Reviews: Detroit Dance City Festival / August 22-24 / Detroit

ddcf2014logoThe 2nd Detroit Dance City Festival concluded a couple of weeks ago, and it was a huge success! Building on last year’s event, the Festival offered more performances by more companies as well as more classes, and attracted considerable media attention. Congratulations to Joori Jung and her talented, committed team for running a super organized and exciting event. artlabj2014fest1
Opinions expressed below are those of each individual writer. DancePanorama seeks written work that reflects a true diversity of thought and does not edit or censor responsible journalism. Keep the conversation going on our FB page, and let us know if you’re interested in contributing writing to future dance events in and around Detroit – our doors are open! https://www.facebook.com/dancepanorama
Our reviewers
Paulette Brockington

Paulette Brockington

Paulette Brockington is an accomplished dancer/choreographer and actor/director, who received the 2012 Michigan Heritage Award in Performing Arts for her contributions to dance in the Great Lakes area. A versatile artist, her dance career in concert dance began with a teaching fellowship at The University of Michigan followed by positions at Marygrove College, Wayne County Community College District, guest stints at other colleges and organizations, several dance companies including her own, and opera companies. Through artist residencies she has taught all ages from early elementary through the university levels. in 2008 she was ArtServe Michigan’s Arts Educator of the Year. Other grants and awards levied during a lifetime of achievement make her a freelance artist of note who has had the privilege of training with Bela Lewitzky, Iacob Lascu, Judith Jamison, Tommy Gomes and Joel Hall to name a few.

Tom Regan

Tom Regan

Tom is an adult-onset dancer and dance fan, starting at age 40 with a jump into adult jazz and tap classes, a consequence of witnessing several recitals at the studio attended by his daughters and prompting the thought “hey, I can do that that!”  He also enjoys community theatre, where he has played ensemble roles in productions at Stagecrafters in Royal Oak and Ridgedale Players in Troy.  His day job is software engineering and he is married with two adult daughters.

Jessica Thomas

Jessica Thomas

Jessica Thomas is a native of Detroit, MI. She is a professional performer, choreographer, and educator. Thomas is the founder and director of JTDance. She holds a Master of Fine Arts from New York University (Tisch School of the Arts) and a Bachelor of Fine Arts from Wright State University. She has performed in numerous choreographic works at various prestigious venues, including Aretha Franklin’s Christmas Card,
Mechanique,Collage, Song of the Youths, Country Dance, Romeo and Juliet, Barre Exercises, Aida, A Chorus Line, Jo! A Dance Odyssey: Africa to America, One Mo’ Time, For Colored Girls,The Story, True West, Among the Scapes and Fields, Half A Dozen of the Other, The Land of Loneliness, Milk, and Honey,Altruistic Intentions, Je’ Adore, Who Am I To Be…, Tragedy of Design and Pulse, and The Nutcracker with Ballet Internationale, Cincinnati Ballet, and Dayton Ballet.
Jessica has served as a dance educator and performer throughout Detroit for events
such as the Detroit Public Schools Dance Day, The Arts League of Michigan, The
Institute of Music and Dance at Marygrove College, Eisenhower Dance School, Ballet
Renaissance, Dance Expressions, and Motor City Dance Movement. She has been a
choreographic guide for Inside Out Literary Arts (Emily Dickinson) and is currently a
dance instructor at Legacy Dance Studio, LLC.

6PM Friday, August 22 / Boll Theatre

By Jessica Thomas

What better way to spend a Friday evening than to spend it at the YMCA Boll Theatre! There were a variety of gifted choreographers/companies presented via ArtLab J Dance’s Detroit Dance City Festival. The YMCA Boll Theatre is an ideal and intimate space.

