Review: MOMIX Botanica / June 21 / Ann Arbor

By Christina Sears-Etter, MFA. All rights reserved.
June 26, 2014, Ann Arbor MI, USA

On Saturday June 21st I attended Momix’s Concert Work “Botanica” with
hundreds of other audience members at the Ann Arbor Summer Festival’s Annual
Season. I had attended Momix’s Concert once before, close to the time of its founding,
and was familiar with their style which I thought ( at the time,) was overly gimmick-based
and commercial. However, times have changed, as have I, and Momix has
continued to evolve. And Moses Pendelton’s company has withstood the test of time,
achieving 7 major shows, an international presence, and critical acclaim. The company
is a major source of employment for today’s contemporary movement performer.
Rivaled by, and compared to, Cirque du Soleil, and Pilobolus, the company in which
Artistic Director Moses Pendelton was a founding member, Momix remains a major
creative force in the American Dance Scene. Yet, none of the dancer-illusionist
performers are mentioned by name either on the program, or on the company’s website.
Who are these unknown artists who make the vision of these shows a reality? I got the
opportunity to speak with three of these artists and clarify the creative process of
Botanica, and was able to ask some questions about how the company operates. These
insights can be shared in a future post.
Without a doubt, Momix has been able to flourish as a for-profit enterprise, touring Arts
Centers and University Campuses, and establishing relationships with corporations
such as Hanes, Target and other businesses. The opulent and stunning shows evoke a
range of positive responses from participants.
One audience member, a papa who runs a video and photo company which catering to
the performing arts, remarked while scooping up his four year old that Botanica is “a
feast for the eyes.”
With photographic projections of the natural world, stunning costume and props,
extremely skilled and athletic dancers, the event “Botanica” is indeed a stunner. momixbotanica4In this
post, I will write abut several of the most successful performance scenes. However, must mention that a few of the scenes felt overly long and simple in their illusions. For example the black-light and florescent “bugs”: a clever but overly extended celebration of black light and the abstraction of neon costume accents and visual-effect movement. At one point the dancers (how many? Who knows? No program accompanied Botanica!) made a smiley face and then a frown-y face with their body parts. This was early in the program, and presented a moment of potential discomfort for any audience older than pre-school age. But the scene passed, and the show evolved, and I’ve chosen to write about the most successful moments.
MOMIXbotanica1Orange puffball blossoms (Dahlias? Giant marigolds?) rotate and flirt agains a green leafy projection on the cyclorama. The dancers begin on the floor, a colorful fantasia in their stylized stillness and perfect illusion. This opening image invites the audience into a fantastical journey. There are parallels to vaudeville here, but the company operates within a strong artistic vision, and every aspect of the dancers’ performance is perfect. Mr. Pendelton’s impact on Pilobolus is clear in several of these theatrical scenes. This
barrage of orange blossoms is broken up by a quintet of bees. Five men with abstracted
bee costumes enter facing front with a set of two rod props, each, quivering in the air at
a fast rate. The image of a swarm of bees is so convincing and enjoyable to watch. The
five men cavort, dip, spin and make petty plays for power in extremely short duets
employing contact and minute manipulations. The dancers’ display exemplary technique
in the material, which is tight, eccentric, and well, the bee’s knees! I’m not fond of bees
and this compelling little vignette made me a ready fan!
Again and again, Mr. Pendelton and his Company of Dance Artists treated us to
fantastical scenes, created with the highest level of theatricality. The image below
captures a scene of beautiful abstraction. One imagines the dancers to be sunflowers
on a hot summer afternoon. momixbotanica3There were over 20 dance theatre scenes in Botanica, and each stood alone, taking the audience on a wild ride. The extension of the body through use of costume, props, brilliant lighting and sound design, made Botanica a memorable and inspiring evening. The company is not performing again in North America for quite awhile, judging from the dancers’ comments and the website calendar.
I urge any dance aficionado and fan to be sure to catch Momix at their next theatre
engagement.

Dance Artists Needed

Performance Opp: Seeking dancers that are able to rehearse twice a week to ultimately perform an opening number for a Christian Play. This is a great performance opportunity especially for Christian artists seeking to use their gift to glorify God. Must be able to rehearse once/twice a week for one hour. Rehearsals begin next week, first showcase of choreography to be presented on July 28. Must be able to commit to photo/video shoot prior to performance day (9.11.2014) and to the performance (9.12.2014) @The Millinium Center, Southfield, MI. Please be proficient in all styles of dance. Only taking and responding to serious inquiries. For interest or further inquires inbox me on fb or email: j_t_dance@yahoo.com. (Please share posting with others, thank you)

Review: What’s New / DDCdances / April 11 / Smith Theatre Farmington Hills

By Paulette Brockington

3 + 2 = DDC New Dances

DDCdances (Detroit Dance Collective), a stalwart in the metropolitan dance scene, begins its 35th year with an eye to community, relationships and an honest sense of being.

