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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RVA Dance Collective Presents: VOICES

RVA Dance Collective Presents: VOICES

A Dance Pre-Review by Julinda D. Lewis

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

Performances: April 13 & 14, 2018 at 7:00pm

Ticket Prices: $20 Adults; $10 Students & Children under 13

Info: (804) 230-8780 or rvadancecollective.com or dogtowndancetheatre.com

[NOTE: Due to out-of-town obligations, I could not attend the weekend performance of RVA Dance Collective, so before leaving, I attended part of the dress rehearsal on Thursday, April 12.]

It wasn’t until I spoke with Artistic Director Jess Burgess that I realized the dancers in Mondrian in Frame were all students – specifically, advanced students from The Dance Company in Mechanicsville. The eight dancers were dressed in solid red, blue, or black attire that can best be described as classic swimsuits which seemed appropriate since their movements, while intentionally not all in unison all the time, reminded me of a synchronized swim team. Athletics, gymnastics, and competition all came to mind fleetingly as the dancers performed a series of lifts and splits and standing stretches punctuated by cartwheels and body rolls. At one point some dancers would crouch as if spotting the others, and in the midst of the piece they formed a classic chorus line formation and created a wave or ripple effect, further reinforcing the swimming reference. But then there were the three larger-than-life-sized frames they moved around the stage and moved in, around, and through, as if to prove to us that dance is, indeed a three-dimensional art form.

Lloverá, also choreographed by Burgess, is a duet for Jasmine Tubach and Desmin Taylor (the company’s only male dancer). Mostly romantic, the physicality of the piece is driven in part by the physical shape of the choreography but equally by the disparity in size of the two dancers: Tubach is quite petite, and Taylor is very tall. This physical opposition is mirrored in the give and take, the tension of the movement and the feelings that flash across the dancers’ faces and lingers in their touches, Memorable moments include a section where she lies spooned atop her partner, and he cups her head and turns it in sync with his own, and later he rests lightly atop her, his head cradled in the curve of her torso. She runs and he follows. But there were also odd moments, as when Taylor spins Tubach around, holding her by her knees while her head is mere inches from the floor, and later when he drags her across the stage. The two seem suspended in time, but at the end she walks away with a gentle but firm gesture, as if to say, stop, stay. The dancers’ lines are mostly classic, almost balletic, but the shapes are designed, Burgess said, to mimic the shape of rain drops. Lloverá is Spanish for “it’s gonna rain.”

The final piece, Continuum, is a group work, also by Burgess, that has the dancers moving downstage on a diagonal, emerging from a cloud of smoke or fog. Some run, some walk slowly, but all pass, occasionally interacting with, a hooded figure who starts out lying on the floor.  As the dance progresses, the eye is caught by the variety of interactions – or distractions. Some fall, some lift others in a fireman’s carry, some nearly step on the prone figure, passing by seemingly without looking, and occasionally a dancer or two or three will whip out a lightning fast turn in the air. But without exception, as all move out of the cloud, they seem determined to return the one dancer to the darkness; at the end, hood thrown back, she is the only one left standing.

The program also includes two additional works by Burgess: a restaging of her trio, To Care (Like You) and a solo, Fractured Light, in which dancer Carrie Moore dances with her own shadow. There is also a work by Brooklyn-based choreographer Shannon Hummel (Cora Dance) – a full company work called In Passing; as well as Heartbeat, a solo by Schannon Hester (Pole Pressure) who competed in the world pole competition in Greece in the fall of 2017; a work by company member Katy McCormack, Fear of Being; and a new work commissioned from Richmond-based choreographer LaWanda Raines, Trilogy of Womanhood.

During the dress rehearsal, I was able to see each work twice, which presented a rare opportunity not available during a performance to re-see movement, and to discover or consider nuances that were not apparent or missed the first time. The dancers’ energy and attitude, the costuming, the lights, music, even the fog – which, on the final take, set off a fire alarm – all showed growth and artistic development even over a short period of time. Jess Burgess is Co-Artistic Director and Founder of RVA Dance Collective along with Danica Kalemdaroglu, and with this program, “Voices,” the company seems to be reaching for new inspiration and challenging the dancers and choreographers to be more and do more.

