Nai-Ni Chen in Rehearsal

Whirlwind01_JosephWagner_7Nai-Ni Chen Dance Company
Open Rehearsal at Red Bean Studio
Friday, March 21, 2014
photo by Joseph Wagner

On April 26 and 27, the Nai-Ni Chen Dance Company will be presenting A Celebration of Live Music & Dance at the Salvatore Capezio Theatre at Peridance Center to mark their 25th Anniversary New York Season.  This week Ms. Chen hosted an informal open rehearsal at Red Bean Studio, where she talked about her work and took questions from her guests.  I love events like these because they go such a long way toward helping me, as an audience member, have a deeper appreciation of the work being presented.  Based upon this small sampling of dance, I can tell you in all confidence that this looks like it will be a fantastic concert.  Each dance will be performed to live musical accompaniment.

The company presented an excerpt from Ms. Chen’s Concrete Stream, to music by Kenji Bunch which will be performed live by The Ahn Trio.  Part of this work involves Ms. Chen taking on the challenge of creating a “true physical integration”, not only between the dance and the music, but also between the dancers and the musicians.  She made the deliberate decision to showcase the way that a cellist or violinist might move to bring expression to their music.  She imagined the musicians seated in different corners of the stage while a vessel of water sits at the center.  The dancers will flow like a stream around the musicians and the vessel.  This dance contains such a beautiful vocabulary of movement, describing all the sensations one would feel while watching water, or being immersed in it, or maybe even being water.  We see how a rush of water might affect a person’s balance, or how it might bring us back to our primitive origins, or how it might inspire us to prayer.  There are gorgeous trills on the piano which sound like lovely little droplets of water.  In one especially beautiful passage, the dancers roll softly over one another and across the floor on the diagonal, creating moving images of the stream itself.  Ms. Chen also dramatizes the more aggressive aspects of water in strong athletic passages.  There is wonderful chemistry among the dancers, beautiful counterpoint and partnering.

Whirlwind depicts the effects of an unseen outside force on a group or a landscape.  The energy moves the dancers, not only through the physical world, but also from one dimension or passage through to another.  As the dance opens, six dancers stand apart from one another on the diagonal, each facing the same direction.  There is a distant drone in the music that conjures the feeling of a faraway energy drawing nearer.  The dancers don’t leave their spots, yet they are drawn toward this energy or blown back by it.  They remind me of a country field of tall grass rippling on the wind and the dance seems to breathe on its own.  At times the movement is very slow and hypnotic, rising and falling and never stopping.  I saw this piece performed at the New Jersey Center for the Performing Arts last winter and its spirit has stayed with me all this time.  It was such a treat to see it again.

For their New York Season, the company will present the World Premiere of Not Alone, a work that Ms. Chen is still in the process of creating.  Improvisation from the dancers figured heavily into this piece.  They spoke with enthusiasm about their processes, including an exercise of improvisation in an art gallery, working out how to express through the body just how one approaches a wall and studies a painting.  Maybe it’s a function of my having spent a lot of time in the subway, watching how others behave when they’re in their own secret worlds, or how they treat those around them — but some of the groupings that I saw in this dance reminded me of formations of people that I’ve seen in the subway.  I found the staging and the movement of this dance to be really original, very compelling and full of surprises.  Each dancer seemed like a soloist with his or her own story to tell, even within the ensemble passages.  I’m looking forward to seeing this dance when it’s set and performed in concert.

Ms. Chen was so down to earth and forthcoming as she talked about her work.  I especially admired the ease with which she spoke about embracing the unpredictability that will come in the final days of rehearsal, especially concerning her decision to separate the players of the Ahn Trio on stage, and how this will work in terms of the musicians being able to hear one another.

Having seen this rehearsal, I’m reminded of how fond I am of this company.  Ms. Chen’s work so beautifully incorporates elements of the unseen world and the natural world in movement that is so imaginative.  Her dancers are like a dream — each one is a strong and intensely focused versatile individual in his or her own right, yet the chemistry among them is really something to see.