The first piece that was slated on the program was “A Higher Place”. It is a clever, intricate contemporary/classical pointe piece choreographed by Chelsea Radgens. The long sleeve black, white, and tan leotards with white platter tutus immediately grasped my attention. The costumes were classic as well as edgy. I, as well as the audience, erupted in soft laughter as Michelle Quenon and Grace Russell would jetè, fouettè, and/or soutenu (for example) around each other as they competed for the ‘limelight’. What is most significant is their ability to portray competitiveness and yet be elegant in the way in which they delivered an arabesque or pique attitude. The first section in “A Higher Place” also reminded me of, and correlates with, how competitive life itself can be. For example; the traditions that we hold on to, and/or the lack thereof. Radgens kept the integrity of the traditional ballet technique and style and inserted the competitive acting innuendoes as the overtone in the first section. As the second section commenced, the white platter tutus were replaced with black jazz shorts. Quenon and Russell were no longer confined to the restrictions of the classical platter tutu whilst performing earthy/weighted contemporary movements. In the second section, they performed cohesively. The movement is light and connected. Quenon and Russell would assist each other in a “roll through or rond de jambe into an embrace”. As if to say; “In life we need each other to get to ‘A Higher Place’.”

The second piece on the program was “Fragrance In Time” (Excerpts) choreographed by Joori Jung of ArtLab J Dance. The piece begins with the dancers strategically placed throughout the space and an active hourglass projected on the cyclorama (‘cyc’) of the stage. The costuming complemented and delightfully contrasted one another. I enjoyed the silky materials and colors of blue, olive green, salmon pink, and tan. In my opinion, it was “couture meets dance”. In the first section of ‘Fragrance of Dance’ the choreography Jung presents on Rachel Ahn Harbert, Marianne Bass, Julia Fowler, Christa Smutek, Adriel Ruben, and Melissa Phillips is delightfully quirky, fluid and gestural. The negative space tremendously affected the use of positive space in their movement. The choreography took me on a journey through time, space, memories (some joyous, thoughtful and painful). The controlled execution of playfulness in ‘Fragrance In Time’ captivated me. I felt a sense of calmness and complete joy while watching the six dancers perform. Some of the highlights of the piece include Harbert doing a ‘trust leap’ into the arms of the five dancers that were standing diagonally upstage left. Harbert’s solo and the gestural conclusion of ‘Fragrance In Time’ where the dancers transition, whilst on stage – from wearing all black with black tulle around their necks, to nude underwear – was thought-provoking and profound. At the conclusion of “Fragrance In Time”, the dancers descended to lying on the ground, in a straight line horizontally across the upstage space. Jung created movement that ‘lackadaisically’ aided each dancer from lying on the ground to standing in a straight line looking at the audience jokingly. The stimulus of the movement seems to come from a play on memories, how the brain sometimes randomly processes things such as how we see colors. I came to the conclusion that ‘time is a continuum’; it has no end.

Jodie Randolph’s company Pure Existence performed ‘Awakening’ third in the program. The bone-colored lace dresses complemented by the warm lighting and classical music added to the calmness of the piece. The adage movements performed by Megan Scheppelman, Alyssa Langmeyer, Teresa Muller, and Maddy Prebola were so delicate and thoughtful. The transitions on and off stage were seamless. The use of plie, space, stillness, and partnering by and among the performers was timely and precise with the musicality of the piece. ‘Awakening’ is a traditional contemporary piece. It possessed elegance and was full of intense emotion. The piece was simply angelic.

“Invisible” was fourth in the program, choreographed by Bree McCormack. Costuming incorporated beautiful earth tone colors. Sam Assemany, Angela Mitchell, Sam Snell, Jalisa Brown, Darryl Barnes, Sarah Rot, and Sam Crouch physically had great perception on swift isolations specifically in the upper torso which then resonated through the rest of their bodies. The choreography and the warm lighting gave “Invisible” a summer’s sunset type of quality (warm and happy). McCormack utilizes low, medium, and high levels in a unique way whilst still maintaining the integrity of the motifs utilized. The choreography is swift yet stylistically controlled.