The April 11, 2014 concert at the Wallace Smith Theatre began and ended with premieres. “Gather Round,” choreographed by Corinne Imberski, provided a soothing sense of community. This rondo was a pleasant opener offering rich, folk sounds from Bela Bartok and clean lines reminiscent of Doris Humphrey’s ”Air on a G String.”  The movement’s recapitulation at the end offered the satisfaction of friendship.

HNM Dance joined DDCdances performing two works on the concert. “Miserere,” choreographed by David Earle, harkened back to the tableau. Tableau vivant, a term borrowed from the French language, means living picture. In “Miserere” the dancers move from scene to scene interacting in unison and canon making moments in time sculptures / living artwork. In this instance the dancers technique is not important. 19th century tableaux cleverly bypassed laws on public nudity by using still bodies to recreate classical sculptures. In “Miserere” the dancers are clothed but somehow feel bare to the audience. The work also made me feel that I was watching a community of cave dwellers living their lives, discovering, and sacrificing.

Sue Clayton and Amy Hutchinson in 'The Room'. Photo (c) John Sobczak

Sue Clayton and Amy Hutchinson in ‘The Room’. Photo (c) John Sobczak

An excerpt from “The Room,” was next in the line-up for DDCdances. Choreographed by Barbara Selinger in 2011, “The Room” looked at relationships before a barrier of a brick wall. When the wall opened and the quartet dealt with the solitary movements of each and the interaction of all. A foot on a chair, a shoulder to a knee helped portray their relationships.

HNM Dance performed “Bolero” before intermission. The music plugged into Gregorian chant, ethereal Celtic music, layered vocals drawing on aspects of global dance rhythms culminating in a mash up of Karl Jenkins voices and strains, Ravel’s “Bolero” and music by The Kinks. The movement’s thematic material was artfully manipulated through repetition. A large group, HNM Dance moved with emotion through the space affording solos and duos their space in which to shine, a compliment to Anh Nguyen, its choreographer and artistic director.

Amy Hutchinson, David Guzman and Elizabeth Schultz in 'Indivisible'. Photo (c) John Sobczak

Amy Hutchinson, David Guzman and Elizabeth Schultz in ‘Indivisible’. Photo (c) John Sobczak

DDCdances concluded the concert with the premiere of “Indivisible.” This work, choreographed by Barbara Selinger with Selinger’s videography and Bernadine Vida’s photography, explored images of the Heidelberg Project through movement, stillness and splashes of color. The Heidelberg Project is art, energy, and community. It’s an open-air art environment in the heart of an urban community on Detroit’s East Side. The videography may have been overbearing at times but its mission was felt.  Its most striking moment for me was recognizing the strong sense of the plight of the homeless in a riot of color evoking the memory of smells, frustration and just being. Because of that I’d say the “Indivisible” did just as the Project does. It used its lines, shapes, voices and stillness to provoke thought and discussion, inspire action and provide a sense of community. You can’t heal a community without the chord that seemed to run through each piece on the concert.

David Guzman in 'Indivisible'. Photo (c) John Sobczak

David Guzman in ‘Indivisible’. Photo (c) John Sobczak

Review: After The Rain / Joffrey Ballet / March 1 / Detroit Opera House

By David Benoit-Mohan, Chevalier (O.P.A.), B.A., M.S., M.D., D.A.B.F.M., D.A.B.I.M.

AFTER THE RAIN© (pas de deux)

After The Rain / Joffrey Ballet. Chor. Christopher Wheeldon

After The Rain / Joffrey Ballet. Chor. Christopher Wheeldon

Choreography by Christopher Wheeldon, Music by Arvo Pärt, Staged by Jason Fowler, Costumes by Holly Hines, Lighting by Jack Mehler after Mark Stanley, Dancers April Daly and Miguel Blanco.

