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 Three

RICHMOND DANCE FESTIVAL 2018: Week Three – From Trilogies to Meeping Peeps

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 Richmond Dance Festival closes out its three-weekend run with a new program of diverse works, six live dances and three short films. Richmond choreographer Lawanda Raines opened the program with Trilogy of Womanhood, set to music by Quincy Jones, Peggy Lee, and Nina Simone, was performed by a quartet of dancers from the RVA Dance Collective. The opening feels a bit like a strip tease, and during the course of the work the dancers do, in fact, shed their blazers, then their bras, and shed their hi-low skirts for pants. The movement is by turns elegant, sassy, and quirky, and while there is a bit of narrative (e.g., “Is that all there is?”) the dance ultimately feels unfinished.

The second half of the program began with Losing a Good Thing. Luisa Innisfree Martinez’ biography lists her occupations as choreographer, dancer, and baker, and her homes as Brooklyn, NY and Baltimore, MD. Her diverse background and peripatetic lifestyle seem to have informed her smart and amusing solo, Losing a Good Thing. Martinez begins by fighting with a white sun dress, eventually giving up and asking an audience member to zipper it up for her. All dressed up (in the white dress, a black sports bra, black trunks, and black socks) with nowhere to go, the second part of the solo is spent waiting for the phone to ring – a red corded phone. Martinez is lovable and engenders laughs with her shoulder isolations and an awesome balance on her shoulder ending in a slow spin out, sort of like a 1980s break dancer in slow motion. [See video here: http://www.luisainnisfree.com/losing-a-good-thing/]

Megan Ross (Durham, NC) closed the program with the highly satisfying and very amusing To Meep Like a Peep. You can look for meaning if you want (a video game, colorful marshmallow peeps, slang for “people,”  the sound the cartoon character Road Runner made, and more) but that’s totally unnecessary. Meep Like a Peep is a colorful dance full of wiggles and jumps, shakes and balances, and side-long looks at the audience. Set to percussion by Dj Plie, the dance is pure fun freed from restrictions of technique and style. One moment the dancers seem to mimic dogs chasing their tails, the next a marching band. Movements originate from unexpected places – a hip, a knee, a hand attached to the head like a unicorn’s horn. Audience members could not help but giggle and guffaw out loud; what a great way to end the evening.

Other dance offerings included Navigating Around Saturn and Around and Around, a contemporary ballet choreographed by Juliana Utz of Turning Key dance (Boston, MA); Run, Rerun, by Kara Priddy of RADAR (Richmond, VA); and Amid by Kara Robertson of Karar Dance Company (Richmond, VA).  Lulo Rivera’s short film, Impetu’s: Flamenco’s Driving Force, features beautiful backdrops, like a beach and a pedestrian walkway.  Dancer Jesus Carmona dances contemporary flamenco perched on a bridge beam seemingly just feet from the water, reminiscent of a seagull. Unfortunately, the captions are all in white and most fade out against the sandy and light backgrounds while others are obscured by being at the bottom of the frames and therefore out of sight of many viewers in this space where the lovely, large screen goes all the way down to the floor. Nick Zoulek’s Symmetry n Memories has dancer Claire Curry performing simultaneously in a ballet studio and outdoors creating layers of symmetry and perspective.  And last, but not least, Dylan Wilbur’s short film, Trussed, with choreography by SubRosa Dance Collective, has dancers Kailee McMurran and Zohra Banzi dancing with their hair eerily braided together into a single braid. The work, an excerpt from a larger work called Living the Room, also features one dancer in a bathtub, first in a classically tiled bathroom and then, quite suddenly, in a remote field.

The Richmond Dance Festival successfully brought the world of dance to Richmond, with works by local and familiar choreographers as well as works by new and unfamiliar artists. The dance films were especially well curated. Overall, Program Two (the second week) seemed to be the strongest, but there were excellent and noteworthy works all three weekends. At the time of this writing, there is one final performance, on Saturday, May 12 at 7:00pm. If you have not been, it is definitely worth your while.

And finally, kudos to Dogtown Dance Theatre. This week Artistic and Executive Director Jess Burgess announced that Dogtown is a recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts Art Works grant in the amount of $10,000 to support performances and programming for dance artists.

 

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 Mike Keeling

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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

Dogtown Dance Fest-1

Dogtown - RDF 2.5
Mamluft and Company
Dogtown - RDF 2.4
LucidBeings Dance
Dogtown - RDF 2.3
Eric Mullis
Dogtown - RDF 2.2
Marsell Chavarria and Ching-I Ching Bigelow of Nina Simone’
Dogtown - RDF 2.1
Christina Carlotti-Kolb, Christine Wyatt, and Marsell Chavarria with Agua Dulce Dance Theater