Some of the cast for the Joanna Kotze dance was busy laying down linoleum tiles while the audience seated itself, consulted the printed program and began watching.
The tiles were square and diversely colored. They were being placed carefully but in apparently random patterns on the stage floor’s front. Then they were picked up and put down further back. House lights remained on. This was repeated a bit too often until all the colored squares were at the floor’s back perimeter. They ended up not laid out but stacked into four piles, two higher and two lower ones. A member of the linoleum laying team - visual artist Zachary Fabri – kept interrupting his immediately purposeful activity to deliver a few movement asides: fairly brief phrases such as a run in slow motion with the arms punching forward, or a spell of torso vibrating, or an eye dance of stares at the audience. Kotze’s choreography distinguishes between dance and motion as well as among subtypes. Of her six performers, half are designated as dancers and half as visual artists. She doesn’t, with one exception, spare the latter.
This program of pieces by four working choreo- graphers may be seen as pointing to ballet’s future. The audience in Washington welcomed much of what seemed new yet also consoled itself with comments about even the latest trend being unlikely to last forever. Most radical was Alexei Ratmansky’s “Pictures at an Exhibition”. Much in Peter Martins’ “Symphonic Dances” seemed old hat and, moreover, it lacked tradition’s virtues. Justin Peck’s “Everywhere We Go” repeated two of Martins’ mistakes – stereotyping and not stopping in time – but had some very fresh notions too. Christopher Wheeldon’s “This Bitter Earth” duo developed a remarkable continuity of movement without fully revealing the bitter voice in its music. The company danced daringly, often skirting the edge of danger, and delivered unexpected treats - consummate clowning in the Ratmansky and Peck works.
David Neumann keeps a messy stage. Paraphernalia clutters part of the space. A big stack of objects on the left looks like a workshop. Plastic pillows float over the rear center of the floor, and plastic sheeting lies lumped to the right. There also are three wooden boards, a solitary lamp plus other items. These objects aren’t in total disarray, but placed so as to leave empty areas, presumably for the performers. Four of them appear: one middle aged man, one almost middle aged man, one young man and one woman. Dressed casually and diversely in black, the quartet assembles to deliver a stylized movement phrase. It is in moderately slow motion. None of the four cast members dances like a dancer. Their effort resembles that of the regulars in my neighbors’ exercise class. Perhaps they are trained actors? What they soon convey through more naturalistic action is a hierarchy among them. Three are assistants, required to do the bidding of the middle aged man.
A mixed program can provide many pleasures: choreographic and musical variety, more stars per performance, and also lots of chances to compare, contrast and speculate. Can we conjecture which of the leading couples of ABT’s tradition-tinged triple bill in Washington will live happily ever after after their curtain falls? The imperial pair whose courtship we witness in George Balanchine’s “Theme and Variations”, is meant to rule together. Yet, might not revolution intervene and come to blight their lives? The cow poke couple Agnes De Mille matches up in “Rodeo” may settle into a home on the range but weren’t they kids still, just starting out, who would have had to face America’s mounting divorce rate? To me the two whose future seems the most uncertain are Antony Tudor’s troubled Hagar and her family’s gentleman Friend in “Pillar of Fire”. That’s because Tudor gives us a very close look at them only at first. Initially, we watch their behavior as through a magnifying glass. Hagar sways: one instant she is sensual and the next she is ashamed. He, at the start, is inexplicably, enigmatically insensitive. It takes him time to respond to Hagar and Tudor never tells what eventually opens his eyes. At the end of “Pillar”, Hagar and her Friend seem far away, very distant, as if we were looking at them through the wrong end of a telescope. They wend their way through the woods, seemingly without effort, but Tudor’s narrative has ceased to be clinical and instead become vague.
Gillian Murphy and Marcelo Gomes in "Pillar of Fire." Marty Sohl.
Forty years ago or so, Maida Withers was dancing in Washington. Shaping movement phrases seemed to be her thing then and it still is. I’d not heard of Withers before moving to town but locally she was already a presence as faculty at GWU’s dance department (from 1964), as an inquisitive choreographer, and as a statuesque and staunch performer on stage. In the years since, Withers has kept reminding us that the body is meant to move and not while time away being still. She has become our conscience whenever exercising seems too troublesome to bother with. Moreover, Withers has often traveled far from home, to 18 different countries, where her example has prompted people to dance and to collaborate with dancers. Even now, she is unafraid to let herself be seen dancing in public. Withers’ brief solo – a scene not even four minutes long – was the crux of the 85 minutes long “MindFluctuations”.