I attended a performance of the Joffrey Ballet on Saturday March 1, 2014 at 7:30 p.m. at the Detroit Opera House, a programme that included the piece, AFTER THE RAIN, choreographed by Christopher Wheeldon to the music of Arvo Pärt. The way AFTER THE RAIN was presented was so stunningly beautiful that I was moved to review the piece to encourage as many as can, to see it. Set to the evocative score of Spiegel im Spiegel (Mirror in Mirror, literally), and done with exquisite costuming, AFTER THE RAIN is a whispered, tonal and dynamic exegesis on love. It is perhaps one of the more beautiful pas de deux ever choreographed, and April Daly and Miguel Blanco make it live. The choreography ostensibly shows the changing closeness and distance encapsulated by a loving relationship, with each dancer evincing their desire to understand the other’s heart and mind– a delicate and often timorous journey. There are heroic strains of love, often almost painterly impressions of reflective clarity, soft murmurs of frustration, times of introspective detachment, moments of isolated longing and a return to the vital life force of love. The Joffrey does this to perfection. The sculptural poise, counterbalance and overwhelming tenderness of feeling in each movement will grip any viewer’s heart in a deeply human way. The flawless use of the line, the masterful développé, the sublime attitudes and lyrical arabesques with eloquent lifts and dramatic transitions took this choreography beyond art and into the realm of spirituality. It is simply one of the most breathtaking pas de deux that I have ever seen.

DDC’s “What’s New” Concert

DDCdances – 2014 SEASON FINALE CONCERT

DDCdances presents their season finale concert, What’s New, on April 11, 8 PM at the Wallace Smith Theater, Oakland Community College, Farmington Hills.

“Indivisible” – photo by Steve Selinger

The evening features the premiere of Indivisible, a theatrical, thought-provoking work choreographed by Barbara Selinger, DDC’s artistic director and award winning choreographer. Indivisible includes projections of historic images of the Heidelberg Project, Detroit, photographed by Bernadine Vida. This powerful piece is not to be missed!

DDC also premieres a stunning quartet by Corinne Imberski, former DDC dance artist and choreographer. The piece (untitled to date) is a beautifully designed work of art performed to the music of Bela Bartok.

“The Room” – photo by Steve Selinger

The concert will present excerpts from the The Room, current DDC repertory, choreographed by Barbara Selinger. The Room integrates projected images of John Sobczak’s exquisite photography that creates a captivating environment on stage.

From Windsor, the amazing HNM Dance Company, artistic director Anh Nguyen, will also perform two wonderful pieces. Bolero, choreographed by Nguyen, is upbeat, fun and will definitely put a smile on your face. HNM will also perform the magnificent Miserere by David Earle, artistic director and founder of Dancetheatre David Earle, whose passionate dance works touch the human spirit. You’ll be inspired.

DDC Dancers: Amy Hutchison, Ann Arbor; Susan Clayton, Ferndale; David Guzman, Southgate; Elizabeth Schultz, Ypsilanti, Barbara Selinger, Farmington Hills.

Tickets for What’s New:

At the Door: $20 (cash or check only)

Online Only: Advanced Sale Discount $16 (credit card)

Group Sales (10 or more): $10 arrange via email barb@detroitdancecollective.org

To order tickets and for more info: www.detroitdancecollective.org or 810-444-4553

Please visit www.detroitdancecollective.org for further information about the concert and DDCdances.

DDC is funded in part by the Michigan Council for the Arts and Cultural Affairs, the National Endowment for the Arts and individual contributions.

Review: Joffrey Ballet / Detroit Opera House / March 1& 2, 2014

By Julie Gervais

The Joffrey Ballet brought a perfectly-balanced program to the Detroit Opera House last weekend, March 1 & 2. It was an affirmation of what has always mattered about ballet, and a strong indicator of why ballet will continue to matter no matter how many people have tried to stick a fork in it.

Interplay / Joffrey Ballet Chor. Jerome Robbins

Interplay / Joffrey Ballet
Chor. Jerome Robbins

The freshness of Jerome Robbins 1945 Interplay is untarnished by the years, but is now a kind of period freshness. Time has not subtracted a single bit of fun from this work. Its construction is so careful that it creates the impression of carefree whimsical play, bubbling over with the exuberance of the (soon to be) post-war American spirit.  The group (8 dancers) engages in friendly competitions, starts chain reactions, tries to outdo themselves and each other. They might be on the brink of adulthood or maybe just shy of it – old enough to play at sexual innuendo yet young enough to not take it too seriously. There’s a fun time travel aspect, as occasional flashes appear of the iconic style and choreography that would eventually blossom into West Side Story, still 12 years in the future. There is abundant nostalgia these days for what some call the ‘pre-ironic age’. Whether that ever really existed or not, the piece is easy to love.

