> Maryland Dance Ensemble
> Flamenco Men
> Imperfect Dancers of Italy
by George Jackson
copyright 2011 by George Jackson
Maryland Dance Ensemble, a student-faculty performance company, allowed its educational obligations to dominate this program. There was no escaping the "Movement Poetry Project", an exercise that turned up on both halves of the bill and during the intermission. Motion phrases and words were paired, but instead of winged verse and daring dance what emerged were Western Union messages and Boy Scout signals. Predictably, one of the words used was "ululation". "No" and "talent" also were on the exercise's list of terms, but no one had the guts to link them. A few minutes of this game might have looked cute on a kindergarten class but for college students? Adriane Fang was tagged as culpable.
Worthwhile was an emotional suite from "Oashisu". At its highpoint - a lean, mean solo in which a man twists himself into knots - the dancer, Graham Brown, seemed intensity incarnate. Sara Pearson and Patrick Widrig had made "Oashisu" in collaboration with their dancers to James Nyoraku Schlefer's music. The suite's Japanese sensibility did not exclude substantial choreography.
Brown's own choreography, a suite from his "You", seemed collegiate revue stuff. Serious in intent was David Dorfman's "Depth of Perception", a duet for Sharon Mansur and Boris Willis in which neither the words nor the motions jelled. Concepts were abundant in Tere O'Connor's "Different Edens" but choreography seemed an afterthought. In "I Wake Up Dreaming", Alvin Mayes made the pliant textures of Ysaye Maria Barnwell's choral music (rendered by the Not What You Think singers) flow and sweep symphonically.
Mayes directs the Maryland Dance Ensemble for the University of Maryland's School of Theatre, Dance and Performance Studies. On this occasion, he was presented with the Washington Performing Arts Society's 2011 Pola Nirenska Award for Lifetime Achievement in Dance. (Evening of December 3, 2011 in the Kay Theatre, Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center, on the University of Maryland's campus in College Park.)
> This year's festival, Fuego Flamenco VII, consisted of three programs: "Flamenco Algarabia" with the Ana Gonzalez & Jose Barrios Company, "Flamenco en familia" with members of the Spanish Dance Society and "Flamenco Men" produced by Edwin Aparicio's company. I only saw the "Men". Included was a very essential woman, singer Amparo Heredia. Her utterances, accompanied by three male instrumentalists, enveloped four danseurs in atmospheres of throaty sound.
Each of the dancing men was distinct. Carlos Menchaca is young, trim but when moving at full pitch his good looking face distorts into a demon's features. Norberto Chamizo keeps himself tightly in check. He is severe even at his most brilliant. Sergio Aranda combines bravura with humor. His sense of play includes teasing the public. In this pas de quatre of egos, Aparicio acts the secure leader who doesn't hesitate to relax, to cultivate the pliancy of port de bras or dismiss his own feats with casual disdain.
There was solo, duet and, briefly, quartet dancing. An occasion was the singer joining a dancing man for a duet of tender movements. Flamenco footwork can be addictive for the viewer, especially when coming from virtuosi. These men's tapping could be light like coloratura singing or as forceful as the pounding on an anvil or as unnerving as a machine gun's chatter. There's never a dull moment. (December 4 in the Gala Hispanic Theater at the Tivoli in Washington, DC.)
> Eureka "nurtures new works by up-and-coming" choreographers. Most of them are from Washington and vicinity. On this bill were 9 pieces, all premieres. It used to be that fledgling dance makers were advised by critics, by their teachers and by their friends not to be complicated, not so technical and more direct emotionally. Now the pendulum has swung the other way. Easy approaches are favored. Form is a forgotten word. Homespun movement is in fashion. Concepts derive not from literature's classics but from comic books.
There are exceptions. Kate Jordan's "Outside" was based on great books - Hans Christian Andersen's "Little Match Girl" and Knut Hamsun's "Hunger". There was live music, Wang An-Ming's "Homeless Child". Jordan's gift to her deprived protagonist was a turbulent, riveting solo. It showed the protagonist as needy but also as having hope. Then, three privileged, confident figures entered and began to play. The unsubtle way in which they repeatedly excluded the poor girl from their game brought "Outside" to a disappointing end. Nor did Kathleen Leary's costuming for the four women quite signal "have" and "have not". Catherine Liu, however, appealed as the girl in need.
Another exception was "4 for Four" because it was the work of a choreographer of almost a quarter century's experience. Nir Ben Gal, visiting Washington from the Negev, made this pas de quatre over a period of 4 days for Sara Herrera, Jordan, Ronya-Lee Anderson-Thompson and Hayley Cutler. It has orderly yet busy action, especially for the hands and arms. At times the movement almost looks like sign language. The accompanying music, by Bach, is orderly too but has juicy tonalities while the dance material is dry. Even Jordan, who combined confidence with a thinking, questioning dimension - didn't make this dance come to life.
Other premieres were Orit Sherman's "Life Cycle butterfly dream" with words and dance for an on-stage trio (one man, two women) and for five figures on video, Hayley Cutler's "(The Censoring of) Approximate Location" for a female quintet, Marissa Guerrero's "boxed in" for a pushcart box plus 3 neon pink wigs worn by women, Herrera's one liner "Procrastination: Drug of Choice" for Sarah Ewing, Ewing's "Jeff, Andy and the Business of Art" for a man, a pair of women plus picture frames (the title's "Andy" is Warhol, but who is "Jeff"?), and Amber Jean Tietgens' dance equivalent of muzak "Teaching Fish How to Swim" for six fancy tutus and the women who wore them. Less simplistic than the foregoing 6 pieces was "The Uninvited Guest" for 5 women in scarlet. Its choreographer, Ronya-Lee Anderson -Thompson, played intriguingly with pattern but went on too long.