Tickets are on sale now for Nai-Ni Chen Dance Company’s 25th Anniversary New York Season – Saturday, April 26 at 800 p.m. and Sunday, April 27, 2014 at 300 p.m. at the Salvatore Capezio Theater – 126 East 13th Street – New York, New York – 800.650.0246
www.nainichen.org/NYSeason
info@nainichen.org

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Collaborations – Periapsis Music & Dance

unfinished_pattern_capPeriapsis Music & Dance
Collaborations
February 14, 2014
Kumble Theatre
All photos by Rachel Neville

Periapsis Music & Dance bridges the gap between living composers and choreographers.  Artistic Director, composer and musician Jonathan Howard Katz collaborates with Artistic Director, choreographer and dancer Leigh Schanfein in creating original works.  Their second season demonstrated their unique mission by having music played live on the stage as part of the  dance performances.  For this season, they also invited guest choreographers and composers.

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The program opened with a Periapsis piece titled Marionettefadendurcheinanderwalzer set to original music by Jonathan Howard Katz.  The dancers move like marionettes, rising up on pointe and performing lovely phrases before turning limp and robotic, sinking on knocked knees, or collapsing to the floor.  The gorgeous music veers back and forth from dreamy abstract atmospheres to pretty lyrical melodies.  From this very first piece, all I could think about was how wonderful and special it was to have original music played live on stage and how well it worked with the contemporary ballet performance.

Periapsis Feb 14th 2014- pas de quatre-alto_r

Ursula Verduzco presented the Benjamin Briones Ballet in the world premiere of Pushing Mud.  For this piece, the piano is stationed at the back of the stage in one corner, while a cellist and violinist play in the opposite corner.  This makes the diagonal across the stage a strong element in the composition of the dance — all exits and entrances and much of the traveling seemed to move along that route.  Ms. Verduzco dances the role of an outsider, one excluded from the group, either by her choice or theirs.  She falls into place when the company fills the stage, but the dance describes  her character as never quite managing to coalesce with the others.  Her movement is sultry and dramatic with flamenco elements in the rolling gestures of her hands and wrists and the regal carriage of her chest and head.  Her port de bras are luxurious and beautifully expressive.  A strong actress, she can also conjure expressions of grief and frustration, both on her face and through her movement.  The group travels together, sometimes at very close quarters, while she observes from the sidelines.  There is a moody and somber feel to the music, perfectly complemented by the drama of the dance.  I especially loved the sweep of the closing phrases of this piece.

untitled-2818 branded_runguarded also received its world premiere.  The dance is choreographed by Tucker Davis, and performed by him and Denise Miller to live percussion played on stage by Sarah Mullins.  The flirtation between the dancers is quirky, cute and very artistically done.  I appreciated the cleverness with which the dance tied in to the music; a cymbal crash sounds to punctuate a humorous phrase of choreography or the movement explodes as the drums rumble.   Ms. Miller and Mr Davis are full of personality.  They don’t shy away when it comes to taking risks, and they make wonderful partners.  The dance never seems to be taking itself seriously and yet it’s performed in such a strong and distinctive artistic voice.

The Unfinished Pattern is choreographed by Leigh Schanfein and performed by Periapsis. In the opening sequence, one dancer stands in a spotlight while another stands in shadows.  The two perform their movement in unison, but the lighting creates two distinctly different atmospheres.  Schanfein’s choreography is gorgeous and lush — a ronde de jamb on the floor suddenly turns inward with a bent knee, and it feels as if the story being told has just taken an abrupt turn.  The dance has a lovely rolling feeling against the percussive phrases in the music.  There is lovely detail in unexpected places, using the shoulders, the wrists and the hands.  The larger company is exciting to watch too.  I was impressed by their technique, their artistry, and the heart with which they dance.

untitled-3846 branded_rDance Theatre of Harlem’s Da’ Von Doane was named as one of Dance Magazine’s 25 to Watch.  His contemporary ballet Behind the Veil received its world premiere.  The dance weaves through classical and contemporary movement, flowing with earthiness and elegance.  A trio of bare chested men are muscular and sometimes aggressive, moving seamlessly through powerful explosive movement into slow controlled adagio phrases.  They accompany Raven Barkley, who dances with great strength and power.