 

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: Mike Keeling

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Full Company in “Continuum”
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Jasmine Tubach and Desmin Taylor in “Llovera'”
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Shannon Comerford in “Continuum”
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Kacey Lindsay, Kayla Xavier, and Constance Yunker in “To Care (Like You)”

 

 

 

 

 

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

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“Satellite Lounge” by Jere Williams
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“Moonshine” a mural by Etam Cru

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RICHMOND BALLET: NEW WORKS – Sleeping Cats and Distant Figures Lose Melodies in 2Rooms

RICHMOND BALLET:  Studio Two New Works Festival 2018

An Extended Dance Review by Julinda D. Lewis

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

Performances: March 20-25, 2018

Ticket Prices: $22.50-$42.50

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

The Richmond Ballet first presented the New Works Festival in 2008 and the 2018 Festival is the sixth program offering new works by guest artists. Each of the four choreographers is given 25 hours to work with the company to set an original 10-minute work or portion of a larger work on the Richmond Ballet. This year, four extremely diverse choreographers created works that stretched the dancers with quirky new movement vocabularies and non-traditional choreography that challenges the audience to look at and think about ballet in new ways.

For Studio Two, four choreographers who have never created for Richmond Ballet were selected, and those who attended the Choreographer’s Club on Tuesday got to meet each of them. In order of their works on the program:

Tom Mattingly (freelance dancer, choreographer; Chicago, IL) was an apprentice with Richmond Ballet at age 17. Mattingly’s new work, Figure in the Distance is an earth-toned work set to music by Philip Glass (“Concerto for Violin and Organ”) against a backdrop of artist Taylor Am Moore’s original work, The Dancer. Deliberately ambiguous, I see it as a dance of opposition or perhaps duality would be a better word choice. There is opposition or duality in the use of the dancers’ arms and legs, in the choreography’s directional choices, and in the dynamics that shift swiftly from quick to sustained or waiting – and even in the dancers’ costumes. The women have long sleeves and short legs, the men have long legs and no sleeves.

There is even a duality in Moore’s painting, which could be figure in the distance or the pen – and energy – that drew it. There is a sense of striving and anticipation reflected in the slow deliberate walks that are graceful yet strong.

In the post-show talk, Mattingly indicated he likes a vague story line that doesn’t hit the audience over the head, but I suspect the work may be a bit autobiographical as well – a bit of a reflection of his ongoing transition from dancer to choreographer. He may be getting closer to seeing who that “figure in the distance” really is.

Bradley Shelver (born in South Africa; principal dancer with the Metropolitan Opera Ballet, NY) presented 2 Rooms, a work that depicts compartmentalized moments on segmented worlds. The first of two very quirky works on the program, 2 Rooms gives the audience options. There are alternative points of focus, provided by a set of moveable red panels that separate the space and the dancers. Dancers appear on either side of the panels, between the panels, and move around the panels. We see their feet moving below them, and they sometimes peak over the top.

Two memorable shapes are a wide-legged crab scrabble the dancers use to travel side-to-side and a waiting crouch that verges on a parody of a horror movie posture. There are also sudden falls and rolls, percussive gestures, tickling, an overly long kiss, and frantic shaking motions. There was one fall that appeared unplanned, when Elena Bello jumped onto her partner Matthew Frain, and an odd and awkward pause in the music that may or may not have been intentional. Nothing about 2 Rooms is predictable or ordinary.

Music is a big deal for Shelver, and 2 Rooms plays freely with the juxtaposition of “Ciaconna” (The Hilliard Ensemble, mixed with fragments of J.S. Bach) and “Adagio in G Minor” (R. Glazotto; Helmut Müller-Brühl/Cologne Chamber Orchestra) that complements the nuances of his quirky and fast-paced choreography. As much as I loved the quirkiness as a technique and an exercise, however, it did dominate the work, making the choreography seem somewhat unfinished. Given that this work was created in 25 hours, it would be interesting to see if a subsequent performance might have progressed to a different place in this compartmentalized world.

It’s probably just a coincidence that the first half of the program featured male choreographers, and the second half featured female choreographers.

Mariana Oliveira (born in Brazil; Artistic Director of The Union Project Dance Company, Los Angeles, CA) created My Lost Melody around the theme of falling in love, but the title, the predominantly black color palette, and the focus on some of the lesser known songs of Édith Piaf are a big clue that this is not all about the lighter side of love. Oliveira, the only choreographer of the four who said she comes to a new project with the work fully formed – right down to the costumes and lighting – created My Lost Melody on twelve dancers, with flowing permutations of three groups of four that guide the viewers’ eye across the stage.