After The Rain / Joffrey Ballet. Chor. Christopher Wheeldon

After The Rain / Joffrey Ballet. Chor. Christopher Wheeldon

After The Rain, now one of Christopher Wheeldon’s worldwide signature works, is like one long breath. Its ability to capture and hold attention, using just the push and pull of emotional ties between two people, is a tribute to the power of dance. With his score, (Spiegel Im Spiegel, or Mirrors In The Mirror) Arvo Part proves that minimalist music can find a heart connection on what is, for most people, the first hearing. If perhaps Christine Rocas and Temur Suluashvili might have showed a bit more of the contrast between moments of closeness and moments of apart-ness, this was still a beautiful interpretation.

Son Of Chamber Symphony / Joffrey Ballet. Chor. Stanton Welch

Son Of Chamber Symphony / Joffrey Ballet.
Chor. Stanton Welch

The next piece was the blockbuster of the program. Stanton Welch’s Son Of Chamber Symphony is everything that is great about contemporary ballet. It opens against a projection of bold square architectural lines against low light. The ballerina’s saucer-style tutu, a creation made possible by 21st century fabric technology, holds its shape and flatters the leg line without the traditional frou-frou underlayers of supporting tulle and net. The men’s tunics honor and yet depart from tradition with a cutaway in the chest that reveals their – gasp! – chests. Anastacia Holden’s exquisite movement quality sets up the entire ballet – calm and confident, she owns it with a special fierceness that is often the claim of ballerinas whose proportions don’t necessarily reflect current ideals. The ballet takes on deconstruction of tradition as a sort of investigation. What if…we put ‘expected’ steps and shapes in a few unexpected places? Or unpacked the whole idea of a final climaxing pas de deux just to see what makes it tick, and whether it can tick differently? It’s fascinating and compelling and purposely funny at times, such as in the role-reversal promenade in which the ballerina in parallel bourree supported her man’s one-legged tour lente. Or when the principal ballerina makes her way slowly in a downstage diagonal through a sea of identically dressed women – latter-day shades or swans. It feels rich in imagery but austerely so, not opulent. Think Silicon Valley rather than Moscow. It is danced super clean and with an urgency that can give meaning to abstraction. It’s as though the dancers are hell-bent on sharing their acquired knowledge and insight into the music (John Adams’ work by the same name). This commitment to communicate is a key piece of the work’s success. There is much contemporary ballet that confuses an austere esthetic with emotional emptiness, or that fails to use movement to illuminate the music and the reason for the choreographer’s interest in it. Son Of Chamber Symphony is simply fabulous and deserves a long life on the stage.

Nine Sinatra Songs / Joffrey Ballet. Chor. Twyla Tharp

Nine Sinatra Songs / Joffrey Ballet. Chor. Twyla Tharp

Twyla Tharp’s crowd-pleasing Nine Sinatra Songs was the crowd-pleasing closer, a smart choice even though it’s not from her ‘best of’ collection. Some steps are re-used to the point of redundancy, some simply don’t work very well and the scale of it looked a little lonely on the DOH stage. But this 30-year old piece earns its place in permanent rotation through Tharp’s keen showmanship. Lucas Segovia deserves special mention for his comedy skills, hitting just the right notes to put a hilarious spin at just the right times. Everyone left with a song in their hearts.

 

Review: I Am Guilty / 8th Detroit Dance Race / Greektown, Detroit

DSCF1251

Rachael Ahn Harbert in ‘I Am Guilty’. Photo (c) Scott Lipiec.

By David Benoit Mohan
 ”I am guilty”
Choreography by Rachael Ahn Harbert
Performed by Rachael Ahn Harbert (dancer) and Matt Daher (percussionist) at the 8th Detroit Dance Race held at artLabJ, Feb. 22, 2014, 7:00 p.m.

I had the privilege to attend last night’s performance of Rachael Ahn Harbert’s piece, “I am guilty,” a poetic essay on the societal imposition of guilt upon those who violate those cultural norms which in themselves have no moral value.

The dance truly started before the music began with the staging of the “crime-” that of the dancer eating a slice of cake, downstage centre, the implication being that the consumption of sweets is forbidden to her (because of her profession). 

This. Now. Photo (c) Scott Lipiec

This. Now. Photo (c) Scott Lipiec

 

In the distinctive mise-en-scène, percussion instruments line stage right, from snare and base upstage, to toms at centre to cymbals downstage. They are played in that order by a male protagonist in red flannel pyjamas. The female dancer is upstage left, standing in a zinc bucket against a white square pillar, red paint on the palms of her hands. She  realises that she is caught “red-handed,” in breaking the code of her micro-culture, and stands trembling in her bucket, child-like in a white dress. Guilt thunders down upon her, the state of her heart echoed in the percussion’s tremulous and cacaphonic dissonance. In a series of eloquent contractions, the full horror of what she has done becomes internalised, with attendant revulsion and self loathing. The guilt is overpowering. She forcibly silences the strident drums of remorse, that she may think with clarity.