Fifth in the program was “Blue Roses”, Elizabeth Schultz’ choreography. The simple navy blue, dark blue and black symmetrical dresses caused me to envision an elegant rose. The movement/shapes in the piece are quite airy. Every step performed had a waltz (rise and fall) quality. I was delightfully overwhelmed by the beauty of the cello/violins in the musical selections chosen for “Blue Rose”. The steps complimented the music very well. Elizabeth Schultz, Christina Sears-Etter, and Amy Hutchison were connected, seamless as well as continuous in their movements.

“Will it ever change…heard it all…nothing matters (#88 by Lo-Fang)” are words from one of the musical selections in Tracy Halloran Pearson’s “Portrait”. What do we see? What do we feel? These were several of many questions that came to my mind as I observed “Portrait”. The white costumes and bright white costumes complimented the choreography well. The gestures that were significant were initiated from the dancers caressing and/or twitching their face. The dancer’s movements were extremely powerful as they moved through the stage space. Their leaps were boundless. I was also captivated by the various complex group lifts.

The closing piece, “Mayne Mentshn (My People) The Klezmer Ketch: Act I (Excerpt)” choreographed by Carolyn Dorfman was quite a treat to witness. The soloist, Katlyn Waldo, begins the excerpt with her back facing the audience which is an ardent statement. The piece had a jazzy feel to it. The beautiful highs and lows of the saxophone playing in the foreground add to the vast array of stylistic, grounded, and traveling movements that Dorfman incorporated in the choreography. Waldo moves so fluidly and grandly. The female in male attire automatically caused me to think of the woman’s plight for equality in a “man’s world”. The piece caused me to question: What is the glass ceiling? Are women still striving for equality? The choreography is thought provoking, powerful and grand.
In conclusion. I left Detroit Dance City Festival’s 6:00pm performance completely satisfied, challenged as an audience member, and longing for more. It is nice to see such high caliber performing art presented in Detroit, MI.

8PM Friday, August 22 / Boll Theatre

By Paulette Brockington

A Half Dozen Twists of Fate

The fourth set of performances for the second annual Detroit Dance City Festival presented an unpredicted or random occurrence with far-reaching consequences for dance life in Detroit. Although I would have set a different program order, the evening ultimately filled the need for pleasure, humor, beauty, thoughtfulness, virtuosity and the avant-garde.

The program started with Marcus White’s “Cache” who directed an androgynous exploration of stillness with a mixture of ethnic, contemporary and reflected movement. Solos turned into duets into trios, back to solos and ended with a quartet finding stillness. Within it dancers splayed their chests like a mini explosion frozen in time.

“Rae” by Paulette Brockington was next on the program. The three sections went from a group to a duo back to the group performed to music by Delta Rae.

“Fury: Women in Sand” presented four supple bodied ballerinas hued in earth tones. Choreographer Sheena Annalise sculpted contemporary material with flashes of pointe work. Her intent was cohesive throughout with the choice of music and stated movement theme. If you like clean lines then you missed a gem.

Teresa Muller choreographed “Uneven Odds” for solo dancer Carmen Craft. Ms. Craft performed in an upstage open rectangle of strewn daisies. Hints of ‘love me, love me not’ were played out in movement danced with an open heart touching the audience. She struck a chord with the audience garnering this piece as the most responded to by the audience.

Next the Carolyn Dorfman Dance Company took the stage with “Narcoleptic Lovers” (excerpts) choreographed by Doug Elkins. This version of the piece started with one relationship that was followed by a refereed bout of mixed martial arts cage fighting without the cage and without the martial arts giving us a full-body contact combat/spat resolved with a wink and a smile. The referee left on the stage performed a solo, perhaps of longing ending with her lying downstage on her side dreaming, ending with a dreamt about duet. “Narcoleptic Lovers” was filled with the things in life one needs to be happy – humor, h=the feeling of control of one’s life, your private time, challenges and satisfaction.