Control and direction seem important in Oliveira’s work. A duet for Abi Goldstein and mate Szentes (in their fourth and third years with Richmond Ballet, respectively), reminded me of Fred Astaire, but rather than Ginger Rogers, Goldstein’s role was given a humorous twist that completed her phrases with a frivolous fold-over rather than an elegant fanfare. One brief trio (in white) was performed to the sound of rain. The darkest of the four works, My Lost Melody was also the most dramatic, and the one that came closest to telling a story.

Francesca Harper (Artistic Director of The Francesca Harper Project, NY) explored the role of gender and specifically strong women in The World of Sleeping Cats, set to the music of hip hop violinist Daniel Bernard Roumain. The movement is infused with bold walks and, like the work of Shelver, more quirky and breathtakingly unexpected phrases, while the music is infused with bold drum-line beats and electronic sounds that suggest we are in new and uncharted territory.

This work also uses a black color palette, distinguished by hilariously ridiculous wired tutus. Elena Bello’s tutu is the first to come off – where it occupies an unceremonious position in the spotlight, center stage. A work for ten dancers – five couples, The World of Sleeping Cats is nontraditional but grounded in tradition. The dancers wear toe shoes, but the partnering doesn’t follow traditional gender assignments. Harper’s title is intriguing. Sleeping cats make you think of softness, but cats have claws. Sleeping cats may alert and spring into action at a moment’s notice.

One acquaintance who tried to get me to talk about the performance shared that she was excited about this piece because it addresses gender issues. A long-time Richmond Ballet supporter, William (Billy) Hancock (Campaign Director and Major Gifts), shared that the New Works Festival is his favorite Studio production because, to paraphrase his words, where else can you see all this original work in one place?

The choreographers themselves gushed about their experience with Richmond’s dancers, calling them brilliant and easy to collaborate with as well as passionate and dedicated.  While the company was excellent overall, special notice is due to dancers Elena Bello and Matthew Frain, Abi Goldstein and Mate Szentes, and Bello with Fernando Sabino who were featured in the new works. Lighting designer MK Stewart and costume designer Emily DeAngelis also earned well-earned kudos. For Artistic Director Stoner Winslett, the New Works Festival is not about competition, but about making The Richmond Ballet a safe place to be open and vulnerable – the best place to create a new ballet.

Keep in mind – these are not polished, full-fledged works. They are not meant to be finished and perfect. That is part of the appeal. All are different and challenging. All bring out the best in the dancers. All are worth seeing and talking about – but you can only do that if you go see them:

Tuesday, March 20th at 6:30pm (Choreographer’s Club) $65-$100
Wednesday, March 21st at 6:30pm
Thursday, March 22nd at 6:30pm
Friday, March 23rd at 6:30pm and 8:30pm (Club 407/Young Professionals) $35*
Saturday, March 24th at 6:30pm and 8:30pm
Sunday, March 25th at 2pm and 4pm

Club 407 For Young Professionals – Richmond Ballet is excited to offer discounted tickets, special events, and more through our new Club 407. Designed for a premiere group of ballet enthusiasts and novices alike under the age of 40, Club 407 provides exclusive experiences for Richmond’s young professionals. We invite you to become more involved with Richmond Ballet by attending performances, networking opportunities, and special behind the scenes access!

Studio Series – Club 407 tickets for our Studio Series shows include a pre-performance happy hour with food and drinks (cash bar) at Wong Gonzalez’s Beauty & Grace Room, a performance in the intimate Richmond Ballet Studio Theatre, and a post-performance beer and wine reception with the dancers.

 

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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HELEN SIMONEAU DANSE: Land Bridge

HELEN SIMONEAU DANSE: Land Bridge

A Dance Review by Julinda D. Lewis

 

At: Virginia Commonwealth University School of the Arts W. E. Singleton Center for the Performing Arts, 922 Park Avenue, RVA 23284

Performances: March 3, 2018

Ticket Prices: $20 Adults; $15 Students

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

Virginia Commonwealth University’s Department of Dance & Choreography is hosting the 2018 Mid-Atlantic South Regional Conference of the. American College Dance Association March 4-7, 2018. More than 400 students and faculty from college and university dance programs around the region and the nation are expected to attend the four days of adjudicated performances, master classes, scholarly research presentations, and myriad opportunities for student and faculty exchanges both in and outside of the studio. Build around the theme of Bridging Community, the conference will celebrate “dance as a means of forging empathy and connection through inquiry and effort.”