Lut Ave Dontralus comes out of The Julliard School.  Three vocalists take up different stations around the stage as they sing.  Joseph Davis and Cleo Person, both dressed in white, perform a high energy modern duet which weaves around the vocalists.  The dance is edgy, full of quick and sometimes aggressive movement, which changes direction rapidly.  Ruth Howard’s choreography beautifully complements the details of the original composition created by Zachary Green.

The program closed with Laid Upon the Children, based on the story of Romeo and Juliet, specifically the party scene and the crypt scene.  This piece is another collaboration between the artistic directors of Periapsis.  Mr. Katz talked about Ms. Schanfein’s wanting to present swing dance in the party scene, and his taking on the challenge to compose a swing section, even though he wasn’t used to composing jazz.

untitled-4131 branded_rThe first section, Too Like the Lightning includes staccato movement with flexed feet and hands.  Couples travel the floor in unaccustomed ways.  They weave through well recognized ballet phrases then move in new directions, sometimes in parody of the stiff court dances that we sometimes see in classical ballet.  The swing section is great fun, and the dancers seemed to enjoy performing it as much as the audience enjoyed watching it.  It is in this scene where Romeo and Juliet first see each other across the crowded room.

untitled-4458 branded_rThe crypt scene, Grace for grace, is heartbreaking and beautifully performed by Tucker Davis.  A strong actor, Mr. Davis lets us feel his grief without any great displays of histrionics.  He dances with the lifeless body of his Juliet (Hannah Weber), dragging her, crawling under her, trying to get her to embrace him, doing everything he can think of in futile hope of animating her.  A very emotional and sad piece, well acted and danced, especially at the very end.

I love the mission that Periapsis Music & Dance has undertaken, to bring living composers together with choreographers and dancers.  It is carried out beautifully by the company’s very capable ADs.  Though they are a young company, they appear to have assembled a good sized repertoire in the two years that they’ve been working together.  I found the choreography and dancing to be very compelling and the music to be magnificent.  I look forward to seeing where they take things from here.

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Dzul Dance – Mexico Maya

dzulbyrojrodriquez_7capDzul Dance
Mexico Maya
Baruch Performing Arts Center
Friday, January 24, 2014

Mexico Maya is a gorgeous atmospheric evening length concert performed in a unique artistic voice by Dzul Dance. Choreographed by Artistic Director Javier Dzul, the evening begins with an ancient Maya story and moves through works focused on contemporary Mexico, Cuba and America.

Memories of Maya tells a Maya creation story.  Bird songs and drums play as dancer and aerialist Robin Taylor Dzul spins on silks high above the floor, her posture regal, like a creature of the jungle.  Light filters in as if from beneath a thick canopy of trees.  Dancers cross the floor, their movement low to the ground, their focus sharp with the awareness of what’s around them.  Noriko Naraoka bourees on pointe and carries her arms with the grace of a wild bird.  The women lay on their stomachs, arching their backs, raising their heads, their arms and legs swaying like branches on a tree responding to a gust of wind, their bodies moving like those of animals alert to the sounds of the forest.  When the men lift the women, they seem less like partners and more like another exotic being with two torsos and multiple limbs.

dzulphoto2byjustinlin_7capIn the closing section, Dzul appears dressed only in bike shorts, hanging upside down on silks, personifying the forbidden fruit hanging on a tree.  Contortionist Anna Venizelos works on the floor, the princess who will give in to the temptation of the fruit.  As Dzul descends to earth, she wraps herself around him, his spirit entering her body which, according to legend, gives birth to the first human.  In the hands of this company, the aerial tricks and the contortion is executed with such artistry and such heart that they seem intrinsic to the dance, helping it to move in unaccustomed dimensions.