The concert closed with choreographer Mandi L. Neubecker-Phillips piece, “I Hear You Eternal.” This trio of ladies in black had a strong sense of leading and following with each of them taking turns as the leader. Ms. Neubecker-Phillips presented a sense of earthiness not found in the other pieces. I also think that they were at a disadvantage by being placed after “Narcoleptic Lovers.”

6PM & 8PM Saturday, August 22 / Boll Theatre

By Tom Regan

I swooned over Detroit Dance City Festival’s inaugural show last year.  The dances I watched were held in a gritty, 18th-century building on Beaubien catty-corner from the Greektown casino.  The long hike up to the fourth floor in stifling heat; the improvised performance area set up in an ancient industrial loft with a pressed tin ceiling; the eclectic mix of amateur and professional dancers and multi-media: it screamed Detroit.

This year, sitting in the light, airy lobby of the downtown Y waiting for the performance to begin, I wondered: will it have the same Detroit texture, the same smell of machine oil and metal filings?

Yes it did.

The 6pm show was kicked off by d’shire dance collective performing “Interconnection,” a testosterone-filled performance of power, flexibility, and even some popping. d’shire danced barefoot, as did all of the other troupes, and I quickly become jealous of the strength and range in those feet, a feeling that lasted all night.  How do professional dancers make their feet do those crazy things?

Jamie Kreindler and Emma Zagar followed with “Rever La Realite'” (Dreaming Reality).  While a voice-over informed us that life is like a dream that is not under our control (the very opposite of “lucid dreaming”) the dancers used their bodies to mime the self attempting to shape one’s life.  The two women combined great technique with incredible strength, effortlessly holding lifts and positions that must have had their muscles screaming in agony.

Next Sean Hoskins and Jessica Post performed “As X Approaches,” a whimsical demonstration of logical absurdities (“if you keep moving half the distance to each other you will never touch”).  My only criticism of this number is that it would have benefited from a few more smiles.  A nudge and wink to the audience would have drawn us into the joke.

I could make the same criticism of DAMAGEDDANCE performance of “GUT.”  With a background of percussion, the dance was a series of sharp, staccato movements that smoothly blended into fluid and then back into staccato.  The dancers made it look effortless.  It was hugely entertaining, at times comical, but again would have been brightened by a few smiles.  Has smiling become unfashionable in high-end dance?  I hope not.

People Dancing followed with “Snow,” where four women evoked the fluidity and grace of a gentle snow storm.

Take Root performed the abstract “Falling Through,” where a young man with a jar of rice, a metal bowl and a laptop created sound effects while an incredibly lithe and beautiful young woman dancer alternately writhed and leapt in loosely-choreographed accompaniment.   This was the most daring number of the evening; so many things could have gone wrong, but none of them did, and it was joyful to see sound-effects man and dancer hold their connection.

Finally, Elizabeth Rose Zwlerzynski performed “Remix Locale,” another bit of whimsy, juxtaposing Broadway, Manhattan with Broadway, Detroit.  A screen behind the stage showed Ms. Zwlerzynski dancing down Broadway Avenue in Detroit, while pedestrians variously gaped or ignored her, combined with film of another dancer doing the same on Broadway Avenue in Manhattan.  Meanwhile Ms. Zwlerzynski danced for us live, alternately copying and splitting off from the choreography displayed on screen.  One’s attention was pulled from screen, to stage, to screen.  It was very well done and very fun to watch.

Capping a night of spectacular performances, DDCDances ended the 8pm show with the haunting “Indivisible.”  The dance troupe, long in the tooth and incredibly flexible and strong, used their bodies to describe the sickness and cynicism of the declining American Empire.  The screen behind the dancers flashed scenes from Detroit’s famous Heidelberg Project, the stage floor was littered with old clothes, and an authoritative voice recited verse alternately cryptic and blunt.

