During intermission, between Stuart Loungway's two shorter pieces and his Vivaldi "Stagioni", a newcomer to America asked whether the work we'd seen so far would be called"neo-classical". I replied that, rather, "neo-romantic" came to mind. In both "Mockingbird" and "Chamber", Loungway seemed about to tell an emotional tale, although the story lines remained hidden. After the evening's final curtain, my postscript comment was that "neo-classical" seems to fit "Stagioni" best. Ballet was used in all three pieces, but in the last Loungway played prominently with form.
Photo: Stuart Loungway's Terra Firma Dance Theatre dances Loungway's "Stagioni."
The immigrant experience, alienation and assimilation were themes of Burgess’s pair of lecture-performance programs at Flashpoint, an exhibitions and presentations gallery in Downtown DC. As invocation there was Michio Ito’s 1914 solo to Franz Schubert’s “Ave Maria”. It is almost a stepless dance. The arms are constantly, fluidly in motion. The body stretches, reaching up and up heavenward but also settles back down, a return to this world. The legs are lowered, one bending in a kneel and the other projecting backward, both actions sanctifying the ground. The performer’s face is attentive to a different life than the here and now. Sarah Halzak, new to this role, has the secret of the inward Da Vinci smile. Her performance was remarkable. Scenes excerpted from several of Burgess’s dance works followed, three on the first bill and a week later four more plus a repeat. Prior to each scene, Burgess spoke about the situations that prompted him to choreograph. Contrast among the excerpts was considerable in terms of drama, design and dance. Although space at Flashpoint is limited, the sum picture that emerged from the excerpts was bigger than that of any one of the complete works by itself.
Photo at left: "Leaving Pusan," from Burgess's Tracings. Photo by Mary Noble Ours.
Watching an embrace and a kiss is a different experience than encountering the word “love”. On stage, right after the start of the old ballet “Giselle”, we see what the hero Albrecht intends with the lovely village girl he has just summoned from her cottage. These two young people seem to be in love. Yet we know that isn’t all of the story. Albrecht is not being forthright. He is no villager, although disguised as one. We have that knowledge because we deduce it from the action and read it in the program notes. Moreover, our hero is betrothed to someone other than Giselle. How aware is he of his own duplicity? Is that left up to each dance actor in the Albrecht role or is there a cumulative performance tradition?
Photo: Hug & Kiss – Jack Mitchell’s iconic 1958 shot of America’s Martha Graham and Germany’s Mary Wigman at their re-encounter after World War 2.
The way Anna Sokolow (1910 – 2000) seems to have worked was to build small scenes, distinct cells of drama on stage and tie them together into necklaces, bracelets or rosaries. She hadn’t large numbers of dancers at her disposal, so she avoided group architecture on a big scale and cumulative symphonic constructs. No single technique, as there is in Martha Graham’s choreography, joins Sokolow’s dances. Yet clarity of action and economy of means are typical of each cell, of every Sokolow vignette, no matter how multiple may be its means and meanings.
Photo: The veiled ballroom dancers (Helen Marie Carruthers and Daniel Phoenix Singh) in Anna Sakolow’s “Magritte Magritte”, photo by Stephen Baronovics.
“Flying Cloud Cotillion”, “Crowdambo”, “Five”, Rue Noir”,
“A Change Is Gonna Come”, “Festival”
Chamber Dance Project
The Lansburgh Theatre
June 23, 2016
by George Jackson
copyright 2016 by George Jackson
Summers in and about Washington used to be hot, humid and hopping with dance. This year’s weather has been temperate and, probably for reasons that have nothing to do with temperature or moisture, the area’s open air theaters aren’t particularly interested in presenting dance. Wolf Trap is offering a little (Riverdance and American Ballet Theatre’s “Romeo and Juliet”) and Carter Barron is still promising the season’s schedule “soon”. All the more reason to be grateful for Diane Coburn Bruning’s project – a small, summer-only company of dancers on annual vacation from their regular fall-winter-spring work. Not hidden in the pit but sharing the stage are musicians - two types during the current run, either a string quartet or a brass marching band. Repertory for performances through June 26 consists of four dance pieces and two primarily musical ones.