Memories of Mexico is danced in festive costumes to a Cumbia beat.  The faces of the dancers are intense with focus as they strike sharp poses.  Then hips undulate and isolations complement the music.  Again, we see the company performing lifts that are far from the beaten path, each one beautiful in motion and composition.  The dance closes as the dancers all come together as if to create one wild entity.  The familiar driving carnival drumbeat of Sergio Mendes’ Magalenha fills the theatre for P’a chi. Javier Dzul dances this piece alone.  He is bare chested and he hardly travels, but his muscles dance, rippling in isolations along his back, curving in his shoulder blades, rippling in his torso and his arms.

Memories of Life & Love describes Dzul’s own personal journey out of the jungle and into Mexico.  With Anne O’Donnell, he performs It Is Hard For Me To Forget You.  Ms. O’Donnell is lovely as she stands on a chair behind the seated Dzul, unfurling arms and legs to the accompaniment of piano music and words spoken about absence and longing.  So much emotion is expressed through her body every time that she arches her back.  A second woman joins them for The Air and The Wind. The three work together as if they are one body whose breath rises and falls.  With So Young An, Dzul dances Little Thorn, an unusual and beautiful pas de deux in which An melts across his back and shoulders, her face pained with longing, her arms sometimes fluttering.  Dzul leaves, and Ms. An performs Letting Go alone on pointe,  I am so moved by the emotion expressed through her body in big expansive movements and in smaller things, like a glance over her shoulder.

Tension builds in Revolution.  The company is fierce and they dance with palpable intensity, which seemed to suggest the energy of the EZLN and the uprising in Mexico led by Indigenous peoples twenty years ago.  The tension resolves into Mambo, a sensual ballroom piece danced by Robin Taylor Dzul, Stephany Dzul and Nelly Patron with Javier Dzul.  The women are sexy and flirtatious.  Mr. Dzul starts out as a spectator, but is drawn into the dance.  This piece is great fun and it shows a humorous light hearted side to the company.

The music and spoken word narration for Thinking of You is full of longing and heartache.  Dressed in magenta, Robin Taylor Dzul steps on to a wood frame suspended on chains and she ascends.  There is a floating celestial feel to her movement and the vocalist is nearly crying in sorrow.  On the floor, Mr. Dzul dances with Ms. Naraoka.  They perform this moody pas de deux separately, finally touching at the end of the song.

The evening ends with Freedom, which includes a breathtaking aerial performance by Mr. Dzul complete with falls from the ceiling which stop only inches above the floor.  His sudden sharp flips backward, his drops, and the artistry of his choreography had the audience gasping.

This evening affected me deeply.  The dances transition seamlessly from tribal movement to modern to contemporary ballet on pointe before leaving the ground in breath taking aerial movement.  Javier Dzul’s choreography and his company work with an uncommon honesty and kinship with the natural world. Dzul has lived an uncommon life, having been born and raised in the ancestral Maya lands of Campeche.  In a recent interview he spoke of coming from a family of priests who preserve Maya culture. He grew up naked, among animals, as part of the earth, with the jungle as his house.  When, as a young man, he moved into the formal dance world, he felt that the energy of his tribal dances didn’t connect with the audience.  He went on to study ballet and modern dance, and to pursue a career performing the works of other choreographers.  It was in the founding of his own company that he was able to bring together the sacred energy of indigenous dance and its reverence for earth with the beauty and expression of modern dance and ballet, and have it connect with an audience.

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APAP 2014 at Peridance

abarukas_lullaby_to_mr_adam_mickey_hoelsher_photo_crop7capAPAP at Peridance
Sunday, January 12, 2014
Program B – 630 p.m.

Peridance’s APAP showcase never disappoints.  They always put together a diverse program of interesting companies and compelling choreography.