In making movement, Helen Simoneau – a choreo- grapher from Quebec – usually uses a technique I’d call drawing sketchily. Few solid shapes or definite lines emerge on her pad of paper, which is the stage. Torsos swivel and unbend, legs jog, arms flail, whole bodies roll around. There are vectors every which way almost at once. The overall action is moderately busy and the results are portraits of dancers, of people who move, of individuals in flux. Simoneau makes no secret of doing portraiture. The stage curtains are open as the audience is being seated and what one sees right away are empty picture frames as stage decoration for the first dance, “The Task of Doing”.
Hannah Darrah, Kayla Farrish, Burr Johnson, and Miles Yeung in "The Task of Doing". Photo by Peter Mueller.
This international festival spans the globe. From wherever Iberian culture flourished or fought - whether on Europe’s Iberian Peninsula or in Latin America or in far flung, foreign Africa and Asia - the festival’s curators have included influences on the art, fashion and food being featured at the Kennedy Center during much of the month of March i.e., beginning March 3 until March 24. The opening performance in the Eisenhower Theater on the evening of March 3 had a star studded cast and an audience of dignitaries including Spain’s Sovereign Emeritus, Juan Carlos I. On stage, one of the Kings of Dance - Spain’s and now Philadelphia’s Angel Corella - gave his farewell performance. Currently the director of The Pennsylvania Ballet, Corella appeared alongside his sister Carmen. Additional dance was provided by Brazil’s Grupo Corpo and, arguably, by Fado singer Carminho ‘s balanced stance on high platform pumps. Intriguing me in the program’s varied vocal and instrumental music was the extent to which the classical skills of projection and phrasing enable access even to popular and folk forms. Among the items on exhibit throughout Kennedy Center were traditional/innovative tile work (by Manuela Pimentel), an inviting cable car of cork (by Vhils) that, alas, was off limits, and just one men’s suit among the blue-and-white women’s gowns (designed by Portugal’s Storytailors). Shedding light on the exhibit of Pablo Picasso’s opulently diverse ceramics was an academic seminar at noon on March 4.
Washington, DC on March 3, 2015: Heads nodded in approval as Deborah Rutter, the new president of the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, announced next season’s plans. The dance programming will feature at least 7 ballet companies, a minimum of 8 contemporary dance groups, quite a bit of additional dance plus a special emphasis on skateboarding. If there was dissatisfaction, it had to do with what will not be offered - sufficient variety. There are few mixed bills of ballet and not enough companies are bringing more than a single program. How will an audience nurtured on so many story ballets (“The Nutcracker”, “A Winter’s Tale”, “The Sleeping Beauty”, “Raymonda”, “La Sylphide”, “Juliet and Romeo”) ever become knowledgeable? Gone are the past century’s dance boom days when ballet companies came for more than one week with changes of repertory.
Those inaugurating the new bus service between the center of DC and ADI missed most of the pre-performance commentary on “Chambre” by choreographer-writer Jane Comfort. It had been a “champagne” ride out to Rockville through heavy rush hour traffic. The passengers sipped brut and played a guessing game to make time pass pleasantly. The only thing said about what we were going to see was that it would not be about pirouettes. True, because Jack Ferver plays with dance as much as he does with acting, stand-up comedy, drag, musicality, space and place. All these things seemed intended not for diversity’s or bravura’s sake but to make Jean Genet’s drama “The Maids (Les Bonnes)” as astonishing again as it had been when it was new in 1947. Ferver keeps the core of Genet’s plot and also the essence of each character. Expression, including language and mood, has been updated from post-World War 2 to today. This is Genet reborn.
In America today, tap dancing’s subculture resembles that of ballet - somewhat. Both art forms organize the training of fresh talent around competitions. The presence of parents – ballet dads and tap moms – behind the scenes and in the audience is a crucial building block that gives both camps a middle class look. Racially, tap seems more truly integrated than ballet, at least along black/white lines. The gala held this past Saturday evening for tappers across the DC area featured several things in addition to perform- ance. Items such as tap shoes were on auction. Instrumentalists from Sonova (the Symphony Orchestra of Northern Virginia) provided incidental music. There was a bar and a buffet. Two individuals were honored – tap matriarch Yvonne Edwards and current tap star Baakari Wilder*. The founder of the Capitol Tap organization, Lisa Swenton-Eppard, had devised a festive way to start the still fresh and new year, 2015. Most of those delivering the tap moves and sound were in their early teens.