Many of us get the feeling that the entire American experiment is coming unraveled at the seams, and “Indivisible” captured this unease, masterfully.  This performance alone was worth the price of admission.

This number was preceded by “Lucidity,” a lyrical performance choreographed by Christina Chammas.  With a theme of “lucid dreaming,” where one is dreaming and aware of it, the three young woman danced with exactly the control and power one would want to have in a lucid dream.

MarDelDance preceded this with “Transmission,” where four woman and one man flowed into various poses and stretches and held them, like a series of punctuation marks, very pleasing to the eye.

Emily Cargill and Dancers presented “sweet tooth,” a very mysterious contemporary number where the four young woman alternately shoved, pleaded, bullied, and erotically groped one another, accompanied by sound effects that would be familiar to Dr. Who fans.  When they finished I heard an audience member whisper “they were awesome,” and they were, this performance will provoke much after-thought.

The three men of d’shire dance collective performed “The Bullet with the Butterfly Wings” in the second number of the 8pm show.  Danced to Dinah Washington’s “This Bitter Earth,” it was an intricate series of lifts and leaps.  “Bullet with Butterfly Wings” perfectly describes the mix of muscle and grace that these young men demonstrated.

Emma Fath opened the 8pm show with her solo “Truthiness.” Ms. Fath used her body to demonstrate the various roles we play–tentative, confused, confident, pedestrian, driven, sexy–with technique and courage that made her a joy to watch.

Detroit Dance City Festival is a hit and bound to succeed, I’ve very happy that years from now I’ll be able to brag that I saw its humble beginnings.

8PM Saturday, August 23 / Boll Theatre

By Paulette Brockington

Adventurousness Dances into the Boll

Night three of four evenings of dance concertizing brought dancers from across Michigan and the United States right coast.  Choreographers explored the meaning of pedestrian movement while designing architecture, in some cases, worthy of Frank Lloyd Wright.

The night began with Emma Fath’s solo, “Truthiness.” Unfortunately it did not live up to its name. She showed no relationship to the music. Her offbeat dancing showed no clear motivation for her choices.

The trio, d’shire dance collective, followed with “The Bullet with the Butterfly Wings,” starting with a sculptural solo in silence offering curvaceous and linear designs worthy of an art studio. I do wish I could give the first D a shout out but the program lists names not by whom the parts were danced. And he is the first D because all three dancers have names that start with the letter D. The duo entered making its own statement before interacting with the soloist. Each in turn had solos, took turns as duet partners and worked in unison. It was a visually beautiful piece.

Emily Cargill and Dancers performed “sweet tooth.” I watched the piece then looked at the program. For me the title was a misnomer.  I did, however, feel that murmuring to one’s self and having others try to control you intimates pleading and struggling to be understood. A statement can be made for cravings and/or addiction as its possible thematic matter. Whatever the motivation, I did find it well danced.

Marianne Delahanty Bator choreographed “Transmission” for MarDelDance. The piece used pedestrian movement mixed with moments of linear design. The soundtrack was incidental to the movement for roughly the first half of the work. Then half way through the choreography there was a close kinship with the music using a movement theme that relied on/recapitulated the motif.

Christina Chammas choreographed a trio of ladies in “Lucidity.” Ms. Chammas had a clear idea for her movement which showed in how she designed and explored the idea of awareness, seeing and not been seen, ending with a solo emotionally done in breath rhythm. The piece left one with a pleasant, calm feeling, which affirms the title.  The choreography showed clearness of thought and perceived the truth in an uncluttered way.

The evening closed with DDCdances “Indivisible” choreographed by Barbara Selinger. This is the second time I’ve seen this piece. It fared better in the Boll’s intimate setting. Its commentary on the homeless and homelessness this time made me think of the Emma Lazarus poem carved on the Statue of Liberty. “Give me you tired, your poor, you huddled masses yearning to be free…” popped into my head the first time one of the dancers looked into the void of the scrim with her head just below the projected film that I had early found intrusive.  And 3 of the dancers literally reached for the stars at one point. I found that quite striking that they were not without hope. The undressing was a bit cumbersome, but in the end the quartet was left disrobed, vulnerable, open to the elements.