On Saturday the North Carolina-based contemporary dance company of Helen Simoneau offered a pre-conference concert for one night only. Simoneau’s first evening length work is aptly titled “Land Bridge,” and is based on an investigation of heritage, assimilation, and identity as seen through the lens of a herd of caribou. (This makes sense once you realize that Simoneau is a native of Québec, Canada where caribou, also know as reindeer in this part of the world are a threatened species – that’s a step down from endangered.)

Simoneau’s diverse troupe of eight dancers is sublimely athletic and it is mesmerizing to watch them move through this piece. The work begins with the dancers moving in slow procession to the beat of a drum. They sink majestically into a one-legged plié, as if trudging or migrating unhurriedly through deep snow. The silhouette of the dancers’ bodies, with heads bowed and shoulders and upper torsos rounded also suggests those pictures of the evolution of man.

“Land Bridge” is about cycles and repetition. The opening processional repeats several times before the herd changes direction and the movement reappears in abbreviated form later in the hour-long work. At one point all eight dancers connect and spin apart like a centrifuge, then balance on one leg with both hands held at the sides of their heads, fingers pointing up, suggesting antlers. A tandem crawl, with one dancer face up atop the back of the other, suggest the communal nature of this work and at the same time is a typical tableau. Another is a bottoms-up posture with the head on the ground – a reference, no doubt, to the caribou’s manner of digging into the snow in search of food, and to the etymology of the French-based word “caribou” which can be translated to mean “snow shoveler.”

In a post-show talk, Simoneau elaborated on how her work often focuses on the individual within the group and the many ways in which the dancers’ connections reflect variations of locking antlers, sharing weight and power. This is especially clear in a section where two men meet center stage and fall into one another, forcefully dragging and tossing one another in a great display of power. “Land Bridge,” in which the patterns and cycles of animals and humans merge and become one is set to an original score by Nathalie Joachim that blends human and electronic sounds.  Chanted sighs and percussive gurgles cycle and repeat while the lighting by Carrie Wood at times makes the dancers look as if they were lit from within.

Dancer Burr Johnson, now in his eighth season with Helen Simoneau Danse, is a VCU Dance alum. It’s always a pleasure to see successful students return to show off their results of their hard work. Personally, I can hardly wait for this company to return to Richmond for another public performance – hopefully for more than one night.

 

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 by Peter Mueller; Helen Simoneau’s portrait by Todd Turner Photography

 

Richmond Ballet’s THE SLEEPING BEAUTY

Richmond Ballet’s THE SLEEPING BEAUTY

A Dance Review by Julinda D. Lewis

At: The Carpenter Theatre at Dominion Energy Center, 600 E. Grace St., RVA 23219

Performances: February 9th @ 7:00pm; February 10th @2:00pm and 7:00pm; February 11th @2:00pm

Ticket Prices: Start at $25

Info: (804) 344-0906 x224 or etix.com

The Richmond Ballet’s large-scale production of the timeless fairy tale, The Sleeping Beauty, staged by Malcolm Burn is simply beautiful. From the classical choreography by Marius Petipa, with additions by Burn, paired with the music of Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky to the stunning technical execution by the dancers to the elegant three-dimensional set by Michael Eagan, The Sleeping Beauty is a masterful piece of theater. The music is played live by The Richmond Symphony under the direction of Resident Conductor Erin Freeman.

The work, onstage at The Carpenter Theatre at Dominion Energy Center for one weekend only, features company members Cody Beaton as Princess Aurora, Marty Davis as Prince Florimund, Lauren Archer as The Fairy of the Lilac (Wisdom), and Mate Szentes as her Cavalier. Petite Elena Bello dances the role of Carabosse, the Wicked Fairy, with Peter Elverson as King Florestan and Ballet Master Jerri Kumery in a rare character role as his Queen. Another character role, that of The Nurse, is filled by faculty member Susan Israel Massey, and Richmond Ballet II member Khaiyom Khojaev is featured as Puss ‘n Boots.

