YES! DANCE FESTIVAL: Nationally Acclaimed Dance on a Local Stage

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.

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Photo Credits: individual photos as labeled

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Kweku Bransah. Photo by Dale Dong.
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Robin Prichard. Photo by Chris Golden.
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Sandra Lacy. Photo by Marlayna Demond.
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Courtney Jones. Photo Credit: dabfoto creative, University of Houston Cynthia Woods Mitchell Center for the Arts
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slowdanger. Photo by Umi Akiyoshi.

 

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RICHMOND BALLET: A Requiem Into the Night

RICHMOND BALLET:  Studio One

A Dance Review by Julinda D. Lewis

At: Richmond Ballet Studio Theatre, 407 E. Canal St. RVA 23219

Performances: November 6-11, 2018

Ticket Prices: $26-46

Info: (804) 344-0906 or richmondballet.com

The Richmond Ballet Studio Series is unique and alluring for the intimacy of the space and the presentation of two or three works in an atmosphere that encourages reflection. The current Studio One production continues this tradition. On Tuesday, the Richmond Ballet presented Jerome Robbins’ In the Night, a company premiere of Robbins’ 1970 work for the New York City Ballet, and the world premiere of Nicole Haskins’ Requiem, inspired by the music of Gabriel Fauré.

In the Night is composed of three pas de deux featuring three couples of different temperaments, possibly different ages, at different stages of their relationships.  On Wednesday night, the couples were Melissa Robinson and Marty Davis, Eri Nishihara and Khalyom Khojaev, and Maggie Small and Fernando Sabino. Robinson and Davis embodied youthful elegance, she in a softly flowing purple dress, he is a blue-gray waistcoat and ascot. Their movements were sustained, romantic, controlled, yet effortless. Nishihara and Khojaev had a more mature posture, and the earth tones of their costumes added weight. At the same time, their movements were more fanciful, with bigger, bolder jumps and lifts. Finally, Small and Sabino presented a more passionate duo. Her black dress with red underskirt suggested a smoldering temperament, and his darker gray jacket was smoky, matching the teasing sensuality verging on conflict – sort of like classical ballet with a tango temperament. The final section of the beautiful Chopin nocturnes, played live onstage by pianist Joanne Kong, brought all three couple together. In one beautiful moment they briefly acknowledged one another before dancing off.

In her video reflections, Haskins described Fauré’s Requiem as “a lullaby for death, not dark or sad.” The women’s flowing skirts, designed by Emily Morgan, were designed to make the movement linger, like the memories of loved ones. The work opens with lights like memorial candles and the women, seated with their skirts pooled around them, also look like candles. The stage is kept dim, and groups of dancers are bathed in the amber glow of the lights. The dancers’ formations are fascinating and delightfully unpredictable: clusters, solos, duos, small groups, diagonal facings, patterns that flow and change organically. While Haskins assured us the work was not dark or sad, it did seem to go on just a little too long.

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:

Rehearsal Photos from Richmond Ballet Facebook posts & Photos by Sarah Ferguson

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Sabrina Holland and Fernando Sabino in In The Night by Jerome Robbins. Richmond Ballet 2018. All Rights Reserved. Photo by Sarah Ferguson.
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Abi Goldstein and Thel Moore III in In The Night by Jerome Robbins. Richmond Ballet 2018. All Rights Reserved. Photo by Sarah Ferguson.
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Dancers of Richmond Ballet in Requiem by Nicole Haskins. Richmond Ballet 2018. Photo by Sarah Ferguson.
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Dancers of Richmond Ballet in Requiem by Nicole Haskins. Richmond Ballet 2018. Photo by Sarah Ferguson.
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Richmond Ballet dancers rehearsing “Requiem”
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Choreographer Nicole Haskins with Richmond Ballet dancers Abi Goldstein and Mate Szentes
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Cody Beaton and Mate Szentes rehearsing “Requiem”
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Richmond Ballet dancers rehearsing “Requiem”

ANANYA DANCE THEATRE: People Powered Dances of Transformation

ANANYA DANCE THEATRE: How Do We Show Up For Each Other?

A Dance Review by Julinda D. Lewis

At: Virginia Commonwealth University School Grace Street Theater, 934 West Grace Street, RVA 23220

Performances: October 26 & 27, 2018

Ticket Prices: $20 Adults; $15 Students

Info: (804) 828-2020 or http://arts.vcu.edu/dance/

 

Ananya Dance Theatre, under the artistic direction of Ananya Chatterjea, presents dance within a social, feminist/womanist, human context. Entertaining is only a part of what they do. There were no spectators in the Grace Street Theater on Saturday night when I attended Shaatranga: Women Weaving Worlds. Oh, there were plenty of people in the audience, but Chatterjea and her troupe of seven powerful women did not allow us to sit and be entertained.

Several times the house lights came up and those who may have been under the impression they had come to see a show were asked to take a stand, to raise a fist, to clap and stomp our feet. We participated in an invocation of breath and watching a dance performance may never be the same. Stand up (one woman did). Raise your first (most did). Clap your hands. Stomp your feet. Chant: Public fury; public joy; public love; public dance!

