Friday, October 30, 2009

CityDance Ensemble-The John F. Kennedy Center for the Arts

CityDance Ensemble has brought egalitarianism back to the Washington D.C. modern dance scene. Their new mixed repertory program, Latitude, premiered this past Thursday night at The Kennedy Center's Terrace Theater. CityDance productions are always eclectic and Latitude was no exception. Yet, it offered something else besides a commitment to diversity. The common thread that wove through the five disparate pieces and bound the evening together was the pursuit of democracy in performance.

In three of the five dances, this egalitarianism was visible through partnering. I have loved the concept and choreography of Kate Weare's Scorched since I first saw it. However, this time, the Tango section spoke on a deeper level than before. Like any social dance, the Tango has a leader and a follower. Weare understands and acknowledges this convention but also puts her own spin on things. She challenges the gender roles and makes the leader-follower dynamic variable. Each dancer has the opportunity to play both parts: the dominant and the submissive. Pathways, by Alex Neoral, was an ode to dance history, and its partnering was crafted like post-modern contact improvisation. The giving and receiving of weight was amazing and created cantilevered shapes that defied gravity. And, again the control in each pair shifted between the two performers, celebrating an equality that was truly beautiful. Larry Keigwin's Mattress Suite was the most entertaining contribution to the program, with the key still being a study of collaboration. His theme of relationships and clever movement vocabulary illustrated the give and take that we experience in all human connections. These three pieces were very different yet each grew from an underlying source of shared responsibility, manifested in partnering.

Rachel Erdos' Alma was a different side to performance egalitarianism. Here, the equality was reflected in how the dancers related to and incorporated their environment. Alma unfolds on a stage full of green apples. Through the entire work, the apples became part of the movement; they were not peripheral elements nor stage decoration. They transferred from one body to the other, via mouth, neck, bicep and knees. And, when this transference was happening, each performer displayed an acute awareness of the body, the object and the environment. As strange as it may seem, I think this piece is realistically made for three performers: the two dancers and the apples. The environmental objects became as much a part of the performance as was the choreography.

The final piece, Thirst, started out adhering to the evening's theme. Christopher K. Morgan's environmental analysis is an interdisciplinary work complete with video, audio, text, and props. When it began, I was encouraged by the integration of mixed media elements and choreography. The initial video image was of sand running through a pair of hands. The first dancer of the piece, Jason Garcia Ignacio, made a deep, meaningful bond with this reflection on the back scrim. And, the remaining dancers also entered the stage through this 'video curtain', again showing the integration of that set element in the work. However, as the piece went on, this early cohesiveness disappeared. There was just too much and too many things happening on the stage at once. When choreography and other performance elements work together, the result can be powerful, like it was at the start of Thirst. But, when choreographers add and add, their vision becomes clouded and obstructed. This piece can work, it just needs some editing.

The dancers of CityDance Ensemble have incredible breadth, range and adaptability and the artistic staff have an uncompromising vision. This company has a special formula where choreographic diversity is sought, without compromising the importance of cohesive themes, like egalitarianism in performance.

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