This year’s Program B opened with Mettin Movement’s Aeon, an abstract modern piece filled with original movement, especially in the arms and hands.  The dancers are expressive and musical as the choreography weaves soft port des bras set against abrupt contractions.  I especially liked the energy of the group in the unison sections.

Heather Cooper and Brian Fisher of San Francisco based Mark Foehringer Dance Project, danced a wistful romantic pas de deux titled Another Time.  The dancers remain at close quarters throughout, alternately pulling away from each other while still holding hands, then coming back together with gestures of trust and intimacy.  The adagio movement is lovely and liquid with one gesture flowing beautifully into the next.

Nikki Holck and Natalie Deryn Johnson of NatalieInMotion performed an excerpt from KEYp me.  Both women wear costumes adorned with keys that chime when they move, in the same way that a Native jingle dress would do.  Personal spoken word conversations are voiced over the music and the dancers react to the statements being made.  The atmosphere of the piece, the overheard conversations, the tension, and the presence of the keys made me think of all the contrasting interactions that go on at any given moment inside an apartment building in the city. I liked the originality of the piece and the use of the keys.

Mystic Ballet presented Imaginary Love.  Ting-Yu Tsai personified the euphoria of being in love, her face radiant, her movement swooning.  She performed a stylish and romantic pas de deux before a trio of men danced a muscular ensemble piece around her partner, complete with dramatic lifts.  This was wonderful theatrical dancing, exciting to watch.

TAKE Dance’s Salaryman was one of my favorite evening length pieces for all of 2012.  So I was thrilled to see his company perform the excerpt Breaking News.  The dancers, who remind me of rush hour commuters,  move swiftly, their focus turned to their newspapers as their sense of alarm builds.  Take uses a phrase in which the dancers tap their chests, a shoulder, a hip, and as it’s repeated throughout the dance, its pace getting frantically fast, it seems to be transmitting a message of its own throughout the consciousness of the group.  I love the intensity of this piece and the fearlessness of Take’s dancers and his choreography.

Abarukas is new to me.  Their Lullaby to Mr. Adam really knocked me out.  An abstract piece choreographed by Yoshito Sakuraba, it’s performed on a dark stage with dancers dressed in black, moving to a stark drumbeat as the piece opens.  The company’s work is unique and artistically inventive.  Wisps of a story seem to emerge.  I was especially taken by a passage in which a group manipulates one character, and when she succumbs, a second falls with her, as if to show how every action ripples out into the world and influences others.  This short excerpt left me longing to see the entire piece.  The dancers and the choreography are strong, soulful and expressive.  I’m looking forward to seeing more work from this company.

Parsons veteran Patricia Kenny and her company Dance Collection presented Quanta, choreographed by Irada Dejassi and Katherine Hooper.  The women make a particularly dramatic entrance in this piece, lifting one dancer who continues to tumble through the air almost like a pinwheel as the group crosses the floor.  I especially liked the larger group sections, which were quite powerful.  They felt to me as if they had a strong influence from Anna Sokolow.  The unison movement and the composition were electrifying.

VORTICE.DANCE  YOUR MAJESTIES6_7cap2Portugal’s Vortice Dance Company’s excerpt from Your Majesties really resonated with me.  Performed by artistic directors and choreographers Claudia Martins and Rafael Carrico,  the piece opens with a recording of Barak Obama’s acceptance speech to the Norwegian Nobel Committee.  Ms. Martins, dressed in a bright red suit, carries a handgun which remains trained on an imaginary enemy, or on Mr. Carrico’s character.  There are moments when she seems poised to point the gun at her own temple.  Mr. Carrico’s character, barechested and dressed in jeans, works to disarm her, emotionally and literally, even as she seems to be reflexively hell bent on retrieving the gun.  Their adagio pas de deux is moving and heartfelt.  I’d love to see the longer piece from which this excerpt comes. It’s especially gratifying when a dance can make a political statement with such beauty.