Shaatranga, which means “seven colors” in Bānglā, is the culmination of a quintet of works exploring work women do. The dance was created in four movements and runs 95 minutes with no intermission and is based on research, history, and cultural connections. The two main themes are ancient Indian Ocean trade routes that connected Asia, Africa, and South America, and the shared practices of indigo-dyeing. Visually, an abstract navigation star represents the compass that “enables us to remain on the path of a complexly woven notion of justice.” At the beginning of the work, the navigation star is broken but by the end it has been healed. The sections of the dance bear names like “Voyage,” “Shipwreck,” and “Desolation.” There are “Rituals of Mourning” and “Dancing to Heal.”

Chatterjea’s movement vocabulary uses classical Indian dance as a foundation and there are layers contemporary dance woven throughout. There is yoga, martial arts, rage and joy. The movement that stood out most to me is a spiral that starts from deep inside the core then winds its way up and out. There is also spoken word, ritual, and sound: grunts, screams, the sound of helicopter rotors as the women’s hands reach up, the sound of feet slapping and stomping, the sound of drums, and even, I think, the faint sound of birds and monkeys chattering.

At the beginning, there was a curtain hung asymmetrically so that it reminded me simultaneously of a simple curtain or covering, a woman’s veil, and a ship’s sail. Later, the black curtains opened just a bit to reveal a portion of white wall bathed in red light with Chatterjea splattered on the wall, feet up, arms splayed out on the floor. There is beauty, hunger, pain, distortion, and there is power.

Projections and simple design elements created an all-encompassing world that kept me on the edge of my seat for most of the evening. There were rolling waves and animated billows of indigo that morphed into hands, and there were ceiling-to-floor ribbons of indigo, interwoven like the lives of the women represented, remembered, and honored. Throughout, the women wore loose-fitting dark blue pants (a knee-length Indian salwar, similar to Victorian knickers or bloomers) but changed their tops for each movement (peplum tunics, athletic leotards, high necked tops) in shades of blue, sometimes with splashed of color, but always indigo. Musical composition, vocals, sound design, poetry, costume, lighting, scenic design, animations and projections all united in a seamless manifestation of Chatterjea’s concept.

Often, a program is unnecessary, except to identify the names of the dances. In this case, the program was an essential guide to the work, filled with background, history, poetry, definitions, and questions: How do we show up for each other? This company, this work must be seen. Writing about it does not do it justice.

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:

Company photos and photos from the company website.

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STARR FOSTER DANCE: Anthology & Thoughts

STARR FOSTER DANCE: Anthology

A Dance Review by Julinda D. Lewis

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

Performances: September 27-30, 2018; Thursday, Friday & Saturday @ 8PM; Sunday @2PM

Ticket Prices: $20-25 General Admission

Info: (804) 304-1523, starrfosterdance.org, or http://www.showclix.com

The final performance of Starr Foster Dance’s Richmond production of the Anthology program was special in that it marked the final performance of long-time company member and rehearsal assistant Jordan Livermon Glunt. (Glunt will be touring with the company, but this marked her last Richmond appearance.) After the final curtain, Glunt was showered with flowers from cast members and a standing ovation from an audience filled with family and friends.

The Anthology program included two new works by company artistic director Starrene Foster, Falling to Earth and Grudge. Falling to Earth has a quartet of dancers dressed in light clothing performing soft variations of falling, ending with arms raised. Set to the music of Murcof, (Mexican electronica artist Fernando Corona) the piece creates an other-worldly atmosphere that allows for multiple interpretations of the descending and suggestion of a return. Grudge, on the other hand, has an entirely different energy. It is aggressive and instead of the easy give and take between dancers, there is attitude, pushing and shoving, kicks and the sort of tension found in capoeira or a choreographed street fight. The music by the late French film composer Hugues Le Bars often has an urban edge that fuels this roughened sensibility.

An audience favorite was the program’s only solo, Garland (The Day the Sky Fell), created in memory of Robert Garland Gill and performed by Jordan Livermon Glunt. Wearing a black dress and dancing in a cone of light, with a wooden chair at the end as prop and partner, to an Arvo Part choir song, “Nun eile ich zu euch (Now I Hasten to You),” Glunt’s performance was sweetly evocative. At the end confetti falls around her, in memory and in celebration of life.

The program also included Waiting Room, a shadowy dance in red and black in which the play of light and shadow becomes both setting and character; and the mysteriously touching Apartment No. 9, which features six dancers connecting and reconnecting under a string of bare light bulbs with two chairs facing one another, giving the feel of an interrogation room. The program closed with The Space Between the Echo¸ a dance inspired by a work by local photographer Dennis Lieberman which features a mysterious and mechanized original score by Billy Curry.