Producing 9 premieres at once is rash but, without doubt, Eureka's directors - Kate Jordan and Orit Sherman - have guts. The live musicians for "Outside" (Michael Bowyer, Ervand Kristosturyan, Samantha Hegre) and for "Uninvited Guest" (Jerome Meltzer, Daniel Griffin, Rael Griffin) added a welcome aspect to performing the two pieces - they were in conversation with the dancers. (December 9, 2011 at Dance Place in Washington, DC.)
> What does the company name, Imperfect Dancers, mean? Imperfect in grammar refers to verbs i.e., words denoting action that, although repetitive, wasn't (past imperfect) or isn't (present imperfect) continuous. Arguably, in English, the future imperfect does not exist or is possible only in a science fiction, time travel context but that's not the situation in Latin. Is the future imperfect possible in Italian? The duets danced by this Italian company, although they have a repetitive aspect, do not go on and on boringly. There was much grab-and-hold, grab-and-lift, grab-and-roll partnering in both of the program's two pieces. The partnering was varied by what happens following the grabs - jumping, rolling, lifting, pushing and so forth. Also, the dancers engaged in these actions differed dramatically. Some were tall and thin, others short and robust and still others clearly were in the middle range. Does, per chance, "imperfect" refer to anatomy or, perhaps, to technique? All the dancers seemed cleanly trained with none of the casualness or home-made habits that have become fashionable for some modern dancers. These Italians bend and stretch, articulating easily at the joints like ballet dancers but are able to thrust and tense antiballetically. 3 of them were women, 5 were men with the total of 8 appearing unidentified as to role in both "Thinking Outside the Box 1 & 2" and in "Le Sacre du Printemps".
Experiencing "Box" is like wandering through a surrealist painting, a Di Chirico terrain with its juxtapositions of architecture and anatomy. Are the monumental slabs coming alive and do the human bodies seem to be turning to stone? We watch the people behave, act, interact or just exist. Duets and solos tend to be emotional, expressive but the recitatives, the walks or runs signal dampened emotion. The soundscape (Vivaldi, Bach, Handel, whispers, beeps) is calm for the most part. This is Italian Tanztheater, elegant Pina Bausch. With no overall form, "Box" ends abruptly as may a dream.
I liked "Box" more than "The Rite of Spring". Stravinsky's music for "Rite" (the orchestral version, added to and edited) is anything but calm. As with most other choreography for the famous score this version is hard pressed trying to match the aural impact. The majority of the cast is dressed suavely, in men's suits. They seem to be on the go, on treadmills. Are they members of the Mafia? The left sixth of the stage, separated by a curtain of dangling cords, is a cluttered space, a storeroom and pad for an odd man out. Of course, the gang and the odd man confront. Was he meant to be both the ritual leader and the sacrificial victim of the original scenario? I lost track of the action. The dancing had spurts of primitive power but the music was so altered that there was no mounting force, no building to a climax. A token ending took place, again like in a dream - one we know is about to terminate so we tag on a quick conclusion. Why do we fear unfinished dreams?
Walter Matteini, trained in Rome and formerly a performer with diverse Italian and French ballet companies, choreographed both works. This was the Imperfect Dancers' American debut, presented by an assemblage of Italian and American individuals and institutions led by Paul Gordon Emerson and his new Company E. (December 10, 2011 at the Lansburgh Theatre in Washington, DC.)
> Dakshina, The Daniel Phoenix Singh Dance Company, brought its dramatic signature work "Vasanth" and three mood pieces to the new (10/10/2010) Artisphere. "Vasanth" tells of the death and rebirth of Love and of Spring's return to this world. It has runs for the corps that swirl swiftly about the stage, pantomimic action with a poignant appeal, sensuality plus a feast of joyous foot patter. A mixed cast of familiar and new performers (including Graham Pitts as Love, Shailaja Maru as Spring, Singh as the entranced/awakened great god Shiva, Madhvi Venkatesh as Desire, and Stacey Yvonne Claytor as Shiva's consort) gave a very fresh performance of Singh's melding of Indiadance, modern dance and ballet.
The three other works went well together. One was a thoughtful love dance for two men, "Since You've Asked" by Singh. He and Jamal Ari Black gave it nobility. In "By the Light...", the late Eric Hampton visualized Beethoven's "Moonlight Sonata" as a woman's solo of sorrow. She looks up into the light of the moon, she leans back in the moonbeams as if to remember, she grieves and, briefly, succeeds in conjuring up her lost love. This is a solo more than it is a duo, one of intensity and utter simplicity. Natalia Pinzon honed it to perfection. As her ghostly partner, Black was present for an instant and then not. The last formal piece on the program, Ludovic Jolivet's "Voy y Vengo", is for 6 dancers (only 5 were listed in the program) seated on roller chairs. Jolivet transformed the people and chairs into a congregation. Its members bowed and straightened, they held up their arms and folded them, they took hold of others' hands and let go while unobtrusively pedaling their chairs over and around the stage space. They moved on smooth paths and in simple formations to music by Franz Schubert, Yann Tiersen and Jolivet himself. This roller dance could have been shorter but by no means was it a gimmick. Concluding the program was a dance party in Artisphere's ballroom . (December 11, 2011 in the Black Box Theater of Arlington, Virginia's Artisphere.)
> That's it. Sorry for what I missed. A toast to dancing and its tomorrows!