Sunday, October 04, 2009

VelocityDC Dance Festival-Harman Center for the Arts

The DC dance scene thrives with diversity and the VelocityDC Dance Festival has truly captured its essence. Friday night's performance was a rich expression of fullness and breadth; all that dance can offer an audience. The participating companies represented a real cross-section of the dance community: modern, Flamenco, post-modern, contact improvisation, African and ballet. All the groups were amazing and incredibly well-received. But the real achievement of the evening runs much deeper than what was produced on the stage. What the audience was actually witnessing was a powerful individualism combined with a deep commitment to the cooperative spirit. It is unbelievable how rare this in dance. The VelocityDC Dance Festival is special.

Many US cities have a splintered dance community, if you can even call it that. It almost mimics the antics of high school, where separation of who's in and who's out reigns supreme. Cliques and popularity have taken over and the ethos of dance has been lost in the process. There is little effort to work together, or just get along. Ballet companies tend to stick with their own, and even the modern groups that espouse collaboration and interdisciplinary work are often limited in how far they will reach out. With its two sold-out performances, VelocityDC Dance Festival proves that it does not have to be this way. Cooperation and collaboration are key right now; every suggestion, every idea is valid. With performing arts in real economic and financial peril, we are stronger together than we are apart. And, as was apparent in the festival, inclusiveness does not mean a loss of identity. VelocityDC was not aiming to be a melting pot of dance; rather, range and distinctiveness were celebrated.

Edgeworks Dance Theater fuses liquidity and grace with a masculine strength that is truly unique in modern dance. Their excerpt of In Progress: Traveling also gave us a moving section of contact improvisation, where three different duets appeared simultaneously. Theirs was the true nature of contact improv technique. Two bodies shared weight, listened to each other's impulses and presented an egalitarian connection of give and take. Edwin Aparicio's Flamenco solo followed and literally exploded onto the stage. Aparicio is clearly playing with some interesting fusions in his traditional dance. He has managed to incorporate elements of tap, clogging and step dancing into his work without sacrificing the historical quality of the Flamenco. The last piece before intermission was CityDance Ensemble's presentation of Paul Taylor's Last Look. Between the music, the set and the costumes, the audience was transported into an earlier time, perhaps the 1950s or 1960s. This piece is disturbing with its writhing, twitchy, nervous choreography. It felt like we were watching a psychological thriller set in an asylum, and were privy to how mental health and emotional disturbance affects the body.

After intermission, Ronald K. Brown and Evidence Dance Company offered an energetic excerpt, Upside Down. This was definitely a stand-out crowd pleaser. Most sections were filled with joyful and exuberant African dance, yet, there were several interludes where the movement turned inward. During these sequences, the gestures were small, controlled and somewhat obstructed. Then, there would be a return to vigor. It really represented a rondo form of choreography (A, B, A, C, A), with different middle segments followed by a constant return to elation and excitement. Lastly, The Washington Ballet danced Wunderland by Edward Liang. The opening scene immediately sets the mood, with five women in a deep 2nd position plie on pointe. There were some balance problems on Friday night, yet the visual strength of the image was still powerful. The women in the company do need to relax their upper bodies a little more. Their classical lines are flawless, but Liang's choreography is full of movements that require upper torso release. The men had a better sense of this. About two thirds of the way through the ballet, the stage became immersed in precipitation. It looked like snow, but the way the pieces hit the floor sounded more like rain. Though so simple, it added such strong emotion to the accompanying pas de deux. Added elements need not be complicated; the single sound of rain transported the ballet to a different place.

More choreographers and companies participated in the second concert on Saturday, and there were also pre-show and post-show performances to take advantage of. What an extraordinary feat for the Washington Performing Arts Society, the Shakespeare Theatre Company and Dance/MetroDC. They know how to inspire teamwork amongst their geographical and artistic communities.

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