It is then that revelation occurs. In an almost Kantian metaphor, she realises the superficiality of anti-normative culpability, wiping the red stain off her hands onto her white dress, and understands that she has no need for “self-contempt and inner abhorrence, [sic]” not having violated the moral law. What followed was a satirical farce born out of this new-found illumination. Mocking the expressions of former guilt, with heart resounding in the lightness of cymbals, she is able to resolve her erstwhile conflict.

The last choreographic idea was pure genius. The dancer becomes aware that the percussionist is slowly approaching the remnants of the cake. This can be interpreted in two different ways, and the fact that Ms. Harbert is able to fully develop each of these themes in closing the piece is testament to her intelligence and skill as a choreographer:

1.) There are still remnants of the cake, representing decisions in her future life as to whether or not she will continue to follow societal norms which have no intrinsic merit

2.) There develops a mother-child relationship between herself and the percussionist, as she tries to stop him from eating the cake.

Vying. Photo (c) Scott Lipiec

Vying. Photo (c) Scott Lipiec

Is she blindly reverting to the micro-environment’s imposed values as she tries to prevent him from committing an “artificial” crime? If so, there is inherent hypocrisy, as her dress is still smeared with the red paint of guilt.  

 

 

 

In the final sequence, both she and the child-figure of the percussionist run towards the cake, each either with complete disregard for the other OR, which is more likely, in competition with each other.

Who will get there first? Photo (c) Scott Lipiec

Who will get there first? Photo (c) Scott Lipiec

Regardless of which view one puts upon the ending, both are hopeful interpretations, as in both instances, de-individualism has given way to actualisation.  It was a brilliant piece, and as with the rest of this artist’s oeuvre, it evinces a high calibre of talent in the genre of experimental dance theatre. Rachael Ahn Harbert’s star is rising.

David Benoit Mohan, B.A., M.S., M.D., D.A.B.F.M., D.A.B.I.M.
Chevalier, Ordre des Palmes Académiques (Republic of France)

Review: 7th Detroit Dance Race / Dec 20 / Greektown Detroit

ChelseaRadgensBy Chelsea Radgens

Friday, December 20th 2013 7pm

Once again, artLab J has created a diverse dance showcase that makes an enjoyable night for any dance lover. From students to professionals, the 7th Detroit Dance Race was a great sample of local artists.

Alma College Dance Company started off the show with a piece, choreographed by Alma College senior Chelsea Radgens (myself), called “Foil”. Dancers Mackensie Garlow and Morgan Markowicz complimented each other beautifully in a work that is meant to represent two sides of the same coin; Markowicz embodied chaos with fire in each high-powered step, while Garlow remained controlled and poised through each sustained pose. As far as I could tell, the show was off to a good start.

Duets exploring female relationships seemed to be a theme of the evening, as also demonstrated in “Awakening” by Jodie Randolph of Pure Existence Dance Company. Gorgeous, extended lunges abound, dancers Megan Scheppelman and Nikki Steltenkamp expressed the influence and loss of a friend in this pleasing piece. Or perhaps this dance was about the two sides of one person, and how one can wake up if a part of them leaves. Whatever the interpretation, Pure Existence Dance Company is usually a favorite for me. Randolph creates a very distinctive style that demonstrates the immense strength, control, and emotional talents of her young dancers. The music, costumes, and even the steps themselves, are arguably minimalist to convey a relatable message in a lovely form.

Continuing the duet theme, Eisenhower dancer Alicia Cutaia contributed “Tussle”, focusing on a distinctly romantic relationship. I’m sure any dancer in the audience would not hesitate to comment on the expressiveness of Cutaia’s feet; they were quite gorgeous, to be put plainly. There was also no doubt about the trust that Cutaia had in her sturdy partner, Russ Stark. Lifting her effortlessly throughout the piece, this was a couple that one did not feel worried to watch. He was always there, tossing his partner with ease and awareness. There was even an audible gasp from audience members when Cutaia’s leg got a bit too close to the ceiling, but with help from her careful partner, she of course did not hit it. “Tussle” was a nice change up from female duets while still exploring the relationship between two people.

Lauren M-R Taylor switched it up with her subtly theatrical work, “MOLD”. This work utilized four dancers who alternated between supporting one another and pushing past them. Taylor utilized counterbalance to parallel the balancing act that is appeasing others versus staying true to oneself. Other dancers pulled and prodded at themselves, struggling with how to express themselves and overcome challenges. One of my favorite moments was a long sustained hinge that ended with the dancers on the floor on their backs. Each of the four dancers was controlled, demonstrating the large amount of body awareness and core strength that the dancers must have. Aside from the dancing itself, “MOLD” was a story, which transitioned nicely into the next piece as well.

