studio of her friend choreographer Martha Graham (Kaye Weinstein Gary) Kelly Kennedy fills the role of Polly Thompson, Keller’s interpreter and companion. Not only was this friendship news to me, a student of dance history, but the piece also made an impression because of a unique teapot shaped table created especially for this work by Juliet Wiebe.
The program also included Sandra Lacy’s spiral-filled and feather-finished solo, “Giving Up the Ghost,” Courtney D. Jones’ intense solo about life in solitary confinement, “Hell is a Very small Place,” and slowdanger’s sci-fi thriller, “hybrid memory | reflector,” choreographed and performed by Taylor Knight and Anna Thompson. Kudos to Kaye Weinstein Gary for an all-around excellent program and for bringing international and nationally known artists to our local stages. Among this year’s guest artists, Courtney D. Jones, Ching Ching Wong, Julia Rhoads, and slowdanger have been included on Dance Magazine’s prestigious 25 to Watch list. All are well worth watching.
Julinda D. Lewis is a dancer, teacher, and writer who was born in Brooklyn, NY and now lives in Eastern Henrico County.
Photo Credits: individual photos as labeled