ROGER B. HEARD & THE TIGHT 45: A Man with a Deadline

ROGER B. HEARD & THE TIGHT 45: Voiceover Master with a Deadline

A Theater Review by Julinda D. Lewis

At: HATTheatre, 1124 Westbriar Dr., RVA (Tuckahoe) 23238

Performances: January 11-19, 2019

Ticket Prices: $25 Adults; $20 Seniors; $15 Youth, Groups, Students & RVATA; Reservations Required – No tickets at the door

Info: (804) 343-6364 or hattheatre.org

It was interesting that two of the first shows of the new year shared a theme. On Friday night I attended 5th Wall Theatre’s production of Talk Radio at TheatreLAB the basement, then on Saturday I attended Roger B. Heard & the Tight 45, which made its world premiere on Friday. A coproduction of Free Jambalaya and HATTheatre at HATTheatre’s west end black box theater, Roger B. Heard is a three-person production written by Alex Mayberry and directed by James Nygren.

Dale Leopold plays Roger B. Heard, a veteran voiceover actor with a great talent but, unfortunately, a small bank account. The rent is due, and he has several projects to record, but his studio time has been limited. It seems a musician by the name of Dirty Metal Lefty has reserved all but 45 minutes of the available studio time. With the help of the studio operator Betty Robb, delightfully played by Emily Turner, Roger churns out one assignment after another. A perfectionist, he doesn’t have time for mistakes or retakes. Wouldn’t you know, a picky client calls in and wants him to redo a single line in a previously recorded ad – over and over and over. In a flash of brilliance, Betty Robb suggests playing back the original version. Problem solved! Betty Robb keeps things moving with her snappy comebacks and no-nonsense demeanor, adding moments of humor and balance to Roger’s feverish personality.

Roger and Betty Robb (she is always referred to by her full name) embark on an impossibly tight schedule, hoping to complete an ambitious roster of voice overs in 45 minutes: a morning motivation; Tales of Fantastica, in which Roger voices six characters and a narrator; a chair sales pitch; a multi-lingual bait shop phone menu, in which one of the languages was a pseudo hillbilly dialect; a congressional campaign ad that seemed guaranteed not to get the candidate elected; the reading of a chapter of a celebrity memoire; a monster bass fishing tournament; TV dubs for an action movie; the voices and sound effects for a game called Dojo Crusader; and a tribute to a religious leader performed in English and Swahili. Listening to Leopold transition from voice to voice, character to character is both amusing and anxiety inducing. We know he’s on a deadline, and Betty Robb keeps us aware of the time.

The only other character is Dirty Metal Lefty, aka Doc Thomas, a musician and songwriter who fills the pre-show space and a final scene with Roger B.  Dirty Metal Lefty is billed as a Richmond musician, so that leaves unanswered the question of her British accent. And I guess I was the only one who was a little slow and didn’t realize that Dirty Metal Lefty played a left-handed guitar until she asked that Roger be given a right-handed one to join her in a song.

There is even some audience participation. For instance, I found myself assigned as a last-minute “intern” assigned to play the tambourine for Dirty Metal Lefty, and a couple sitting behind me had been assigned to participate in a call and response. Due to the threat of severe weather, there were only about 10-12 people in Saturday’s audience, and the Sunday performance was cancelled, but there are two more opportunities to see this show on January 18 and 19 at 8:00 PM.

This is one of the quirkiest shows ever, it runs under an hour with no intermission and the only pretense at a plot is Roger’s deadline. And, if he’s so good, why is he so broke?

 

Julinda D. Lewis is a dancer, teacher, and writer who was born in Brooklyn, NY and now lives in Eastern Henrico County.

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Photo Credits: photos uncredited at the time of publication

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Dale Leopold
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Dirty Metal Lefty (Doc Thomas), Dale Leopold, and Emmy Turner

THE LARAMIE PROJECT: A Community of Caring

THE LARAMIE PROJECT: The Magnitude of Hate

A Theater Review by Julinda D. Lewis                                                                     

Richmond Triangle Players                                                                                              

At: The Robert B Moss Theatre, 1300 Altamont Avenue, RVA 23230

Performances: September 26 – October 19, 2018

Ticket Prices: $10-35

Info: (804) 346-8113 or rtriangle.org

Created by Moisés Kaufman and members of the Tectonic Theater Project, The Laramie Project is based on the true events surrounding the 1998 beating and death of Matthew Shepard, a gay man, while he was a student at the University of Wyoming. The words of the play are the words of the people of Laramie, gathered by the authors over a series of interviews. Real people. Real issues. Real tears.

The beauty of the script lies in its unadorned simplicity. Eight actors portray about sixty different characters as they examine the story from the perspectives of the people of Laramie, students and faculty at the university, the media, and the personal experiences of the members of the Tectonic Theater Project.

Running nearly three hours with two intermissions, director Lucian Restivo has maintained a moderate pace that allows the characters to come across as authentic and feels almost like real time.  Multiple perspectives are presented, friend, foe, and undecided. From incident to trial, some points of view shift as people examine themselves and some are surprised at what they find inside.

The Laramie Project is set in a rustic space of wooden walls and shelves with a few chairs on multiple levels designed by Restivo, who also designed the sound, and with lighting by Michael Jarett that sometimes resembles sepia-toned photographs. The physical tone almost makes this play feel as if it is dragging the viewer back in time into the wild, wild west, although the events took place only twenty years ago. The more striking and unfortunate thing is that this sort of hate crime could have been stripped directly from the latest breaking news.