Body Rhythm Dance Theater presented two pieces from the work “5 conversations about the same thang”, both choreographed by Edgar Page.. The first piece “Words I can’t Unsay”, was a overtly sensual duet. Dressed in a nightgown and underclothes, dancers Christopher Woolfork and Janel Davis (Indigo Colbert for the Saturday night show) explored the sexual side of a romantic relationship. When paired with the next piece , “My love is like…”, it seemed to tell the story of a married couple and the husband’s mistress. “My love is like…” then seems to be a woman’s solo, offering up a different, sympathetic look at the other woman. Soloist Ta’rajee Omar was emotional and danced with an impressively consistent amount of energy through a multitude of layouts, turns, and quickly changing positions. The following intermission allowed the audience to digest the pieces, while allowing the messages to sink in.

After intermission, artLab J performed “CHANGE”, a duet between Rachael Ahn Harbert and Edgar Page.  As per usual artLab J style, the piece was refreshing in its simplicity and lovely message. Dances Rachael Harbert and Edgar Page moved together compatibly and the artists’ emotional intent was clear throughout the piece; both dancers are blessed with incredibly expressive faces. “CHANGE” was also a multimedia presentation, as the piece opened with a video of various artLab J dancers asking people for change during Detroit’s Noel Nights. Though they didn’t get any change from the people in the video, “CHANGE” gave the audience hope for Detroit.

Equally comforting was Jennifer Harge’s “I said, there are no people here”. Movements were simple and easy to take in, though this piece had a surprise. Harge began asking people in the audience if they’d like to dance with her, and though this is an unconventional move, I felt completely at ease and blissful watching Harge as she calmly and gracefully instructed three audience members. Though Harge’s title evokes a sense of cynicism, as Harge and her three random audience members walked off the stage unified, it was quite uplifting indeed.

Next up was one of my favorite duos from last year’s Detroit Dance City Festival: The Umbrella Co. from New York.  Stephanie Booth and Jessica Parks performed one of the most athletic pieces in the show, “Epitome of Femininity” with a sense of coolness and confidence. The choreography was very based in modern dance, though it clearly was inspired by elements of yoga and pilates as well. Every step was clear and concise, and the dancers’ chemistry was engaging to watch. One of my favorite things about The Umbrella Co. is their impeccable use of breath. Synchronized breathing, especially in moments of silence, allowed a new layer of togetherness and energy to transpire, leaving the audience in a state of breathlessness. It was a joy to see The Umbrella Co in the summer, and it was delightful to be granted an opportunity to watch them again.

Finally, The Detroit Tap Repertory switched things up with “River” and “Winter SOLEstice”. Though the dancers are young, they are every bit as professional and talented as any of the previous acts. I don’t know very much about tap, but they are definitely impressive to watch. The dancers wholly engaged the audience with playful faces, and as the last bit was a Christmas medley, it was perfect for the time of year; I know I left with a huge grin on my face, and warmth inside my soul.

 

Review: Detroit Dance Race / December 21 / Greektown Detroit

By Michelle Quenon

On Saturday, December 21st at seven o’clock in the artLab J studio, the 7th Detroit Dance Race was about to begin. With just two rows of chairs for the audience to sit, the setting was very intimate, creating a vulnerability for both the performers and the audience members; a sensation that is most often missing in bigger venues such as a theatre. That being said, watching the pieces performed in the artLab J studio was a very refreshing experience. The choreographers all tailored their pieces to be seen at a close visual range, and, after the audience got over the initial closeness of the performers, the intimate setting transformed into a warm and exciting atmosphere full of encouragement and appreciation on the part of both the audience and the performers.

Foil / Chor. Chelsea Radgens Photo (c) Scott Lipiec

Foil / Chor. Chelsea Radgens
Photo (c) Scott Lipiec

The program started with a piece choreographed by Chelsea Radgens entitled Foil. As the title suggests, the two dancers–Mackensie Garlow and Morgan Markowicz–were indeed foils of each other. This idea was reflected beautifully with the music, as the duet between the two string instruments mimicked the movements of the dancers, separating them visually and audibly but still connecting them as one undoubtable entity. The intermittent segments of unison dancing aided in heightening the stark contrast of Garlow’s poised lyricism and Markowicz’s vibrant virtuosity. The piece was well performed and very interesting to watch.