An excerpt from Emery LeCrone’s Divergence bore the choreographer’s unique contemporary ballet trademark.  A lovely pas de deux danced on pointe, the piece is uncluttered, showcasing ballerina Kaitlyn Gilliland’s beautiful lines and swooping penches.  Alfredo Solivan provided strong partnering and the two moved together in a fluid and lush fashion with phrasing and poses that are off the beaten path.

APAP_Program B_2179_7capTeddy Tedholm presented Hometown Girls, a piece that was wonderfully quirky yet still easily accessible.  He danced with an ensemble of girls in white tutus, black bra tops and black socks whose movement was at times robotic, and at times limp like that of a rag doll.  The dance was hip, whimsical and endearing, understated without a lot of bravura, but so entertaining.  It would have been at home on a competition stage, yet it carried the humor and sophistication that could make it work on a concert stage as well.  I especially liked the attention Tedholm gave to the smallest details and transitions.  This was great fun to watch.

Peridance Contemporary Dance Company’s  Infinity is a beautiful adagio piece set to Beethoven’s Hammerklavier.  Four couples dance, sometimes in unison, sometimes taking turns in the spotlight.  The partnering is so strong — each couple moves together as if they were one entity.  There’s a timeless and classical feel behind the contemporary movement.  Some of the group formations had the echoes of traditional reels.  The soft lighting and the muted colors of the costumes give this piece a lovely dreamy quality.

The program closed with Flight, a series of three solos choreographed by Jae Man Joo, performed by Jourdan Epstein, Samantha Figgins and Terk Waters of Complexions Contemporary Ballet.  The first solo, an adagio, stayed low to the floor and seemed to voice frustration at being held down.  Even as the light fades to black, the dancer sits up straight, only to melt into a deep contraction, as if being pulled back down by gravity, maybe against her will.  In the second section, the dancer is on his feet, moving quickly, almost frantically.  His balance is challenged, and I loved the fight in his big grand ronde, which resembled a martial arts wheelhouse kick.  The dance closes with a woman running off the stage, her arms rippling as if she has taken off.

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January Swim at Coney Island

SAM_2613_crop_19_15_8

SAM_2608_polar_bears_19_15_8Every Sunday my husband and I walk the length of the boardwalk
from Seagate to Brighton and back.
We try to time our walks so that we’ll be able to see the folks from
Coney Island’s Polar Bear Club take their weekly dip
in the cold Atlantic Ocean.

The air temperature was about 40 degrees F.

The beach is so beautiful in January.

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Vicky Simegiatos Dance Company presents The Nutcracker 2013

72_13A_Snow_1868
Vicky Simegiatos Dance Company presents The Nutcracker
The Historic St. George Theatre
December 22, 2013 – Matinee
All photos by Kim Max Photo

The Vicky Simegiatos Dance Company was impressive when I first saw them perform back in 1995.  It surprised and delighted me to find that ballet students in a Brooklyn community had come together to form a substantial ballet company.  Artistic Director Vicky Simegiatos and Ballet Mistress Matina Simegiatos have assembled a group of eager youngsters and an impressive corps de ballet, who receive their training free of charge in the company’s scholarship program.

The VSDC has come a long way since 1995.  This year they performed the Nutcracker to capacity crowds at the historic St. George Theatre on Staten Island.  Guest artists Rebecca Krohn and Jared Angle, principal dancers of New York City Ballet, joined them in the roles of the Sugar Plum Fairy and her Cavalier.  Vicky and Matina Simegiatos collaborated on choreography for the full length ballet.

The VSDC’s Nutcracker has long been one of my favorites because of its intimacy, the likes of which I’ve never seen rivaled by elite companies.  The dancers of the VSDC manage to create this atmosphere without sacrificing professionalism and clean technique.  Their disciplined training is evident in their performance.

Their warmth could be felt from the opening moments of the ballet when we meet Clara and Fritz (played by Angelina and Athan Sporek), along with their parents Dr. and Mrs. Silberhaus (played by Voytek Sporek and Matina Simegiatos) as they prepare for the arrival of their party guests.  Throughout the evening, even as they executed the steps and the formal staging of the dance, Angelina and Athan never lost that guileless innocence of childhood.  It was as if both children had become their characters.