There are several things that stand out about all of Foster’s works. I have often remarked that she prefers dim, eerie, evocative lighting that often obscures the dancer’s features. Foster also connects with interesting music that is often strikingly out of the ordinary, but always a perfect fit for the movement. Many works include original music composed for the dance. Finally, there is the humanity of her works. Weather humorous, aggressive, sweetly touching, or quirky and moody, the dancers always maintain an extra-sensory connection; they move as a unified organism that feels like family. The way they hold and slide over one another, often with a smaller dancer lifting a much taller or larger dancer, exudes a sense of safety and trust that makes you feel as if they want to do more than just entertain you, they want to tell a story that draws you into their world and connects us all.

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: Starr Foster Dance by Douglas Hayes.

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Jordan Livermon Glunt
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Mattie Rogers, Jordan Liverman Glunt and Erick Hooten
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Jordan Liverman Glunt
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Mattie Rogers and Kelsey Gagnon

RICHMOND BALLET: A Celebration of 35 Years of Dance

RICHMOND BALLET: 35th Anniversary Celebration

A Dance Review by Julinda D. Lewis

At: Carpenter Theatre at Dominion Energy Center, 600 East Grace Street, RVA 23219

Performances: September 28 & 29, 2018

Ticket Prices: Starting at $25

Info: (804) 344-0906 or richmondballet.com

The Richmond Ballet celebrated their 35th year as a professional dance company in high style. There were highlights from the past 35 years, choreography by the iconic George Balanchine, appearances by favorite dancers who have retired, acknowledgements of long-time partnerships, video memories from choreographers who have worked with the company, and confetti.

The first half of the program consisted of excerpts from various ballets and moved rather quickly. The evening opened with Jerome Robbins’ Circus Polka¸ with Igor Antonov as the Ringmaster, softly cracking his oversized whip over the baby ballerinas. There were three groups of students from the School of Richmond Ballet – blue, green, and pink – 16 in each group, who danced adorably, ending in the formation of “35!”

Before intermission, we were treated to a retrospective that included Maggie Small and Fernando dancing the balcony pas de deux from Malcolm Burn’s Romeo & Juliet; a light-hearted Titania and Bottom pas de deux from William Soleau’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream danced by Sabrina Holland and Matthew Frain, with Elena Bello as the mischievous Puck; the first and second movements of Val Caniparoli’s contemporary and humorous Stolen Moments; and the playful, folk dance infused finale of Ma Cong’s Ershter Vals. There was also the duet from Jessica Lang’s To Familiar Spaces in Dream¸ performed by Lauren Fagone and Philip Skaggs; and the heartwarming Section IV of Stoner Winslett’s Windows, a work that speaks of hope and the future and ends with a group of dancers whirling around in a circle holding lighted globes. As the dancers peel off, they reveal two little students, a boy and a girl, dressed in white, representing the future. If the evening had ended right there, I would have been satisfied.

There was, however, a second act. George Balanchine’s Who Cares? Was set to 17 songs by George Gershwin (16 of which were listed on this program) and consists mostly of solos and duets that allow various company members to shine in light-hearted, quirky, and often sassy passages of movement that blend ballet and jazz. Elena Bello and Mate Szentes in “’S Wonderful,” Lauren Archer and Fernando Sabino in “The Man I Love,” Eri Nishihara in “I’ll Build a Stairway to Paradise,” Maggie Small in “Fascinatin’ Rhythm,” Cody Beaton and Trevor Davis in “Who Cares?” and Sabrina Holland in “My One and Only” were personal favorites. The finale features the entire cast dancing to “I Got Rhythm,” played by the Richmond Symphony, under the direction of resident conductor Erin Freeman. It’s always a delight to attend the Richmond Ballet performances at the Carpenter Theatre, where we are promised the special treat of live music.

In addition to video memories shared by Malcolm Burn, William Soleau, Val Caniparoli, Ma Cong, Jessica Lang, and Stoner Winslett, at the top of the show, during her curtain talk, Winslett honored Charles Caldwell with the designation of Richmond Ballet Set Designer Emeritus, and Ron Matson with the honor of Richmond Ballet Conductor Emeritus. There was no proclamation or resolution by the Board of Trustees, but it was also Stoner Winslett’s special day – she nurtured the School of Richmond Ballet into a professional company that carries the designation The State Ballet of Virginia (so designated by then Governor Douglas Wilder in 1990) and has represented us well in New York (2005), London (2012), and China (2015).

 

 

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: Sarah Ferguson

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Igor Antonov and dancers from The School of Richmond Ballet in ‘Circus Polka’ by Jerome Robbins.
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Maggie Small and Fernando Sabino in ‘Romeo and Juliet’ by Malcolm Burn.
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Maggie Small and Fernando Sabino in ‘Romeo and Juliet’ by Malcolm Burn.
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Sabrina Holland and Matthew Frain in ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ by William Soleau.
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Cody Beaton and Trevor Davis in ‘Ershter Vals’ by Ma Cong.
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Lauren Fagone and Phillip Skaggs in ‘To Familiar Spaces in Dream’ by Jessica Lang.
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Elena Bello and Trevor Davis in ‘Windows’ by Stoner Winslett.
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Richmond Ballet dancers in Who Cares? Choreography by George Balanchine © The George Balanchine Trust.

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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