Following Foil was a piece called Awakening, choreographed by Jodie Randolph and danced by Megan Scheppelman and Nikki Steltenkamp. Right from the start, the piece was very engaging. The calm fluidity of the dancers gave the piece an almost hypnotic

Awakening / Chor. Jodie Randolph Photo (c) Scott Lipiec

Awakening / Chor. Jodie Randolph
Photo (c) Scott Lipiec

feeling and both dancers were able to make their movements expansive without breaking the delicacy of the piece. Also, the connection between the two dancers, along with the connection they held with the audience contributed to a spellbinding performance from start to finish.

The third piece of the program, Tussle, was choreographed by Alicia Cutaia and performed by herself and Russ Stark.

Tussle / Chor. Alicia Cutaia. Photo (c) Scott Lipiec

Tussle / Chor. Alicia Cutaia.
Photo (c) Scott Lipiec

Both dancers moved beautifully and with much technical precision. There was much creative partnering that held the audience captivated and even drew audible sounds from its members at certain points. For the most part, the interactions between the two dancers were languid and tender, though there were subtle hints at a “tussle,” performed in the same tender way. Movement-wise, the two were in perfect harmony, though the lack of a strong emotional connection between the dancers, whether intentional or not, was unclear. This aside, the piece was still very captivating to watch.

The program continued with a piece choreographed by Lauren M-R Taylor called MOLD.

MOLD / Chor. Lauren M-R Taylor Photo (c) Scott Lipiec

MOLD / Chor. Lauren M-R Taylor
Photo (c) Scott Lipiec

The piece started out with some very interesting formations by the four dancers, and moments of stillness were used very effectively. The dancers were very engaged with one another, and as they all began to break away from their solos and come together, there was a real sense of camaraderie that developed among them. They became–as the title of the piece suggests–a mold.

The next two pieces of the program were performed by the Body Rhythm Dance Theatre and choreographed by Edgar L. Page. The first piece, Words I can’t unsay, was  tensely calm and sexual, with the dancers displaying an intense physical and emotional connection with one another. This was contrasted greatly with the second piece, My love

My Love Is Like... / Chor. Edgar Page Photo Scott Lipiec

My Love Is Like… / Chor. Edgar Page
Photo Scott Lipiec

is like…, in which a solo performer, Ta’rajee Omar, took over the space with a deeply introverted solo of frustration, anger, and loneliness that had the audience bouncing between intrigued discomfort and enthralled mesmerism. It was powerfully expansive and yet exceedingly vulnerable at the same time. Omar never seemed to stop moving, and she contorted her body into positions that reflected her discomfort while still managing to keep everything as rich and languid as if she were moving through water. The piece was very captivating and definitely a crowd favorite.

CHANGE / Chor. Joori Jung Photo (c) Scott Lipiec

CHANGE / Chor. Joori Jung
Photo (c) Scott Lipiec

CHANGE / Chor. Joori Jung Photo (c) Scott Lipiec

CHANGE / Chor. Joori Jung
Photo (c) Scott Lipiec

After a brief intermission, the program continued with CHANGE, the artLab J dance choreographed by Joori Jung and performed by Edgar Page and Rachael Ahn Harbert. After a short video illustrating the want and need for change in the perception of the arts in Detroit, the dancers began to play with double entendres, as Harbert continually held out her hand and asked Page for “Change?” The duet that followed was slow with unconcealed weightedness and drudgery, though there were undoubtable moments of hope. Overall, the peace was very well executed and thought provoking.

Following CHANGE was I said, “there are no people here,” choreographed and danced by Jennifer Harge. Harge began by facing away from the audience and moving her feet in a box pattern, as though ballroom dancing with herself. The music–choral singing–along with the choreography produced a heightened sense of loneliness. At one point, Harge stopped dancing and looked out at all the members of the audience. At such close proximity, a frank acknowledgement from a performer can leave the audience feeling uncomfortable, but Harge’s clam, sincere gaze, along with the beautiful voices of her soundtrack, had the opposite effect. She then proceeded to pick three people out of the audience to dance with her onstage. As she quietly went around to each of her newly gathered performers, showing them each what to do, their movements began to mesh together, rendering the title of her piece irrelevant and leaving the audience feeling very inspired.

The Epitome of Femininity / Chor. Stephanie Booth, Jessica Parks Photo (c) Scott Lipiec

The Epitome of Femininity / Chor. Stephanie Booth, Jessica Parks
Photo (c) Scott Lipiec

The program continued with a piece entitled The Epitome of Femininity with choreography and performances by Stephanie Booth and Jessica Parks. Both dancers were clad in relatively androgynous costumes–spandex shorts and grey tank tops. Their dancing was beautiful, sensual, powerful and deliberate, displaying athleticism and grace. The minimalistic music and costumes aided the dancers in stripping away all preconceived notions of “femininity,” and bringing a refreshing take on a usually overworked subject. The connection the dancers held with the audience was very amusing. While working their way in and out of strenuous poses with apparent ease, they shot looks at the audience, as though daring its members to contradict them and their displays of femininity.