72_13A_PartyScene_1441_cap13A_PartyScene_1525_cap_longThe Party Scene is a display of colorful costuming, gleeful mischievous children, amusing childhood games, and dolls coming to life.  Patricia Casola’s Herr Drosselmeyer is charming with great comic timing, as he directs the party and engages the children.  When Fritz is called to account for breaking Clara’s Nutcracker, Athan Sporek stumbles and briefly falls, his gaze cast up the adults around him, his face the very image of childlike trust and penitence.

Angelina Sporek’s performance was especially moving in the nightmare scene.  As she crosses the floor, at first vaguely aware of the presence of the mice, she casts a glance over her shoulder, as if sizing up the situation and trying to figure out her next move.  She seemed unlike an actress on stage, and more like a child being made to confront something fearful. She moves forward thoughtfully with an undercurrent of hesitation.

Dance of the Snowflakes is a standout piece, marked by beautiful choreography performed by the corps de ballet at a breakneck tempo.  White tulle skirts swirl and paper snowflakes fall. The dancers fly as if blown on a frigid gust of north wind.  They gather as if in drifts which break open in kaleidoscopic patterns.  It takes a big dose of stamina for these dancers to get through this dance, yet the girls never break character.  I can’t count the number of times I’ve seen this dance performed by this company, still it never fails to make me tremble at its beauty.

Lauren Twomley brought fire and sultry passion to the Spanish dance.  She has a poised and powerful stage presence which demands the audience’s attention.  Alexis Stefanou’s supple movement, beautiful extensions, solemn focus and unwavering balance stood out in her performance of the Arabian dance, one of the audience favorites.  Kira Farberov and Magdalena Palac were exuberant as soloists in the Russian Dance, rousing the audience to share in their enthusiasm.  It was such fun to watch them.  Astrid Castillo and Samantha Rivera were adorable in the Chinese dance.  Lovely Jessica Mena and Eleni Sarris moved with regal ballerina grace and sweetness in Marzipan.  Joseph Beltre executed an exciting series of turns and leaps as the Soldier doll in the Party Scene, his attack as forceful as the music.

72_13A_WaltzOfTheFlowers_2196_capWaltz of the Flowers has become another signature piece for this company, a celebration of beauty, color and music.  Pink tulle skirts sway like petals as the dancers create lovely formations which perfectly complement the familiar score.  The dancers’ movement is so lyrical that even as one watches from the audience, it’s hard to sit still — we feel the urge to sway along with the dancers and the music.  As Dew Drop, Jennifer Pauker is fierce in her strength and technique, moving effortlessly through a never ending series of turns and challenging transitions.  She makes it all look easy.

72_13A_SugarPlum_2246_capRebecca Krohn brings a unique innocence to the role of the Sugar Plum Fairy.  She seemed less like a big sister or a prima ballerina, and more like an adult version of Clara, which reminded me of Ratmansky’s interpretation of the ballet.  Her movement is stripped of pretense, performed with an uncommon honesty  that I found to be so endearing.  Jared Angle partners her flawlessly, showcasing her presence, before delighting the audience with a brilliant sequence of turns in his solo.

This performance marked a pinnacle in a long series of achievements for the Vicky Simegiatos Dance Company.  It will be so exciting to see where they take things from here.

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Crossroads – Hip Hop and Hoops

frankwaln1_7

Crossroads – Hip Hop and Hoops — An Indigenous Experience
Frank Waln, Samsoche Sampson, Ike Hopper
Chen Dance Center
Friday, November 8, 2013

The Chen Dance Center in New York City’s Chinatown is one of my favorite dance venues.  There is a welcoming atmosphere to the place.  While young dance students congregate and laugh together in the main hall, guests receive a warm greeting in a reception area.  A spread of soft drinks and Chinese appetizers is offered.  Artistic Directors H.T. Chen and Dian Dong mill among the guests, engaging them in conversation.  This friendly interaction continues during performances in their theater.

