Dance Canvas: 10th Anniversary Performance Series

One of the reasons that I like going to Dance Canvas’ annual performance series, Introducing the Next Generation, is because it always features a good diversity of dance forms and aesthetic styles from an equally diverse group of emerging choreographers. This year’s production marked their 10th anniversary, so they celebrated by bringing back 10 choreographers from their previous shows.

The first piece wasn’t really to my taste. Dana Woodruff’s Vector was apparently inspired by looking up what the word means in a dictionary. Wearing what looked like t-ball uniforms that they had outgrown, the dancers moved in vectors…I guess. With the heavy use of side lighting, they were in and out of shadows and any contact they had with each other were in inky blackness. I suppose that if someone were to choreograph what moving lines on an early vector graphics display looks like then it might look like this. It also kind of looked like a student exercise to me and I found it kind of dull. It was disappointing because I recall liking previous works that I’ve seen by her, such as the delightful homage to Magritte from a previous DC show.

I enjoyed Rebirth by Jennifer Davis more. It was brief ballet piece, though nothing terribly complicated, that seemed to be an expression of the struggle to find oneself outside of one’s prescribed role, which is ultimately symbolized with each dancer shedding a rather comfortable looking dress. It had good energy and a decent flow to it. Although I enjoyed it, it felt a little simple and I think that it would look better with a larger ensemble. Even the solo from it might benefit from having a second dancer doing a mirror image of what the soloist is doing from the opposite side of the stage, which might also be reframed as an interesting metaphor for people going through the same things alone without realizing that others are having the same issues.

The first piece to really grab me was maskewlin pt. 1 by Annalee Traylor. Set on an all-male cast, it began with some lively and silly depictions of young men playing around, roughhousing, and trying to attract women, all set to a soundtrack of music by the Beach Boys. Then the music and the choreography took a dark turn toward an almost surreal nightmare in which there was an almost hyper-focus on the anxiety, violence, and despair that too many young men suffer through in modern times due, presumably given the title, to the ill effects of a toxic form of the masculine gender role that is forced on too many people. It was a very effective and moving piece.

Up next was a lovely duet by Marci Lefkoff that shared its title with the music it was set to, Sara Bareilles’ “Gravity”. This was a physically integrated piece performed by a duo from Full Radius Dance whom I saw perform a really enjoyable work called Tapestry last weekend and for which I have notes typed up that I’ve not yet gotten around to turning into a blog post. The piece never really rose above being a visual accompaniment to the music, but it was still quite enjoyable with solid technique, really good complementary movements, and lots of well adapted bits of synchronism that were fun to watch.

The final piece of the first half was Ascension, by Angela Harris and Vanessa Zabari. This was a pretty cool blend of ballet from Harris and tap from Zabari. It was also the first piece to use any sort of a built set, making use of multiple sets of stairs and a couple of wooden platforms. The two dance forms were well blended to create a coherent work while also providing a really neat contrast between the tap and ballet dancers. At times there was a sort of call and response between the two forms, sometimes it seemed like a challenge or competition, and at other times the choreography of one form seemed on stage to provide an accompaniment to the dancer performing the choreography of the other. It was sometimes a bit surreal and sometimes it was just a lot of fun. It made me think that I’d love to see them do an adaptation of West Side Story with the Jets choreographed in ballet and the Sharks in tap. How cool would that be?

Juel D. Lane’s The Maestro was a good piece to pull us back from the intermission. It was the only work to feature live music of any kind. The solo dancer was accompanied by an electronic musician. (The music was electronic, not the musician. At least, I don’t think he was…this was at GA Tech and they do have robotic musicians there so I can’t be sure.) The dancer went onward from clunky, jerky awkwardness, like she was struggling to gain control over her body, to eventually finding a groove. The dancer and musician seemed to be feeding off of each other, which made it a pretty cool piece.

Up next we had a fun, silly piece by Lara Davis called Ode to my School Years… that also used ballet form. In a set that included traditional school desks and chairs, three dancers did anything but respectfully learn from a “teacher” character. It was set to an edit of a rather dry recording of Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons. Even though it featured a harpsichordist, the tempo was totally from that Romantic era slow interpretation of Baroque music. Its dry formalism provided an interesting contrast against which the students could play out their hijinks, though I think that it would have done better against a a well played Mozart Quartet. My complaints about the canned music aside, it was fun to watch and the interaction between the dancers was excellent.

Britt Whitmoyer Fishel’s Epoch didn’t do much for me. The choreographer stated in the video introduction (all pieces had one) that it was about the biological limitations getting in the way or something like that. I don’t really recall in part because I didn’t really get much of any theme from the work itself: it felt like more was put into the spectacle of the work than expressing anything. The staging was somewhat complex, with three white banners hanging down with videos of faces projected on them, and a headless mannequin shaped like a woman in heels downstage right. You couldn’t really watch the choreography and the video at the same time and it wasn’t always clear to me why dancers would cluster around the mannequin. There was a lot of energy and sharp motions in the choreography, but it was obscured quite a bit by the very baggy costumes that concealed a lot of the movement. Although I didn’t like it, it did have its moments and I felt like there was the seed of something interesting in there.

The penultimate piece on the program was Joie by Lindsay Fritz. This was a fun jazz piece set on a trio of dancers in bold colored 50’s cut dresses with clashing gloves. It seemed to be intended purely as entertainment with no pretensions toward meaning anything in particular and, in as such, it succeeded in entertaining me.

The evening concluded with Lonnie Davis’ Rise. A piece about race, this work was sharp, well developed, expressive, and very effective. It started off a little weak, leaning a tad too heavily on the music of Alex Da Kid and Joseph Angel to do bring more meaning than Davis’ choreography brought to the stage. Davis seemed to really find his own voice in the section set to the naked voice of Angelou reading her poem “And Still I Rise.” The third part was set to instrumental music by Divan Gattamorta and featured some excellent ensemble work. Overall, it was a really moving work.

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