To conclude the program, the Detroit Tap Repertory performed River and Winter SOLEstice. River was danced to surprisingly slow music, though the intricacy of the steps and the complicated rhythms were all clearly present. The second piece, SOLEstice, was an enjoyable and upbeat dance to holiday music. It provided a very fun ending to the program.

Detroit Tap Repertory Photo (c) Scott Lipiec

Detroit Tap Repertory
Photo (c) Scott Lipiec

WSU DANCERS TO PERFORM AT THE JOYCE THEATER, NYC

By Julie Gervais

It’s the fourth of November, which means that ten students from Wayne State University have just seventeen days before they will perform twenty-two of the most challenging dance minutes of their lives.

Dancepanorama caught up with Meg Paul, Ballet Lecturer in the Maggie Allesee Department of Theater & Dance at WSU and the rehearsal director for ‘Hissy Fits’ – a work created by Dwight Rhoden, who founded and co-directs Complexions Contemporary Ballet with dance world superstar Desmond Richardson.  Meg is also the Director of the CCB Summer Intensive at WSU, an educational outreach partnership begun three years ago. It’s been a great fit from the start – having danced with the Company, she has an insider’s understanding of both their movement style and their mission. It’s a mission that is strong on diversity and individuality, and Detroit has embraced it with open arms.

Dwight Rhoden

Dwight Rhoden

The path to twenty-two minutes began with a nine-day residency that kicked off on day one of the fall semester. Mr. Rhoden chose his cast, and they reported in to the studio after the academic day at 4 pm to begin a six-hour rehearsal. Until Labor Day weekend, when the holiday time afforded eight to nine hours of rehearsal per day: eighty hours and counting.

The music for Hissy Fits is by J.S. Bach (I always wish that composers could see the incredible dance works that later generations have created with their music) and, like all Rhoden choreography, the movement is dense, complex, intricate. Multiple body parts moving at once, and mostly in unexpected ways – for both the dancer and the audience.

Hissy Fits rehearsal.

Hissy Fits rehearsal.

Ms. Paul reports that they handled it all like pros – not just the intense schedule, but the digging in to unfamiliar material, the getting out of their comfort zone. Even though each of the dancers performing (plus four understudies) had attended at least one of the Complexions summer sessions, stepping into a complete professional-level work is a big step beyond a student performance, and this is the original work – start to finish, no modifications. The partnering is especially challenging in Rhoden’s choreography, adding layers of difficulty that many students are encountering for the first time.

Dwight Rhoden At Work With His Cast

Dwight Rhoden At Work With His Cast

It is important to note Mr. Rhoden’s confidence in the WSU students’ ability to perform the work at the required level and his commitment to developing young dancers’ skills at this crucial point in their development. It would be easy for a choreographer who is in demand around the world to limit his schedule to seasoned professionals. He has chosen instead to reach out with a challenge and an opportunity to young dancers just on the verge of spreading their wings. It’s an inflection point, and can make all the difference in the world to a budding career.

Working It Out

Working It Out

Post-residency, Meg Paul directed all rehearsals, coaching and nurturing these young dancers. Nine additional weeks out, they are now approaching one hundred and twenty hours of work. The moment is getting closer.

On Thursday November 21, they will take the stage of The Joyce Theater in NYC. It’s an intimate but iconic venue for the dance world, a former film house renovated specifically for dance and still dedicated to it. A highlight of Complexions ten-day run at the Joyce is their Annual Gala on the 21st , and it is on this evening that the WSU dancers will perform – on the same program with the Company – by special invitation.

Dancer Kara Brody

Dancer Kara Brody

Congratulations to all of the dancers: Chris Braz, Michelle Brock, Kara Brody, Shauna Cook, Amber Golden, Sam Horning, Ashlee Merritt, Adam McGaw, Andrew Sanger, and James Vessell; and to understudies: Bianca Brengman, Bianca Bousamra, Zariah Fowler, and Ashley Kalchik. We wish them all the best success and enjoyment of every moment of this incredible opportunity.

Sneak-peek preview opportunity! There is a benefit performance on Wednesday November 6 in WSU’s Maggie Allesee Studio Theater at 7:30. Tickets (313) 577-4273.