The scale of this production involves just about every company member (Ira White, recovering from an injury, was helping out at the box office on Friday night, and Maggie Small was absent recovering from a recent injury) as well as members of Richmond Ballet II, the Richmond Ballet Trainees, and students from the School of Richmond Ballet along with students from the Ballet’s Minds in Motion outreach program. Imagine the sheer power generated by twenty or thirty dancing bodies or more sharing the same stage.

The Sleeping Beauty is Tchaikovsky’s longest ballet, running nearly 4 hours, with intermissions, when performed full length – including a prologue and three acts. The Richmond Ballet production has been pared down to two acts and runs two hours, including one intermission. If that is still too long for the youngest members of the audience, they might be kept interested by frequent appearances in the second act of characters such as Puss ‘n Boots and his paramour The White Cat (Abi Goldstein), or Little Red Riding Hood and the Wolf (Savannah George and Thel Moore, III). Even the four little boys who portrayed the Trees – Carter Bush, Oliver Gardner, Hart Isacoff, and Zachary Owen – received an ovation from one gentleman in my row, and I don’t even think he was related to either of them.

The highlight of the ballet remains the Grand Pas de Deux, performed by Cody Beaton and Marty Davis. Beaton brought beauty, grace, resilience, and a touch of humor to Princess Aurora. Davis was technically crisp, noble in demeanor, and confident as Prince Florimund (originally named Prince Désiré) – as he should be after restoring the lovely Princess to life and earning her hand in marriage after a century’s long nap due to the spell cast by Carabosse on Aurora’s 16th birthday. Beaton dances with precise abandon, flinging her torso first to one side then the other, and obvious enjoyment, now leaning forward to watch the play of her arms. The couple makes the simplest choreography, like synchronized little hops backward, look beautiful, and the audience pleasing dips, lifts, and extensions look elegant and easy.

There are far too many dancers and characters to make mention of them all, but I would be remiss not to mention the lovely Eri Nishihara – a first year member of the company, she stands out as a quick, lithe, and powerful dancer in her role as Princess Florine in Act II.  Khaiyom Khojaev brought confidence and sass to his role as Puss ‘n Boots, making the most of his featured moments with nuanced tilts of his masked head and eerily authentic feline swipes of his paws – I mean hands. The Sleeping Beauty ballet is a treat for the eyes, ears, and soul.

 

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

SPITTING IMAGE: A Collaboration of Dance and Photography Featuring Choreography by Starr Foster

“Saltwater Bones,” a voluminous skirt solo, turned out to be one of my personal favorites of the evening.

SPITTING IMAGE: A Collaboration of Dance and Photography Featuring 8 Works by Starr Foster Dance Project with Music by Joey Luck

A Dance Review by Julinda D. Lewis

At: TheatreLAB’s The Basement, 300 East Broad Street, Richmond, VA 23219

Performances: Friday, January 12th @8pm. Saturday, January 13 @3pm, 5pm, 7pm. Sunday, January 14th @ 3pm, 5pm.

Ticket Prices: $15 General Admission. $25 Opening Night Performance and Reception with Artists. Order tickets @ http://www.browpapertickets.org

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



As part of an ongoing mission to collaborate with other artists, Starr Foster Dance Project (SFDP) has started the new year with a unique collaboration with eight photographers whose work inspired the eight short dances that share their titles. Eight intriguing and very different photographs by photographers both local and long distance hung in the lobby of TheatreLAB’s The Basement, and on opening night six of the eight lens artists were on sight to share their work and experience with the dancers and audience.

Undulating Reflections, a work for six dancers, was inspired by a photograph by Dennis Lieberman.  Set to the somewhat anxiety-provoking music Surveillance by Canadian industrial band Noise Unit and with gorgeous deep blue costumes (tank tops with briefs for the men and ruffled skirts for the women) designed by Johann Stegmeir, Undulating Reflections lingers sumptuously in weight sharing, leaning, moments of touching and almost touching.

Elizabeth Whitson’s single flower, Beauty in the End, was the inspiration for a duet, performed Friday night by Erick Hooten and Heather Rhea O’Connor, to an original score by Joey Luck. Hooten, large and muscular, and O’Connor, deceptively delicate-looking, sustained an ethereal, floating quality throughout, supported by what I think was a cello that anchored Luck’s somewhat somber score. They remained connected and intimate, even with people watching from two sides as the black box space was set up as a traverse or corridor stage. The final image was of the two dancers stretched out on the floor, Hooten’s face hoovering slightly over O’Connor as the two seemed to share the same breath. The blue theme was continued with O’Connor’s long, soft dress and Hooten’s matching tank with solid long pants, both designed by Foster.

