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.

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

Review: ArtLabJ 3 Solos / October 26 / Greektown, Detroit

artlabJ3solos

By Roberto Warren

The program consisted of three solo works by Wanjiru Kamuyu of WK Collective, Rachael Ahn Harbert, and “radical child”, performed by Alexander Dones.

The first piece, “Spiral”, performed by Wanjiru Kamuyu, was actually a reconstruction of a work originally created in 2005. The work explores the affects and effects of the imposed Western patriarchal idea of beauty standards while interrogating the acceptance and assimilation of and to these standards through old and new values that arise as a reaction to that dominant cultural context.

Wanjiru Kamuyu. Photo (c) Scott Lipiec

Wanjiru Kamuyu. Photo (c) Scott Lipiec

Ms. Kamuyu enters wearing a leotard, and a full Victorian-era skirt. Hung from the ceiling are bird cages with nude Barbie dolls in them. There is also one nude Ken doll in one of the cages. Talk about Western symbols of beauty. The skirt is iconic. A symbol of patriarchal Western beauty. Moving slowly, like a cat, with high extensions, she seems content with this image she has. But then she begins to clutch at the skirt as if to question herself. She pulls the skirt up and examines her feet and legs. Are her feet good enough? Are her legs good enough? She then begins to explore her social and emotional space. Test the waters of the Western illusion she is beginning to realize she has been living. She even develops a swagger, spiraling her body left and then right. Flipping her hand across her shoulder as if to brush off any negative commentary about her “image of perfection” and then turning to look at her shadow on the wall as if to reaffirm her image to herself. She bows to her shadow. She embraces herself. But then reality begins to set in. The movement becomes jagged and percussive as the conflict builds. With a fury and rapid fits of rebellion she fights her way out of the skirt…that symbol of Western “beauty”… But she can’t seem to break away. Is it Afros or hot combs? She smiles at the audience…or a potential suitor. “Hi how are you? Do you think I am beautiful?” Then the skirt comes off. She begins to discover herself. But no sooner than that happens she goes through Western-defined sexual rejection. The lights go dark and the real struggle and questioning begins.

Wanjiru Kamuyu. Photo (c) Scott Lipiec

Wanjiru Kamuyu. Photo (c) Scott Lipiec

Under the skirt she has been wearing ruffled bloomers. Another Victorian-era symbol. Under the symbol there has been another symbol. A cacophony of whispers and laughter ensues in the soundtrack. Yes…there are critics everywhere. But this is then overridden by the angelic voices of an African children’s choir. A reminder of who she really is…and slowly…she begins to accept that.

The second piece, “Stand Still”, danced by Rachael Ahn Harbert was a preview of an evening-length work in the making. Ms. Harbert starts out by introducing herself to the audience…literally….and then she gets 14 volunteers from the audience to join her in the dance space. They become part of her dance landscape, which also consists of mirrors, two large and rectangular, and one small and round. All on the floor, along with a 3-minute hourglass. She then gives each of the 14 audience members onstage a small round mirror to hold. And because the piece is called “Stand Still”, she instructs the audience members to do just that.

Rachael Harbert. Photo (c) Scott Lipiec

Rachael Harbert. Photo (c) Scott Lipiec

In the first section of the piece, which she called “Death”, wearing a flesh colored top and shorts, she somersaults onto the floor, landing on her back, and uses her finger to monitor her pulse rate at her neck…and while the 3-minute hourglass runs out, she dies. Watched by 14 impassive onlookers.

In the next section of the piece, which she called “While You Were Sleeping”, she binds her 14 onlookers. In the center of the Art Lab J dance space, there are three poles. Seven of the onlookers stood on either side of the center pole, and between the two end poles. She strings a black rope around all three poles, gliding around, behind, and between her onlookers, totally immobilizing them. After all, when you are told to “stand still”, you are verbally being immobilized. You are being prevented from moving in space. But the ropes and poles also resembled telegraph wires. It could be said that if you are being told to “stand still” you are not to communicate with your fellow man. But at the same time, the people doing the immobilizing are free to move around, behind and through you.

In the last section of the piece, “Hall Of Mirrors”, she used the mirrors on the floor to beg the question, if you are looking at the floor, you see the floor, but if there is a mirror on the floor, and you are looking into it, are you seeing additional space? Can you move in that space? Indeed, and with her 14 “onlookers” holding mirrors, were they also seeing additional space?

Alexander Dones. Photo (c) Scott Lipiec

Alexander Dones. Photo (c) Scott Lipiec

The third piece of the evening, “play” was performed by radical child. Danced by Alexander Dones. With music by Samuel Beckett and Richard Wagner. What happens when you listen to the voices in your subconscious mind? And how are those voices compounded by what you hear in your conscious mind? Mr. Dones turned himself inside out. He dove headlong into this labyrinth of confusion, moving powerfully about the room. The voices took him into the air, onto the floor, into turns, put smiles on his face, frowns, and periodically caused him to hook himself in his mouth and pull his head back in supplication. If you pay attention to and react to everything your hear, your actions become frenzied. One action leads to another, and they don’t always lead you down a logical path. Life can be like that. And Mr. Dones showed that.