The excellent cast consists of Rachel Dilliplane, Annella Kaine, Amber Marie Martinez, Cole Metz, Jacqueline O’Connor, Stevie Rice, Adam Turck, and Scott Wichmann.  It would be difficult and unfair to speak of specific characters, as at any given time each of these versatile actors switches from one role to another, changing voice, accent, stance, and perhaps a shirt or hat. Scott Wichmann is often placed in the role of narrator, as project leader Kaufman, and some much needed humor is provided by O’Connor as a spunky citizen and Rice as an outrageous limousine driver.

The Laramie Project is difficult to watch because it is so real and because people involved in the incident are still alive. No details of the attack on Matthew Shepard are spared as the doctor and judge provide blow by blow details of the attack and its effects, leading to coma and eventually death. There is a section of documentary footage, and there are the incomprehensible protests by the Rev. Fred Phelps and his Westboro Baptist Church, whose members are known to show up to protest at the funerals of gay people. We get to hear the words of the two assailants, Aaron McKinney and Russel Henderson, as they are sentenced after their separate trials. Their images surround the audience in 43” x 43” oil pastel portraits by artist Michael Pierce.

The Laramie Project is an all-encompassing theatrical experience that requires a huge team effort. There are actors, a team of writers, a large creative team, community partnerships, and the Matthew Shepard Foundation, which is dedicated to human rights advocacy. It’s hard to tell where the play stops and real life begins. But the tears. . .the tears are all real.

 

Julinda D. Lewis is a dancer, teacher, and writer who was born in Brooklyn, NY and now lives in Eastern Henrico County.

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Photo Credits: John MacLellan

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Richmond Triangle Players’ production of “The Laramie Project” runs through October 19 at RTP’s Robert B. Moss Theatre, 1300 Altamont Ave, Richmond, VA
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Scott Wichmann in just one of the many characters he inhabits in Richmond Triangle Players’ production of “The Laramie Project”
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Richmond Triangle Players’ production of “The Laramie Project” runs through October 19 at RTP’s Robert B. Moss Theatre, 1300 Altamont Ave, Richmond, VA
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Annella Kaine (center in just one of the many characters she inhabits (along with Cole Metz, Stevie Rice and Amber Marie Martinez) in Richmond Triangle Players’ production of “The Laramie Project”

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THE WOLVES: Game On

THE WOLVES: Girls with Goals

A Theater Review by Julinda D. Lewis

By: Cadence Theatre Company in partnership with TheatreVCU

At: Raymond Hodges Theatre at the W.E. Singleton Performing Arts Center, 922 Park Avenue, RVA 23220

Performances: September 27 – October 7, 2018

Ticket Prices: $5.00 – $19.99

Info: (804) 828-6026 or VCUtheatre.showclix.com

An unexpected collaboration of Cadence Theatre Company and TheatreVCU + an unusual play about teen-aged girls by Sarah DeLappe = an intriguing production of sometimes intense situations that portray the multiple dimensions of young women on their way to adulthood.

Running about 90 minutes without intermission, each scene in The Wolves shows the nine-member female high-school indoor soccer team preparing for their weekly game. The Wolves, by the way, is the name of the team. Initially they talk over one another, with multiple conversations occurring at once.  School work, boyfriends, the weekend, and menstruation are popular topics. US immigration policies are discussed in depth (the play premiered in 2016), as well as a lengthy dialogue on Cambodia and genocide. In addition to the usual teen-aged squabbles, there are accidents and injuries, hints of eating disorder and a possible same-sex relationship, and genuine, life-altering tragedy. We get to meet the girls as they warm up and prepare to meet their weekly opponents.

The author, interestingly, has chosen to identify the girls by their jersey numbers, rather than by name, although they do address one another by name. #25, Havy Nguyen, is the team captain but she might as well be the coach. #25 leads the warm-ups and they require genuine dedication to the running, jumping jacks, high knees, butt kicks, ball passing, and more. We learn, in bits and pieces, that the unseen coach apparently has a drinking problem, and at any rate, he is not nearly as popular as a previous coach who left to care for his ailing mother. I immediately wondered why Nguyen was wearing an ugly wig but the answer to that is revealed in the closing scenes.

#7, Jocelyn Honoré, is the team’s leading striker, but she has anger problems and a tendency to make poor decisions in life. #13, Anna Katogiritis, is the team clown, but has a bit of a mean streak and her humor always turns sarcastic.  #46, Emma Olson, is the new girl; home-schooled and well-traveled, she lives in a yurt with her mother, and struggles to fit in. The team goalkeeper, #00, Amari Cummings, is something of a prodigy: she plays the saxophone, chairs several academic teams, and has an astronomically high GPA. She also refuses to talk and has to throw up before every game.

Other team members include Katy Feldhahn (#14), Lydia Hynes (#8), Katelyn Shinn (#11), and Celeste Taica (#2). There are friendships and cliques and gossiping, but as the season passes, the girls become closer, and the audience begins to learn their personalities and quirks. Much like a Peanuts comic strip, the adults are largely unseen and unheard, with the exception of the Soccer Mom (Karen Kopryanski) who appears in the final scene, heart-rending scene. The girls are all TheatreVCU students, and Kopryanski is an assistant professor.

The Wolves is directed by Sharon Ott, Chair of the Department of Theatre at VCU with great energy and stimulating pacing that varies from frenzied action to well-placed silence. All the action takes place in an AstroTurf covered indoor arena; the floor curves upward into the ceiling. There are suggestions of actions taking place offstage, and one kick sends a soccer ball flying into the audience where it was bandied about for a bit before being returned to the playing field (as we were directed to do at the start of the show). Credit Dasia Gregg with the scenic design, Theo Dubois with the costumes, Christian DeAngelis with the lighting and Nicholas Seaver with the sound. In topic and tone, The Wolves strives to – and largely succeeds – in standing out from the pack.