The mood changed considerably with Find the Light, a work inspired by Clare Midock’s photo, which featured a chair and her young daughter. Anna Branch, O’Connor, Angela Palminsano, and Brittany Powers initially took turns dancing on and around a sturdy wooden chair, each revisiting and modifying the phrases of her predecessor.  They draped themselves over the chair, hung over the back, slithered under it, sat near it, focused on a mysterious mission as a blinding bright light focused on them. Find the Light is set to a hauntingly beautiful cello solo by Peter Gregson, and Johann Stegmeir designed the orange ombre jumpsuits.

The first half of the program closed with the delightful, somewhat humorous Searching, inspired by Henrietta Near’s optical illusion photograph of people taking pictures in Maymont Park under the watchful eyes of a superimposed cat. Returning to the blue and black color scheme (with costumes by Foster and original music by Luck), the six dancers explored variations of searching. One moved a chair close to and stared directly at a member of the audience. Others sought out new spaces, sitting in chairs along the wall with the audience in the all-too-brief snippet of choreography.

A brief intermission provided a welcome opportunity to revisit the photographs for the upcoming choreography. (It would have been helpful to have a moment of lighting between each dance to give the audience a chance to check the titles and connect them with the photographs as well.)

The second half of the program began with what turned out to be one of my personal favorites of the evening, a voluminous skirt solo, Saltwater Bones, inspired by the underwater photography of Cristina Peters. O’Connor’s white skirt, designed and constructed by Foster, performed doubly duty as costume and prop. Sometimes it billowed out gracefully, other times it appeared to entrap her. At the end, I found myself releasing the breath I did not realize I had been holding. Luck also created original music for this solo.

Angela Douglas’ photograph Flock (yes, it is a photograph of birds) manifested as a bouncy quartet (Davis, Hooten, Palminsano, and Powers) filled with quick, sharp movements in stark contrast to the sustained phrases of preceding dances. The accompanying music is, somewhat ironically, titled Nature Fights Back, performed by prepared pianist Hauschka (nee Volker Bertelmann). Foster designed the black tank tops and blue/teal pants for this delightful dance thin which the rhythm and flow was briefly interrupted by somewhat awkward preparation for a group lift.

Pas de Doe proved to be a delightful play on words, a duo inspired by Mike Harrell’s photo of two deer. Branch and O’Connor (who appeared I six of the eight dances on the opening night program) started off like two bulls sizing up one another in the glaring side lights, but by the end they were dancing in unison and looked as if they were about to take flight. Stegmeir designed their soft salmon-colored tunics and white pants, and the pounding music, Hephaestus, was by Chris Cutler and Thomas DiMuzio.

The program closed with Hanakapai Falls, inspired by a stunning painting of a Hawaiian waterfall. Rachel DeFrank’s deep colors, marked by shades of blue, green, and purple, were printed on a metal plate.  Branch, Davis, and Hooten resurrected Foster’s tilting movements, seen earlier in Undulating Reflections, with hints of classical lines and use of space in the partnering. Stegmeir’s blue gray pallet and the music, Sequence (four) by Warren Zielinski Magdalena Filipczak, Laurie Anderson, Richard Harwood and Peter Gregson, both supported and enhanced the concept of waterfall, making for a beautiful and satisfying conclusion to an evening of contemporary dance in Richmond.


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


Photo Credits (clockwise, starting at top left):

  1. Dancers Erick Hooten, Anna Branch and Ryan Davis leap in a new work Inspired by Rachel DeFrank’s photograph of “Hanakapai Falls” Photo Credit: Doug Hayes
  2. Dancers Heather Rhea O’Connor and Erick Hooten in a duet inspired by Elizabeth Whitson’s photograph, “Beauty in the End” Photo Credit: Doug Hayes
  3. Dancer Kate Neal descends in a new work inspired by Cristina Peter’s photograph “Saltwater Bones” Photo Credit: S. Foster
  4. Dancers Heather Rhea O’Connor and Erick Hooten share an embrace in “Beauty in the End” inspired by a photograph by Elizabeth Whitson Photo Credit: Doug Hayes