Kudos to Joori Jung and the staff at ArtLabJ for allowing such cutting-edge dance work to be presented in Detoit.

The evening's 3 Soloists. Photo (c) Scott Lipiec.

The evening’s 3 Soloists. Photo (c) Scott Lipiec.

 

 

 

Review: ArtLabJ / March 29-31 / Greektown, Detroit

by David Benoit-Mohan, Chevalier, OPA

ArtLabJ Director Joori Jung addresses a packed audience for ‘Dream City’

A new company, ArtLabJ, has taken the Detroit arts scene by storm and changed it forever. Blending experimental dance theatre with a choreography best described as poetic, the amazing Joori Jung premiered, this Friday, a 48 minute piece called “Dream City,” presenting a complex tapestry of impressions and emotions which describes at a visceral level, the humanist experience of Detroit in the modern age.
The choreography is new, innovative, fresh, daring and pure. The dancers’ technique is flawless and the use of props is powerful.

ArtLabJ dancers. Photo (c) Scott Lipiec.

The people of Detroit come to life in her piece, first cradled in the arms of blissful sleep, bathed in birdsong and awaken to a realization of their own greatness. A tempered yet frenetic pace, movements in counterpoint, exquisite aerial sequences, and dramatic mime paint a picture of the turn of the century. The musical history of Motown and the giddiness of Detroit’s heyday is evoked as well, with increasingly ominous whispers of the gathering storm ahead. One graphically sees the crumbling of hearts as the city begins to feel painful times, when, with a superb use of costuming, lighting, projection and movement, Joori’s dancers portray, both in raw and sublimated angst, the disillusionment, frustration, despair, paranoia, learned helplessness, and collapse that had become a citywide phenomenon for so many years. Singly and in packs, lost souls turn upon each other in a ravenous bid for survival. There is casualty, there is death; there is a brief and startling glimpse of unity in mourning. What is phenomenal, however, is that the resolution of destructive anomie is not found in a utopia of collaborative politeness, but in an uneasy harmony between cultures and perspectives in the here-and-now.

Dancers Chris Braz & Aaron Smith. Photo (c) Scott Lipiec

The dénouement is a gritty, uneven tangle of bodies and paint, both black and white, as the choreography moves between struggle and unity many times, resolving into a mythic dyad with each other’s colours marbling their own as the protagonists finally stand, not side-by-side, but at slight angles to each other—and that mirrors reality. It is the heroic struggle of the present that is exalted, and leads to the rebirth of our city, awakening once more from the bliss of sleep into the Elysium of tomorrow.
As a Detroit physician dealing with many patients suffering the consequences of societal illness, it amazes me how quickly this brilliant New York choreographer, now in Detroit, has understood the spiritual essence of this city—its problems and its redemption, the suffering of its individuals and its realistic potential to succeed. There are no illusions here, just truth. It is a piece that needs to be presented in every serious theatre in the city, not only for its vital content, but because Detroit is ready for an inspired experimental dance theatre like ArtLabJ. I would like to make a special mention of one of the dancers, Rachel Ahn Harbert, whose talent is definitely one to watch in the coming years.
In closing, I quote one of those who also attended the premiere of this piece. In her words, “Modern dance has finally arrived in Detroit. I have waited for ten years to see this. I have seen this only in New York or California.” My question to you, dear readers, is “Why NOT in Detroit?”

David Benoit-Mohan, Chevalier, OPA

 

Detroit Dance Race: artLabJ November 2-3, 2012

A terrific and well-curated collection of dances was shown last weekend in the artLabJ Theater, the new dance/art space in Greektown opened just this summer by Joori Jung. There was much polished creativity at work here, lots of beautiful movement and a nicely balanced diversity of style and content. Below are some snaps from Friday evening. Keep an eye on artLabJ – lots going on there! All photos: Scott Lipiec.

Lydia Alexis Porter and Laressa Batson in ‘Dream a Little Dream’ by Big Red Stowall / Big Red Wall Dance Company.

Carson Reiners, Choreographer & Dancer: ‘Not Nobody. Yesbody’

Miranda Wilking, Melanie Wilking, and Sarah Greenwald. They choreographed their own work, ‘Crystallize’, and appear as ‘Finesse’ – teen performers who are also raising money for their college funds!

Erika Stowall and Liz Kreutziger in ‘Vested’ by Kristi Faulkner / Kristi Faulkner Dance

Aaron Smith, Marianne Brass, and Joori Jung (center) in Joori’s own piece, ‘Dream City’ / artLabJ Dance

Melanie Verna in her own work, ‘Old Time Tumbler’