NOTE1: I sat on the right side in the front row, and had no problem hearing everything, but a friend who sat in a middle row in the middle section said the sound quality was problematic.

NOTE2: A smile to #4 and #9; the stagehands who came out in uniform to set a scene!

 

Julinda D. Lewis is a dancer, teacher, and writer who was born in Brooklyn, NY and now lives in Eastern Henrico County.

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Photo Credits: Aaron Sutten

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DARK SIDE OF THE MOON: 2018 Dogtown Presenter’s Series

DOGTOWN PRESENTER’S SERIES: Dark Side of the Moon

A Dance Review by Julinda D. Lewis

At: Dogtown Dance Theatre, 109 W. 15th Street, RVA 23224

Performances: September 21-29, Fridays & Saturdays at 7:00PM & Saturdays at 3:30PM

Ticket Prices: $20 General; $15 Students/Children

Info: (804) 230-8780, dogtowndancetheatre.com or https://darkside.brownpapertickets.com/

 

Dark Side of the Moon is Jess Burgess’ most ambitious project to date. Some eighteen years in the making, from inspiration to manifestation, this 40-minute long evening-length work is a celebration of movement in collaboration with Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon album, released in 1973 (the year I graduated from high school and started college). Dark Side of the Moon – the album – explores themes of conflict, greed, time, even mental illness. For choreographer Burgess, Dark Side of the Moon is about “philosophical and physical ideas that can lead to an unsatisfied life, and ultimately to a person’s insanity.” For me – a product of the inner city and modern dance classes, who had no experience with Pink Floyd – Dark Side of the Moon, the collaborative dance work, is a satisfying amalgamation of movement wed to music that appeals equally to lovers of music and contemporary dance.

The ten sections flow seamlessly and are named for tracks on the album, which was presented as a continuous piece of music with five tracks on each side. Performed by Burgess’ RVA Dance Collective in collaboration with Dogwood Dance Project, and RADAR, the 23 dancers move through a surrealistic environment with wooden boxes and columns on either side of the stage and two large constructions dominating the upstage corners. On one side is a large drum-shaped moon that is sometimes occupied by a dancer walking or running like a hamster in a wheel, and on the other is an impossibly tall slide that dancers use for entrances. The dancer-friendly décor was created according to Burgess’ mental image and executed by artist Mike Keeling.

The movements are often simple: a line of dancers move in unison or canon, occasionally interrupted by bodies unexpectedly popping up or dropping down like figures in a game of whack-a-mole; boxes are rolled out with dancers posed inside or perched on top. At other times an aimless walk turns into a scattered, wild run, with one or more dancers attempting to scale the giant slide or leaping into the arms of a partner. Even when at its most simple, the movement is layered – much like the music – as some dancers wait or watch while others interact, or a line of dancers moves in unison as a small group of five or so create more complex patterns in space by rolling, tumbling, twirling with arms uplifted like whirling dervishes or spinning with a partner like children pretending to be a pinwheel.

Sometimes one isn’t quite sure where to look as the movement lines draw the eye across the stage. Who’s in the box? Who’s coming down the slide? What are they going to do next? The music, the movement, and the visual set and ethereal lighting – often from the side – are complemented by costumes that start off mostly in soft, earthy tones and flowing fabrics but gradually morph into black and gray athletic wear.  From soulful to jazzed up instrumentals to cash registers ringing and synthesizers, the music suggests concepts that are reflected in the movement. The three dance companies were so well integrated that even though the program specified which company or companies were performing it was never obvious that this was not one unified group. I am sure my experience as someone new to Pink Floyd was very different from that of someone who knew the music, who grew up with the music, but this work was so well integrated that it could be experienced in multiple ways – and I am convinced that seeing it a second time will result in an entirely new and equally valid experience.

Dark Side of the Moon is a beautifully conceived and executed work of art that fulfills a need in the Richmond dance scene.

 

Julinda D. Lewis is a dancer, teacher, and writer who was born in Brooklyn, NY and now lives in Eastern Henrico County.

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Photo Credits: Dave Parrish Photography

VICTOR, THE TRUE SPIRIT OF LOVE: Love, Light, and Faith; the Healing Power of Dance

The Latin Ballet of Virginia: VICTOR, THE TRUE SPIRIT OF LOVE

A Dance Review by Julinda D. Lewis

At: The Grace Street Theater, 934 West Grace Street, RVA 23220

Performance: September 7-9, at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Sept. 7, 4 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 8, and 4 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 9.

Ticket Prices: $10-$20

Info: (804) 828-2020 or http://www.latinballet.com

I’ve seen many performances by the Latin Ballet of Virginia (LBV) over the years. Some have been fiction, some fantasy, and others, like, Victor: the True Spirit of Love, are based on fact. But this one was different. This one touched my heart and had me weeping unashamedly in my seat.

Unlike many LBV programs, this one did not have elaborate scenery, although there were larger-than-life projections of photographs from Victor Torres’ life, scenes from the documentary about his life, and background photos of buildings and cars and alleyways representing Brooklyn, NY in the 1960s. These projections were often so well integrated into the live performance that they became part of the choreography.

Rather than a range of choreography representing the Latino music and dance, heritage, and history, there were poignant selections ranging from R&B to Mambo to Christian songs and instrumental music. Some were upbeat, but all seemed carefully chosen to help carry the emotion and narrative of the story, using movement and music and very few words – so when words are used they have the utmost impact.

