“emphasis seemed to be on virtuoso performance and stunts…”

World Dance Alliance Global Dance Event
Dance Theater Workshop – Bessie Schönberg Theater

Wednesday July 14, 2010 – Concert B

Review by Marcia B. Siegel (© 2010)

Photo Credit: Sashar Zarif (Canda) who choreographed and performed “Dancing Freedom” (World Premiere) Photo by Dani Tedmuri

World Dance Alliance’s third program offered even less choreographic challenge than the first two evenings. The emphasis seemed to be on virtuoso performance and stunts of various kinds, like Valerie Alpert’s series of microscopic blackout sketches by a pair of dancers dressed for a TV dance party. Jeanine Potter and André Santiago mimed and bashed their way through a hate-love relationship fuelled by contact improvisation, Capoeira, ballroom clinches, and whatever. Choreographic editing prevented their antagonism from attaining the violence that was implied. No encounter went on long enough to develop or resolve beyond its wow factor. The title, The Chat, suggested comedy, but the joke was pretty stale.

All-purpose, high-impact training seemed to be the subject of Kuei Chuan Yang’s Drop and Fall. At least, it dominated the dance for five women, who enacted an elaborate and prolonged hate-love scenario, with many minutes of falling, rolling, running, holding, leaning, collapsing, pushing, embracing, tackling, chasing, shoulder stands, head stands, and the move seen most often during all of the first three performances: one person runs full tilt and assaults another person with a flying head-on leap. The target has to catch her attacker or they both topple. The audience screams with pleasure.

Despite the aggressive implications, the tight choreography kept the women just on the edge of danger. Contact improvisation, one source of the dance, began in the 1970s as a social movement, allowing its practitioners to engage with each other more physically and more intimately than formal dance technique. Now, like several martial arts forms at a contemporary dancer’s disposal, contact improv is used in dances to bring up the subject of anger and then deflect it. It’s become a medium for safe roughhousing.
Gradually a theatrical theme emerged in Yang’s dance. One woman seemed to be an outsider. No matter how she tried to partner or join with the others, they rejected her. In a kind of coda, the competition speeded up and looked more frantic. The insiders continued to push the outsider away. Finally they all abandoned her. A life-size dummy appeared and, projecting her frustration onto it, she stomped it to death, then walked toward the audience holding it limp in her mouth.

Master performer Sashar Zarif, based in Toronto, created an Orientalist marketplace in Dancing Freedom, a solo of moods and impersonations. Wearing a white robe that he turned into a turban, a hijab, a beggar’s shawl. In quick succession he mimed defiance, shame, fear, flight and suspension. To some music that sounded generically Middle-Eastern, maybe Turkish, he walked and gestured, eventually jittering his feet at blurred velocity. If he’d been wearing ankle bells, he might have been readying himself to launch into a Kathak dance, but at that point the lights went out.

Lori Belilove, the Isadora Duncan preservationist, is also a riveting performer. The three scenes, titled The Art of Isadora 1, unfortunately weren’t identified in the program with any particular piece of Duncan’s choreography. But in the first, Belilove herself performed The Revolutionary (Scriabin), which she’d recently set for two men in the Martha Graham company. The dancer I saw doing this work in June at the Joyce Theater was academic and a little silly, but Belilove was thrilling. She showed me a Duncan who wasn’t imitating slaves and rebels. Instead she was showing enslavement and liberation as ideas, the beginning of musical abstraction in modern dance.

A second item featured a priestly man who hovered over a woman on the floor. He made solemn gestures and she lifted her head questioningly from time to time. The audience giggled at this, but I’m sure it was meant to be very serious—an art-deco Death and the Maiden perhaps. I don’t know if there was an authentic Duncan dance at the bottom of this.
Then five members of Belilove’s Isadora Duncan Dance Company joined with Contemporânea Ensmble from Brazil in an arrangement of Duncan’s Dance of the Furies from Gluck’s Orfeo. The WDA setting would have been a great opportunity to educate the audience about Duncan’s work and the way Belilove goes about reconstituting and re-imagining it. Dance history is nebulous enough; it’s really disappointing when the people who are taking responsibility for it don’t try to dispel our unending mystification.

When the UWI Festival Dance Ensemble from Trinidad began André Largen’s Hosanna, I turned to my companion, Carole Johnson, an African-American dancer whom I knew in New York before she moved to Australia decades ago, and wondered whether the group was borrowing from Alvin Ailey. She replied with a twinkle, “Maybe it was the other way around.”

Hosanna was a showpiece, a modern staging of West Indian and African dances for two skinny men and six women in traditional voluminous dresses and head wraps, accompanied by Caribbean folk-jazz music by Andre Tanker. The celebratory, funky, presentational style of the work resembled the show dances of Katherine Dunham and the last section of Ailey’s Revelations, not to mention any number of Folklorico offereings from the Islands. When we discussed it later, Carole Johnson reminded me that dance traditions keep cycling into different people’s work and out again, with new interpolations that cycle back into the tradition. I guess that’s as good a way as any to think of culture in a globalized world.

Another experiment in ethnology, Susan Cash’s Tree Woman, was a beautifully produced evocation of a primal adventure, the discovery of fire. Keiko Kitano gave a fine performance as a half-woman, half-beast. Her elegant faux-primitivism was accompanied by color slides of a forest floor, carefully carpeted with multicolored oak leaves, and the sounds of rhythmic drumming and electronics. Susan Cash is based at York University in Toronto, as are Kitano and her other collaborators. Canadian composer Henry Kucharzyk did the score as well as the photography. Kitano danced the long solo with grave concentration, using a combination of modern dance and animal behavior, squatting, stalking with a wide, angular stance, pitched forward as if her eyesight wasn’t as acute as her sense of smell.