The Modern Atlanta Dance Festival

After a tiring week and with a mild headache, I spent my Friday evening watching the MAD Festival at the Balzer Theater at Herren’s. The evening began well with “A Waltz for the End of Our Time,” choreographed by Douglas Scott for Full Radius Dance. This was the only work on the program to have live musical accompaniment, which was provided by a trio called Flight of Swallows on violin/banjo, guitar, and cello. The piece presented a sense of always moving forward without really having a specific narrative. I was particularly impressed by some fairly athletic partnering between Laurel Lawson and Rebekah Pleasant as well as the shapes that the remaining three dancers formed as they worked together. It was a good start to the festival and lifted my mood dramatically as I anticipated seeing the rest of the show.

Next was Bella Dorado‘s “Bits and Chunks.” This was the second time that I had seen it and my opinion hasn’t really changed, although it was improved by better lighting and the dancing improved — although there was one dancer whose poor stamina was evident by the end. I could see the masks a little better in the better lighting, but they still stood out as incidental to the piece and gimmicky. The music, and dance that it accompanies, transitions between a sort of doomy, moody soundscape, through West African hand drumming, onward to some surf music. There is a lot of expressiveness but no reason for it: there doesn’t really seem to be a narrative or program and I don’t feel that a coherent aesthetic theme is ever really realized. Even if I’m not particularly interested in this piece, Dorado is not completely without talent: I think she would benefit from doing a few small narratives to learn more about building a coherent structure to her work and then she may end up doing something that I’d enjoy sometime in the future.

Gathering Wild then performed “Benevolence,” by Jerylann Warner. I was surprised to see Corian Ellisor in it and I found myself wondering if I’d seen at least part of it before but, beyond that, there wasn’t much that caught my eye. It was pleasant but didn’t really leave much of an impression on me, much like Einaudi’s music to which it was set. I really could have seen this before and then see it again in a few years and not really remember.

The first half of the program ended with Kamali Hill‘s “Keep the Body, Take the Mind.” This was built on a vernacular that hearkened back to the ecstatic dancing of the Southern Black Church and used of a mix of spirituals for accompaniment. It began with the dancers in a circle of light down-stage left, where they seemed filled with energy but somewhat trapped together until they began to individually break out. The dancers, all women, seemed to me to be struggling to maintain integrity. Towards the end they seemed to be trying to figure out what to do with one who was compulsively rubbing her body with a huge smile on her face, as though she were a nympho or really enjoying a shower with some Herbal Essences products. I make it sound a little less coherent than it was; there was a lot of energy and earnestness in this piece and I really enjoyed it.

After the intermission, Okwae A. Miller performed solo in his own work, “CARVEDimages: all of the women in me are tired.”  Miller’s program notes refer to it as a choreographic installation. The first of two pieces to involve a set piece in the staging, Miller performed on a ramp that went upstage along a diagonal from stage left to right. In a poofy skirt, Miller performed movements rooted strongly in African folk dance — almost like coming backwards towards Dunham from a more contemporary perspective. A rather simplistic description of the piece would be that Miller struggled against the obstacles that Black women have to work through every day in America.  It managed to be powerful without overbearing, with its only weakness being the poor integration of film as a backdrop for part of it: at times his head was lit by the projection, distorting his silhouette against the film, and it was also a huge distraction from his movements. Overall, it was an excellent piece.

Everything goes downhill from here, so feel free to stop reading now. Honestly, I enjoyed the show but I’d have been happier walking out before the last three pieces.

I first became aware of Alexandre Proia during his brief stint as artistic director of Georgia Ballet. I read that he had choreographed a piece to Richter’s “Recomposed” and thought to myself, “this is a person with no imagination or soul whatsoever.” Although I do enjoy some of his work, I find Richter’s music to be a lazy choice to accompany dance.  It tends to be add an atmosphere of earnest intensity without adding any complementary meaning, which people often use to lend a sense of earnestness or importance to an otherwise vapid piece. It’s not that there isn’t good dance set to Richter: it’s just that his music is just kind of there in the background and adds nothing but a slightly pretentious air to a piece. Top it off with the fact that “Recomposed” is a reworking of Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons,” which is what people with absolutely no imagination and nothing to say often set dances to, and you can imagine that I dismissed Mr. Proia right off the bat. If I was unfair then I was, at least, dead on in my assumptions. Proia Dance performed “On The Line,” a vapid and soulless contemporary ballet set to Bach and Nico Muhly and performed in costuming that would be appropriate to a low-rent industrial/glam-goth band. It had the whole looking-interesting-is-easier-than-being-interesting thing going on. It ended with the three dancers huddled together in a lone spot of light in the corner of the darkened stage that slowly and dramatically faded to black. It was such a bad cliche that I found myself having to stifle a laugh. This is apparently excerpted from a larger work “depicting humanity’s fears and hopes,” which appear to consist of the fear of being thought a phony for thinking that Bauhaus’ best song is “Rosegarden Funeral of Sores,” which is actually a cover of a John Cale song, and the hope to one day dance on stage at a Finite Automata show. Although it may not sound like it, I actually do kind of like glam-goth and industrial music but, nope, didn’t like Proia.

Next on the program, the KSU Dance Company gave us a demonstration of the KSU Dance Department’s amazing ability to instill in its students the value of gimmickry and melodrama over substance. The piece, “Table Manners 10.5”, was choreographed by KSU interim assistant professor Lisa K. Lock and was essentially an exercise in what can be done with a 4′ long folding table on stage and a whole lot of physical flexibility. It really wasn’t bad and might have even been good if it hadn’t had pretensions to expressiveness without actually expressing anything. Instead of just allowing it to be clever, interesting, and/or fun, Lock imbued it with excessive drama but completely neglected to give it a subject. It was better than the other two pieces that I’ve seen come from the KSU kids at Dance Canvas events — one that was a variation on a scene from Vandekeybus’ “In Spite of Wishing and Wanting” and one that was essentially “GI Joe and the Vapid Dance Spectacle” — and I sincerely hope that some of the talented dancers with whom Lock worked on this will one day get to work or study with someone who will help them to realize their potential without coming across as obnoxiously pretentious and relying so heavily on gimmickry to conceal the vacuity of their work.

The show ended with Otis Sallid‘s “CHIAROSCURO…A light in the dark,” which wasn’t exactly bad but I’m pretty sure that I’m not the right audience for it. A very theatrical piece, it was like a cross between Lord of the Flies and Solar Babies if you replaced the little orb thing in Solar Babies with a living water creature from the Abyss. There was a love story in it, which was danced in ballet, while the rest was done in theatrical blocking and modern dance as the rest of the company tried to steal the living water creature from the two lovers.  Eventually the lovers joyfully threw the water creature into the sky where nobody could reach it. The costuming was very Mad Max and did a great job of breaking up everyone’s lines so that their movements were less clear to the eye. Corian Ellisor was in this one, too, but that didn’t help it much. Honestly, I might have enjoyed it more if I wasn’t feeling worn out from the previous two pieces and wanting something a bit more straight dance and not quite so theatrical.

Even though the end of my review is full of negativity, I really enjoyed the show overall. It’s great to be able to see such a broad variety of choreographic styles in one place and even better to know that it all has roots in the local dance scene. I definitely look forward to seeing more works by at least some of the folks who presented this evening.

2 thoughts on “The Modern Atlanta Dance Festival

  1. This critic should have stayed home. This Robby obviously does not realize the time money energy and work that goes into a performance. Whether or not it is his or her particular thing they should not slice up with personal attacks and a forked tongue

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