Victor tells the story of Victor Torres, a former gang member and drug addict and current pastor of the New Life for Youth Ministries and New Life Outreach Church, right here in Richmond, VA. But more than that, Victor is a story of redemption, of hope, of people helping people. It is a story of victory. It is about finding God, but it is not about religion. It is about faith, but it does not preach. It is about the power of a mother’s love.

It’s not so much the choreography, which is sometimes powerful but mostly quite simple. It is not so much the dancers’ technique, which is sometimes quite stunning, but sometimes uneven – involving, as it always does, both professional and pre-professional dancers and children. But the collaboration of all the elements, culminating in the surprising appearance of three graduates of Pastor Torres’ program as their recorded images and voices give testimony of their dark past and hopeful present – and shines light on their future. This is dance with a purpose that is more than just entertainment. It tells a story. It offers the possibility of healing.

Pastor Torres came onstage after Saturday evening’s performance to take questions, and to offer congratulations to the performers. Roberto Whitaker danced the role of the young Torres – bringing the man himself to tears, by his own admission. Whitaker, who I have watched grow from a promising young hip hop dancer to a versatile professional, led the company, appearing in nearly all of the twelve scenes, from a hip hop and capoeira infused fight (“The Roman Lords”) to a 1960s style jitterbug (“Rock & Roll with My Mama”) to acted and pantomimed scenes of overdosing and recovery and a lyrical dance duet of faith with his savior. Artistic director Ana Ines King danced the role of Victor’s mother, Layla, and with her usual enthusiasm moved from mambo (“It is Mambo Time!”) through ballet, modern, and lyrical (“The Power of Mother’s Love” and “La Esperanza/Our Only Hope”), with an extra dose of drama (going into her prayer closet, and running to the rooftop to save her beloved son from being tossed off by gang members).

Teri Buschman and Marisol Cristina Betancourt Sotolongo made beautiful angels, while DeShon Rollins wore white as the spirit of hope and the saving grace of love. The scenes featuring four of the company’s men were powerful and beautiful, whether they were fighting or creating a smoke-filled, surrealistic scene of drug-fueled gang activity. This production would be a valuable contribution to the programs of churches, community centers, and youth agencies. I’ll just close with the words of the final selection, “Si Dios ama a un rebelde como yo, todo es possible/if God can love a rebel like me, anything is possible.”

Julinda D. Lewis is a dancer, teacher, and writer who was born in Brooklyn, NY and now lives in Eastern Henrico County.

Photo Credit: Jay Paul

Video Link: Victor, motion picture, official trailer: https://youtu.be/m9ub4w-DJVg

Video Link: One More Life, the Victor Torres Story, full documentary: https://youtu.be/i2UlLWJQFZY

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RICHMOND DANCE FESTIVAL 2018, Week Two: A Little Night Dancing

RICHMOND DANCE FESTIVAL 2018: Week Two, in Which Imagined Deities Shift the Permeating Presence of the Fantastic Plums of Paw Creek

A Dance Review by Julinda D. Lewis

At: Dogtown Dance Theatre, 109 W. 15th Street, RVA 23224

Performances: April 27-28, May 4-5 & May 11-12 @ 7PM + Next Generation May 5 @ 2:30PM

Ticket Prices: $15 General; $10 Students/Children

Info: (804) 230-8780, dogtowndancetheatre.com or https://rdf18.brownpapertickets.com/

Oh my – I was completely blown away by Week Two of Richmond Dance Festival 2018. Eight works: five live dance performances and three dance films and each and every one of them was engaging and compelling. Normally, I would not talk in detail about each work on a lengthy program, but each of these dances and films is deserving of its own mention.

The program opened with Permeating Presence, a quartet by Maryland-based LucidBeings Dance choreographed by Franki Graham and Jeanna Riscigno. The movement comes from the inside out, and is affected by gravitational pull, variable balances, and other outside forces. The words that come to mind in describing this dance are organic and organism. There is a fascinating juxtaposition of nature and science fiction, which provided a natural segue into British filmmaker Barney Cokeliss’ short film, Night Dancing. This mysterious and intriguing dance film has a narrative involving a man who is haunted by the bitter sweet memory of a dancer, a lost love who may or may not be real.

Adventure of Fantastic Plum, choreographed and performed by Ching-I Ching Bigelow and Marsell Chavarria of Nina Simone’ – an embryonic “dance practice project” that embraces improvisation and “people/environment watching.” The pair initially caught our attention with their elaborate preparation; they created a stage-covering pathway of crinkly tarp that wound around the edges of the floor, ending in the center with a colorful pile of clothes or fabric. Bigelow and Chavarria travelled this path, sometimes struggling, sometimes helping one another. Along the way, they danced a bit of salsa and some West African dance steps, and at one point simultaneously balanced on one leg with the other suspended in an impossible position for an insane amount of time. Their journey ended n the center with a rather violent tussle, ending in a sea of calmness. The original score included narrative about “patterns of love in people of the diaspora” and the “loss of home place.” It reminded me of earlier ancestor-conscious works by LaWanda Raines, Kevin LaMarr Jones/Claves Unidos, and Annielille Gavino-Kollman/Malayaworks and seemed to share DNA with the work of Alicia Diaz, seen in the second half of this program.

The first half of the program closed with Francesco Belligerante’s short film, Sifting, filmed in China at several beautifully diverse locations, including a mountain museum and a dam. Beginning with the dancers running through stone or cement corridors, up ramps and up long flights of stairs, the scene suddenly changes to mountains and water, and the dancers slow down, arms wide, heads back, reminding us to take the time to connect with nature and enjoy the moment.