H.T. Chen had been attending a conference when he first saw young Lakota hip hop artist Frank Waln performing his original compositions.  Waln’s spoken word poems carry the same edge as Eminem’s work, drawing upon personal problems within his family, and the struggles and resilience of his people in the face of colonization.  Waln doesn’t pull any punches.  It’s a very rare occasion when we in America ever talk about the truth of our history, or about our current relationship with the peoples of the First Nations.  But right out of the gate, Waln’s music schools us.  His earthy plainspoken songs tell the story of genocide, cultural stereotypes and forced assimilation.  He talks about witnessing domestic violence, being abandoned by his father at the age of four, and witnessing the hard work his mother was left to do on her own.  Waln said that in younger years he felt very introverted and he couldn’t talk about these things.  But through his music, he was able to tell the story.  His mission is to bring happiness, health and respect to Indigenous people.

Chen invited Waln to do a residency at the Dance Center.  This set up a cross cultural dialogue between the two unique and marginalized communities — that of Native peoples with those who live in Chinatown.  The goal was to bring solidarity and awareness to both communities.  Before receiving a Gates Millennium Scholarship to attend Columbia College in Chicago, Waln had never left the Rosebud Reservation in South Dakota.  He’d never visited a place like New York City’s Chinatown.  Many of the young Chinese students at the Chen Center don’t often leave their Chinatown neighborhood either, and they’d never before met Native people or heard their music or seen them dance.  The residency opened communication between the two groups, and resulted in the performance of CrossroadsHip Hop & Hoops – An Indigenous Experience.

The program opened with an original dance and poem performed by a group of Chen Dance Center students, while Samsoche Sampson played the wood flute.  As they moved, the children recited a poem they’d created about the American experience of emigration.  They named the countries from which their people had come, the type of work that their ancestors had done, and the things that the children do now that they’re here.  They mimed to the story and struck poses reminiscent of those seen in Chinese artwork.  They ended with the sentiment, “We should all live peacefully.”

Throughout the evening, Waln alternately spoke about his experiences of growing up on the Rosebud Lakota reservation, and then the shock of leaving it to attend college in a big city. Though he spoke candidly about his own personal pain and the struggle of his people, it seemed to always be from a position of strength, from a personal responsibility he felt to talk about the portrayal of Natives in colonized society, no matter how strong the resistance to such conversation within American media and formal education.  His words were spoken with great use of rhythm and grooves to the accompaniment of the wood flute, and also to pre-recorded tracks mixing samples of traditional Lakota music.

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As Waln sang, Sampson danced with a series of eight hoops.  The hoops were rolled on the floor, spun on his arms, and ultimately woven together and around his body in a series of amazing formations.  When joined together across his back and along the length of his arms, he looked like a magnificent bird.  He laced the hoops together to form what looked like a sacred vessel.  All the hoop work is done while Sampson performs a series of two steps or turns on one leg.

Onondaga fancy dancer Ike Hopper joined Sampson, both men dressed in colorful regalia complete with big headpieces, collars and bustles full of ribbons and streamers which flew on the breeze as the men performed turns and Native dances.  For the final dance, the Native fancy dancers were joined by a traditional Chinese Lion’s Head dancer and a Taiwanese Diety dancer.  It all made for a dazzling spectacle of color and movement across cultures.

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Waln’s work is powerful.  It is of the utmost importance that his brand of truth telling be heard and seen by those of us who live in big cities like New York City, where there is little to no awareness of the First Peoples who live on this continent.  Not only is it crucial that we listen to stories like Waln’s, but it’s every bit as crucial that we hear them told in the voices of those who survived extermination, and those who live by their ways in spite of the effects of colonization.  I’m grateful to the Chen Center for presenting this program, as I am to Waln, Sampson and Hopper for their words, music and dance.  We need to hear and see more of this type of work.

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