The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts
June 1, 2016
by George Jackson
copyright 2016 by George Jackson
The interview of Swedish choreographer Mats Ek by the Washington Post’s dance critic and cultural reporter Sarah Kaufman started late. Sweden House is diplomatic territory and it took time to check everyone through security. That, however, gave members of the audience once inside a chance to look at pictures of Ek’s dances by Canadian photographer Lesley Leslie-Spinks. The exhibit remains at Sweden House through August 28. Official host of this occasion was the Embassy of Sweden. Its representative, Linda Zachrison, graciously introduced the Kennedy Center’s Meg Booth and the choreographers organization’s Vladimir Angelov, who had helped with planning and publicity. She also mentioned members of the Royal Swedish Ballet in attendance (its director Johannes Oehman and a small group of its dancers) plus Mats Ek’s spouse – Ana Laguna, the veteran dancer. Laguna’s long grayish hair was streaming. She looked like a sorceress.
Paul Taylor plays with the casual and the formal as if these were twin concepts and not opposite poles. His kaleidoscope of patterns, so decorative at first, so deliberately circumspect, can suddenly acquire meanings, suggest feelings, express moods that make one wonder about being, about life. Even so, having watched five of Taylor’s dances on the two programs shown in Washington, I wasn’t prepared for the sixth and last piece, “Promethean Fire”. Everyone in it, all seven men and eight women, is dressed in what the 1940s termed overalls. These overalls were are not just black but velvety black and marked with cresting lines that reflected a dull gold glow. That combination of simplicity and sumptuousness by designer Santo Loquasto matches Taylor’s choice of music – a toccata and fugue plus a prelude by Johann Sebastian Bach as orchestrated cinescopically, surrealistically by Leopold Stokowski. Bach wasn’t a totally new soundscape for Taylor when “Promethean Fire” was “first performed in 2002” but Stokowski’s arrangement preserves the music’s persistent pulse and gives it internal space for turmoil, struggle and triumph. Taylor leaves no doubt that Prometheus’s flame is the light of human love. He makes sure we get his point by quoting Shakespeare in the printed program. Then he illustrates the idea using as his materials motions and positions that depict agony, resolve and capacity. There is, too, placement that show the body surpassing itself, and yet the choreography’s economy is remarkable.
Glade is a group mostly of women dancers. The one man featured was a guest artist - a musician who also moved. Choreography for all of the pieces was by the performers, separately or jointly.Their sense of what suits them is keen. One work featured just musicians playing a string quartet while seated, but their actions were so vivid that I count them as choreography too.
A dozen years ago, a newcomer caught Washington’s dance eye. Intense, even when standing still, she moved with concentrated force whether flamenco, modern dance or balletic styling was called for. Soon she was choreographing portraits of problematic women – such as Mata Hari – for herself. She showed these throughout the country and won attention for what seemed a fresh approach to sensuality and protest. More recently, Yatkin has toured the world. From dancing and teaching in more than 20 different countries, Yatkin returned to Washington this past weekend with a long solo and a movie about her globe trotting.
Although it is crammed with art, The National Gallery provides spaces in which visitors can rest their eyes. In one of these, the West Garden Court, there are huge columns, many green plants and a fountain structure but no exhibited objects. A hush seems to hang between the huge room’s skylight and its terraced marble floors. It is a lovely spot, yet difficult to use as a stage. Sight lines are obstructed and acoustics may sound muffled or acquire overtones. Petr Zuska (he is a dancer from Prague) and Jen Shyu (she is an Asian American musician based in New York) chose to perform their “dialogue” in this grand yet sheltering and also challenging location. Actually, the two entertainers’ artistic territories overlapped. She moved about and even danced a bit in addition to playing a variety of string instruments, vocalizing and producing sound with her high heels. He too, after dancing, sat down to handle musical instruments. Both contended not just with architectural facets of the place but with the motions of a rather restless audience. What sort of dancer is Zuska and what type of musician is Shyu?