The second half of the program began with Richmond-based choreographer Alicia Diaz/Agua Dulce Dance Theatre’s Portrait of an Imagined Deity. The dancers and Diaz painted a large mandala on the floor with colored sand – a combination of male and female symbols, the peace symbol, and perhaps other images as well. Shoulders back, hips forward, buttocks up, the trio of dancers, all dressed in white, performed a series of vaguely tribal, universally familiar rituals to percussive music, ending with the sound of crashing waves. The deity may have been imagined, but the humanity was real.

North Carolina-based Eric Mullis initially reminded me of a dance minister I had met and worked with at a conference in Dallas, so it should have come as no surprise when his solo, Paw Creek, turned out to be a powerful display of sometimes fractured movement performed to an original score featuring an audio sampling of a charismatic Pentecostal minister.

Curing Albrecht, the third and final film, turned out to be an amusing turn by the English National Ballet. In this beautifully produced short, filmed in the Victoria Baths, a man checks himself into an institution, seeking a cure for his dancing addiction. [See the video here: https://youtu.be/pQYP96phKKE]

Finally, there was /Shift/, choreographed by Jeanne Mam-Luft and Susan Honer  of Mamluft&Co. Dance (in collaboration with the original performers, Rubio and Hannah Williamson). Tense and confrontational, dancers tentatively approach one another from opposite sides of the stage with extended, open hands – only to turn away, to jump as if singed by a hot wire, or to poke at one another with curiosity. At the end, as in life, nothing is resolved, and we are left with the hollow resounding words: “You are not machines; you are not cattle; you are men!”

I am not saying this program was perfect, just that I have nothing to complain about. This program will be performed again on Saturday night, May 5. On Saturday afternoon, the RDF Next Generation youth dancers will perform. The third and final weekend, May 11-12, will feature an all new program of choreographic works by RVA Dance Collective, Turning Key Dance, RADAR, Luisa Innisfree Martinez, KARAR Dance Company, and Megan Ross. There will also be films by Lulo Rivero (flamenco), Nick Zoulek, and Dylan Wilbur.

Julinda D. Lewis is a dancer, teacher, and writer who was born in Brooklyn, NY and now lives in Eastern Henrico County.

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Photo Credits: Richmond Dance Festival production photos by Kate Prunkl

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Mamluft and Company
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LucidBeings Dance
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Eric Mullis
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Marsell Chavarria and Ching-I Ching Bigelow of Nina Simone’
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Christina Carlotti-Kolb, Christine Wyatt, and Marsell Chavarria with Agua Dulce Dance Theater

RICHMOND DANCE FESTIVAL 2018 @ DOGTOWN: Spring Has Sprung Diversity

RICHMOND DANCE FESTIVAL 2018: Bringing the World of Dance to Richmond – Week 1

A Dance Review by Julinda D. Lewis

At: Dogtown Dance Theatre, 109 W. 15th Street, RVA 23224

Performances: April 27-28, May 4-5 & May 11-12 @ 7PM + Next Generation May 5 @ 2:30PM

Ticket Prices: $15 General; $10 Students/Children

Info: (804) 230-8780, dogtowndancetheatre.com or https://rdf18.brownpapertickets.com/

 

The 5t Anniversary of the Richmond Dance Festival opened Friday, April 27 with a jam-packed program of diverse works. There was truly something for everyone (well, nearly everyone, if you’re that picky).

With ten works on the program – and three of those short films – it’s easy to get a sense of dance overload; shortly after leaving the theater, you can’t remember which dance was which! Phone numbers are seven digits because science has shown that the average human can accurately retain about seven chunks of information – and sometimes seven dances is pushing it! But, as usual, I digress.

Artistic and Executive Director Jess Burgess believes this years selection of eighteen choreographers and nine dance filmmakers is “an excellent representation of Dogtown’s vision to support all dance and movement artists spanning a vast variety of dance forms and backgrounds.” The first week’s program included local dancer and choreographers as well as artists who hail from as far away as Canada and even South Africa.

Four works particularly stood out for me. First, and possibly the most unusual of all, was Shane O’Hara’s True Confessions: My Boyfriend Mic. This is a fantastic ollaboration of stand up comedy, dance, music, spoken word, and experimental theatre – and it works! Dancer Sarah McCullough initially startles the audience by walking head first into a standing mic. As if to make sure we knew that was intentional, she did it again! McCullough proceeds to tell a somewhat fractured narrative from which we glean that her boyfriend is names “Mic” and he’s tall and skinny.  She dances with and without her “boyfriend,” sometimes using spoken word, sometimes dancing to music. She employs Broadway style jazz, acrobatics, and explosive movements of no predetermined genre.  At one point she dons a football helmet and later places black tape over her eyes and grabs a cheerleader-style megaphone or bullhorn.

True Confessions is bold and shocking and hilarious – a perfect way to end the first act. Choreographer Shane O’Hara, a Professor of Dance at James Madison University, is no stranger to the Richmond dance community and Dogtown Dance Theatre. Developed in collaboration with his daring soloist, O’Hara fashioned a dance theater work about “a lone female warrior. . .fighting passionately. . .to protect her heart.” Yep. That. And then some!

The second part of the program opened with Stewart Owen Dance’s duet, After Party, choreographed by founding partner Vanessa Owen, and performed by Owen and partner Gavin Stewart.  The Asheville, North Carolina-based company “aims to engage communities and maintain an environmentally conscious approach to art and performance,” but After Party is a sweet and amusing dance that contrasts elegant lines and poses and purely pedestrian transitions and humorous asides. My favorite? When Owen reaches into her lovely blue ball gown, removes the socks that have been padding her bosom and pull a pair onto her slim bare feet!