A fine night of dance in Detroit with the two trios leading the  way.

8PM Sunday August 24 / Boll Theatre

By Paulette Brockington

DDCF Adds Six to Make For Four Days of Unprecedented Movement Invention

Let me start off by saying that concert order is important. If all the pieces cater to a certain taste the audience doesn’t get the benefit of the highs and lows dance has to offer. Every piece can’t be audience members watching one or two or three or four or five+ dancers walking around and being dramatic and being crazy and being artistic. If all the pieces are like that the watcher doesn’t get the relief change offers. This makes the concert seem long and drawn out. When people are bored (or mad as hell can’t take anymore) they may exhibit inappropriate dance concert etiquette like instant messaging throughout a piece, surfing the net on their cell phones, napping or talking while a piece is going on. I witnessed all of those things while watching the last 6 pieces presented as part of the Detroit Dance City Festival. There were some gems that would have been better received in a more eclectic line-up.

JTDANCE opened the concert with Jessica Thomas’ “Neighbor.” This trio of dancers presented a contemporary work, which while having some moving lifts showed momentary unison problems. Each in turn lifted and shook the front panel of their floor-length skirts as if confused but showed no confusion while moving in broad, sweeping strokes.

Second on the program Jaide King-Griffin danced her own “Out of the Blue.” Ms. King-Griffin, while pleasant in blue, needed to exhibit more strength in her arms and develop more core strength to sustain her movements.

Another choreographer danced solo followed with Annie Scott in “CRASHING.” Done to her own spoken words, Ms. Scott presented a gem that was both short and bittersweet. As she said as she danced, {she was] crashing through life with seatbelt hands about experiencing life.” The audience enjoyed experiencing her.

Alex Bush Dance was next on the program with “your body and its bones.”  I found the piece, choreographed by Alex Bush in collaboration with her dancers, less about the body and its bones and more about relationships and their obstacles. It began with a male and female who explore embracing. I think that is relevant because at the end of the piece they reiterate the same movement without touching each other before embracing at the piece’s end. The same movement images were at times projected on the backdrop with female/male and male/male images engaging in the same types of movement almost as if asking whom one might choose.

RED Stowall choreographed “Celebration” for Big Red Wall Dance Company. I don’t know that the title of the piece actually fits the dance. It did not feel celebratory but was indeed a pleasant ethnic movement based dance that was colorful and well danced by six ladies. Though devoid of much facial expression they presented grounded movement themes as solos, duets, a quartet and finally sextet with poise.

The final piece of the evening of artlabJ Dance’s “Fragrance in Time (excerpts)” choreographed by Joori Jung. I did not get a sense of scent while watching the dancers but did feel the situations presented. In my eye the piece started in a workplace with a pretty unrelenting lady boss. By the time we get to the third section of the piece it started to feel unclear for me. This may or may not be because we were seeing excerpts from a larger piece. The last two sections – a woman’s solo followed by a group piece – seemed divergent from the beginning of the work. I did feel the idea of fragrance though in the last group section with the group clad in black with a froth of black tulle around their necks. They ended exposed in their underwear. Nice bodies but I don’t know why. The piece overall though was danced with aplomb and presented with a sense of character.

The festival in its entirety offered works that appealed to the aficionado, the novice and the professional craftsman. As Ellis said, “Dancing … no mere translation or abstraction from life; it is life itself.” Add that to Moliere’s thought that “All the ills of mankind, all the tragic misfortunes that fill the history books, all the political blunders, all the failures of the great leaders have arisen merely from a lack of skill at dancing.” These two quotes enunciate our need for the Detroit Dance City Festival and the voices it allows us to see.

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