After Party is apparently a remake of a solo version, but I thoroughly enjoyed the inclusion of Owen’s bow-tied partner.  We don’t know whether the part of the title was a wedding, a ballroom dance, a banquet, or what, but it was apparently successful, and has left these two feeling tired, mellow, and in the mood to reminisce a bit for calling it a night.

I was also highly intrigued by S.J. Van Breda’s short film, Grey. Performed by Kioma Pyke and Kevin Navia who, between the two of them, attempt to singlehandedly cover multiple bases on the diversity front. Grey is about diversity, equality, race, and gender. The film depicts bold, strong images, mostly in shades of gray. Pyke, who appears to be, for lack of a better term, mixed-raced woman of color, begins with her skin and hair colored white, or pale gray. She dips hers hands into a bucket of chocolate-colored liquid and allows it to coat her skin. Her partner, Navia, who appears to be Asian and/or Latino and/or Native American, similarly explores the opposing end of the color spectrum.

Finally, I thoroughly enjoyed Subjective Dance Company’s OHMY! Adventures: Meet Queen Jeia. Performed by the SDAnimals crew, the five male dancers under the direction of Choreographer and Coach Greg Whitlock performed a high-energy, high-impact work that combined classis and contemporary hip hip with contemporary and jazz and other movement genres. The adventure is initiated or controlled, apparently, by a “battle box” and the competition-style movements include the sort of group unison and canon that we have grown familiar with from the televised dance competitions. Onstage, live, however, it is so much more fun! I was not quite clear on the mission to recover the missing dancer – where was he? How did the get him back? – but group Subjective Dance Company, also known as Subjective Dance Crew, is well on their way to fulfilling its mission to bridge the gap between stage and street dancing.

The July 27-28 program also included works by choreographers Taylor Black and Brianna Rivera; Jennifer Klotz of Stavna Ballet; films by Elian Djemil (The Flow), and Simone Wierød (Solus); a duet by Carolyn Hoehner and Emily Karasinski of DC-based Klynveldt&Peat; and a duet by Ilana Puglia of the Dogwood Dance Project. This program may be see once more, on Saturday, April 28, at 8PM.

Next weeks’ line-up: Lucid Beings Dance from Maryland/Northern Virginia; a short film by Barney Cokeliss; a dance by Nina Simone’, the love child of dance twins Ching-I Change Bigelow and Marsell Chavarria (a faculty member and student, respectively, from VCU Dance); a short film by Francesco Belligerante; Alicia Diaz’ Portrait of an Imagined Deity for her local group Agua Dulce Dance Theater; a solo by North Caroline-based artist Eric Mullis; a short film by Jessica Wright/The National English Ballet; and a collaborative work by Mamluft&Co Dance.

 

Julinda D. Lewis is a dancer, teacher, and writer who was born in Brooklyn, NY and now lives in Eastern Henrico County.

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Photo Credits: Richmond Dance Festival production photos by Kate Prunkl; images of Grey from the director’s website.

 

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ONE IN FOUR: Nu Puppis’ Out of This World Comedy

ONE IN FOUR: An Out of This World Comedy

A Theater Review by Julinda D. Lewis

A Nu Puppis Production

At: The Firehouse Theatre, 1609 W. Broad Street, RVA 23220

Performances: April 20-28, 2018. Previewed on April 20; just two shows left at the time of this posting: April 27 & 28 @ 7:30!

Ticket Prices: $15 general/employed humans; $7 students & all others

Info: (804) 355-2001 or info@firehousetheatre.org

 

I left The Firehouse Theatre with a silly grin on my face and a question on my lips: what just happened here? Levi Meerovich’s madcap comedy, One in Four is ostensibly about four roommates who happen to all be aliens on assignment to Planet Earth. Unknown to each other, quite by chance they all end up living in the same apartment. (The experimental theater producing company, Nu Puppis, takes its name from a blue-hued star, although I have heard some pronounce the name as if it refers to infant canines.)

With its life-sized cutout of Robin Williams (in homage to Mork & Mindy, 1978-1982), a morphing portrait of Danny DeVito (Taxi, 1978-1983) on the rear wall, and numerous references to Seinfeld (1989-1998), the play, which runs just under an hour, with no intermission, is a wacky, unpretentious experiment that relies entirely on interesting writing and good acting skills. Remarkably, it seems that Meerovich was only 19 years old when he (recently) wrote One in Four; if so, he could only have seen these sitcoms and sit-com stars on reruns. The production is deftly directed by Connor Scully and Mahlon Raoufi.

Dixon Caswell is the ostensible lead, Sid. It is, after all, Sid’s Portland, Oregon apartment that is the setting. Cashwell, a founding member of this theater group, has turned himself in a spastic, nerdy alien type who walks with a round shoulder, slack-armed gait and startles easily. Sid is given to spurts of f-bombs and follows his outbursts of temper with profuse apologies. He wears his Hawaiian shirt tucked in.

The first roommate to arrive is Lou, played by Matt Riley with a black wig that looks like a mullet turned backwards. Lou is very sensitive, and pretends to be from Louisiana, because it’s easy to remember. Next up is Carrie, a free spirit played by Jess Rawls. Last to arrive is Lucy, a tightly-wound character who carries a guitar she quite obviously cannot play, along with a shopping bag of raw steak that is not meant to be eaten. Lucy is played by Rachel Hindman. Each roommate must wait to be let in because the unlocked door keeps locking – one of several running jokes in a play that is all about the jokes.

Another is that each time one of the four inadvertently mentions the word “alien” the lights dim – one of the few lighting cues needed or noted. There’s not much in the way of a set either, just an odd collection of objects one might find in a thrift store or at the curb: a single school desk with a lady’s vanity chair, a round table with a globe, an uncomfortable-looking armchair, and a torso suspended from the ceiling that oddly enough has lights emanating from the leg openings.

There may or may not be anything important or deep or subversive about this play, and there doesn’t have to be. It’s funny. It’s hilarious. It makes you laugh. That’s all it needs to be. As Sid says, “If you give somebody a boat, they’re gonna row, even if they don’t know how.”

 

Julinda D. Lewis is a dancer, teacher, and writer who was born in Brooklyn, NY and now lives in Eastern Henrico County.

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Photo Credits: Bill Sigafoos

 

One in Four-3
Matt Riley and Rachel Hindman

One in Four-2

One in Four-4
Matt Riley and Dixon Cashwell

RIVER DITTY: A Contemporary Folktale of Generational Violence and Bigotry

RIVER DITTY: An American Folktale of Generational Violence and Bigotry – A World Premiere by VirginiaRep

A Theater Review by Julinda D. Lewis

At: The November Theatre Marjorie Arenstein Stage, 114 W Broad St, Richmond, VA 23220

Performances: April 20-May 6, 2018

Ticket Prices: $30-50*

Info: (804) 282-2620 or www.virginiarep.org

It starts on a train and it soon becomes apparent that none of the riders have paid their fare. It’s 1892, in an America that has been romanticized by Mark Twain as the Gilded Age, and two of the main characters are en route from New Orleans to Baltimore, with a life-changing detour in a cabin in Arkansas where they have a scenic view of a river that borders Tennessee.

Subtitled, An American Folktale, Matthew Mooney Keuter’s River Ditty has the allegorical look and rustic feel of a traditional folktale, but like the historical Gilded Age – that period of American history between the 1870s to about 1900 – all that glitters is not gold, and the ugliness and corruption run deep. There are visual hints in Craig Napoliello’s jagged set of diagonally patterned flats that break apart almost as if they are bleeding their characters out onto the stage – and there is blood aplenty. A little wooden cabin provides a haven of warmth and comfort and the unseen river – which would be where the audience is seated – provides the only certain peace.

River Ditty opened with a lot of fanfare and promise. Several years in the making, it made its world premiere here in RVA with Virginia Rep’s Artistic Director Nathaniel Shaw as director, produced in collaboration with the London-based Glass Half Full Productions, support from the Muriel McAuley Fund for New Plays and Contemporary Theater, and a powerhouse cast, including Katrinah Carol Lewis, Matt Polson, Alexander Sapp, and Scott Wichmann. Director Nathaniel Shaw and author Matthew Mooney Keuter are siblings who worked closely on the concept and execution of River Ditty. But somewhere between concept and execution, someone forgot to clear up the confusion, and maybe it was just me, but there seemed to be plenty of it.

If I had not seen or heard a pre-show promo video and podcast, it would have taken me an inordinate amount of time to figure out that the loving interracial couple, Sunshine (Katrinah Carol Lewis) and Arlo (Matt Polson) are brother and sister and not lovers. And that Lily (Wendy Carter) is Atticus Dye’s (Bostin Christopher) baby mama, and apparently the sometime madam of his “gentlemen’s establishment,” but is she also his wife? And if so, why is he planning to go after Sunshine, and whose runaway bride exactly is she? Oh, and why, because I seemed to have missed it, did Atticus Dye (who seems to be the only character who has a last name) kill his own brother, whose wife was Sunshine’s mother? But wait, wouldn’t that make Sunshine and Arlo cousins rather than siblings? None of these questions was ever really answered for me.

If you are fine with a little confusion and ambiguity, there is plenty else to like, admire, or be challenged by. River Ditty is emotionally heart-wrenching and filled with human and historical insights. The rangy Jonathan Brent Burgard delivers an awesome performance as Harlan. His monosyllabic grunts become a running joke; his awkward posture and obvious lack of social experience become endearing; and his human insight and unwavering loyalty are the stuff of which legends – and folktales – are made. Harlan’s friend Owen (Alexander Sapp) is simultaneously a comic rube and a sensitive, insightful artist. Scott Wichmann is almost unrecognizable as Harlan’s train robbing father, Toe. (The reason for the moniker is one of the best running jokes of many.) Wichmann also revealed another little-known talent – the train version of sea-legs; he has mastered the swaying motion of a moving train while standing on a flat stage. And then there is Arlo – innocent and oblivious, and in need of protection from his sister, even as he shelters her. Arlo is a dreamer and writer of children’ stories, because, as Frederick Douglass, whom he is fond of quoting, would say, “It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.” There are a lot of broken people in this play. There’s also racism, misogyny, and homophobia – the latter unspoken but unmistakable. There’s even a discussion about guns and why we need them and make them which seems particularly contemporary and relevant.

But even as we begin to understand the characters’ motivations, the nature of their relationships remains unclear and since this was central to the play, this was a problem for me. Sue Griffin’s turn of the century costumes were accurately detailed, as usual. B.J. Wilkinson’s lighting and Derek Dumais’ sound designs were subtly complementary, and recorded music by Red Tail Ring (vocals, banjo, mandolin, guitar, fiddle) had some audience members bouncing and swaying down the aisle on the way to their seats.

A lot of time, attention, and detail went into A River Ditty, and I was disappointed that I was underwhelmed by the total effect.  In all fairness, the show one sees on opening night often bears little resemblance to the show one sees later in the run, but to paraphrase Arlo, you can’t just unmake it.

 

* Expanded Ticket Information:

Box Office 804-282-2620

http://www.virginiarep.org

Full Price Tickets: $30 – $50

Discounted Group Rates and Rush tickets available.

U-Tix for college and high school students $15. Available by phone or in person, day of show only. Valid Student ID required.

** Performance Schedule:

Evening performances at 7:00 p.m. on select Wednesdays and every Thursday

Evening performances at 8:00 p.m. every Friday and Saturday

Matinee performances at 2:00 p.m. on select Wednesdays and Saturdays and every Sunday

 

Julinda D. Lewis is a dancer, teacher, and writer who was born in Brooklyn, NY and now lives in Eastern Henrico County.

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Photo Credits: Jason Collins Photography

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IMPETUS: A Collaboration of Dance and Art

RADAR Dance:  Impetus

A Dance Review by Julinda D. Lewis

At: Dogtown Dance Theatre, 109 W. 15th Street, RVA 23223

Performances: March 24-25, 2018

Ticket Prices: $15 Adults; $10 Students

Info: radardance.com or radardance@gmail.com

Using the work of visual artists as inspiration, Richmond-based dance company RADAR presented Impetus, a spring concert of diverse works by choreographers Pam Gamlin, Laura Gorsuch, Elliott Hartz, Carli Mareneck, Kendall Neely, and Katherine Saffelle, [If this sounds vaguely familiar, another local choreographer, Starr Foster, recently presented an evening of works in collaboration with a series of photographs. For my review of Spitting Image, see RVArt Review, 01132018.]

The works on the Impetus program ranged from the whimsical to the intimate to the humorous. I became thoroughly immersed in the multi-layered Passages: Arising, Form, Transit, the program’s first offering, by Carli Mareneck, inspired by multiple paintings of various artists including O’Keefe and Van Gogh.  The first part struck me for it unity, rather than unison, as seven women moved together as an organic unit. Oddly enough, it was not until the second section, a quartet for four women with chairs, that I became aware of the music – a soulful composition by Canadian-born cellist and composer Zoë Keating. The third section, aptly titled “Transit,” if I can take the program at face value, is what I called the running section, in which the seven women were joined by a shirtless man.  The work builds naturally in layers to a very satisfying place that is more of a transition than a terminal conclusion.

One young audience member, 3 ½ year old Rowan, was quite concerned that dancer Elliott Hartz, his uncle, was shirtless.  As audience members go, he was very observant, and comported himself rather well given his age.

The impetus for Katherine Saffelle’s work, Her Muddled Mind, was Etam Cru’s mural Moonshine, part of the Richmond Mural Project. The painting shows a woman bathing in a jar filled with strawberry jam.  By the time I wrapped my mind around the mural and Saffelle’s duet, set to the music of Max Richter, it was over! The beautiful ending features a sudden lift and then the lights go out, and I almost wished the work would repeat so I could have time to properly contemplate. Oh yeah – it’s about societal pressures and expectations in a fast-paced world, so we’re probably not supposed to have time to think about it.

One of the most intriguing pieces on the program was Pam Gamlin’s Manipulating Time Among Mayhem. Set to the music of El Ten Eleven, Gamlin’s trio was not just inspired by Jere Williams’ sculpture, Satellite Lounge, but the dancers took turns wheeling the mobile piece through the space. Built on a lawn chair, the work includes a stove, a shopping cart, a vacuum cleaner, a bicycle, a dressmaker’s mannequin wearing a bra, a Dora the Explorer backpack, a clock, a rake, and more. Resembling an ancient peddler’s cart, the work brings up metaphoric images of baggage, burdens, never letting go of the past.  The three dancers, Megan Baker, Laura Gorsuch, and Kara Priddy, executed athletic-like movements, as if prepping for the Olympian task of carrying this monument through life.  I was, however, somewhat distracted by their black warm-up pants because the white piping framed their derrieres with the outline of a heart!

Kendall Neely offered the most amusing work on the program. Sorted, inspired by Alexander Pope’s Sound and Sense and set to music by Imogen Heap was “loosely inspired by” Pope’s poem. Beautifully adorned in red and black, the dancers start off with a well-regulated cadence and explores rhythm schemes and predictability.

The program also included Laura Gorsuch’s Agitation Manifests, a dance for four women and four lamps and a beautiful movement phrase that features a clapping sound produced by bringing a cupped hand to the opposite arm, and Elliott Hartz’ Current, another very brief work that explores simultaneity and connections.

The audience was encouraged to linger in a mini-gallery of the art works that inspired or in some cases was inspired by these dances. Six works, presented in about an hour and a half; unhurried, family-friendly, and visually stimulating offered a welcome weekend interlude and potentially provided the impetus for more people to partake of the local art offerings.

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Again – and I cannot say this enough – one of the biggest problems with the Richmond dance community is that most performances run for only a single weekend and by the time many people hear of a performance, it’s gone! I make it a point to see as much of Richmond dance as I can, but this weekend was highly unusual.  I was performing in the ensemble of MK Abadoo’s Octavia’s Brood: Riding the Ox Home on Friday and Saturday at VCU’s Grace Street Theater, K Dance opened their annual program of Shorts at Richmond Triangle Players Thursday through Saturday, and RADAR presented its Spring concert at Dogtown Saturday and Sunday. At the same time, Richmond Ballet was concluding the March 20-25 run of it’s New Works Festival.

 

Julinda D. Lewis is a dancer, teacher, and writer who was born in Brooklyn, NY and now lives in Eastern Henrico County.

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Photo Credits:

Impetus photos by Gianna Grace Photography; photos of art work by Julinda D. Lewis

RADAR

RADAR-2
“Satellite Lounge” by Jere Williams
RADAR-1
“Moonshine” a mural by Etam Cru

RADAR Impetus Poster 2