Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The 2009 Eureka Dance Festival-The Jack Guidone Theater, Joy of Motion Dance Center

Performance opportunities are imperative for emerging choreographers. Artists must have the chance to develop their ideas, show their work, and receive feedback, though finding a venue in which to do so is not easy. DC area artists are fortunate to have an available presentational forum in Kate Jordan and Orit Sherman's new venture, The Eureka Dance Festival. This ambitious project will help fill a void, fostering artistic growth and choreographic mentoring.

The Eureka Dance Festival's variety is a testament to the breadth of genre in the dance community. Orit Sherman's Sphere retained a concrete and consistent image throughout. She related this conceptual framework primarily to the practice of change, although the notion of curvature also moved into the execution of movement. Two particular motions highlighted the circular path of the limbs: the penchee splits and the port de bras to second position. In both instances, the route of the legs and arms emphasized that these pathways are not straight lines; they have a spherical basis. Dissection of Process, by Daniel Zook, was one of the shortest pieces on the program, but perhaps my favorite. The choreography explored the role of accumulation and improvisation in forming movement phrases. In this piece, the audience could really see the three dancers building and mixing steps and sequences which ultimately, became performance material. Delphina Parenti's mixed media offering, Parameters, dealt with enclosure and porousness. Most of the dance took place behind a divider covered with transparent material, while a video was projected on the back scrim. Both mediums illustrated how boundaries obscure and encase, yet at the same time, reveal. The final piece of the evening, Kate Jordan's The Bicycle Project, was a meditation on mechanics. In the opening images, the dancers collectively created shapes in space. This process was serene, deliberate and thoughtful, really celebrating that bodies can be active participants in architecture. Mid-way through the piece, all the performers faced upstage in 4th position. They proceeded to pop onto bent demi-pointe while moving through a segment of angular arm movements. In this section, each of them was a real, tangible example of apparatus and instrumentation. The end of The Bicycle Project was a humorous musing on cycling culture. I was not sure whether the final scene was a spinning class or a cycling club, but the determination, competitiveness, and endurance relayed by the dancers was hilarious and realistic.

Health/Care and No Heartbeat were the jazz/contemporary offerings on the bill. The dancers in each piece were highly skilled and displayed excellent stage presence. Having said that, the concept behind both dances requires further development. The program notes for Glade Dance Collective's Health/Care mentioned a focus on hurt, pain and tension, while Megan Adelsberger's No Heartbeat was representing five widows. Health/Care's prologue was encouraging with its shaking and screaming gestural motifs. However, the rest of the dance moved away from that artistic rigor and became more of a performance team piece. The dancers in No Heartbeat were technically striking from beginning to end. Unfortunately, flexibility and unison only goes so far these days. Their group was supposed to be dealing with loss, yet, they were all about pasted on smiles and not at all about narrative depth. These jazz works were trying to combine serious subject matter with choreography. In order to do that, the two groups need to leave behind their dance team personas and their tendencies toward presentational entertainment. Health/Care and No Heartbeat can be valuable choreographic contributions; they just need the opportunity to mature further.

The program drew a huge crowd on Saturday night but unfortunately, the Joy of Motion Dance Center seemed unprepared for it. At 8:00, the appointed start time, the audience was lined up out the door and the house was not open. The performance itself ended up being a half hour late in starting, with no explanation from the crew as to why this had happened. Sight lines for folks seated on the floor level were obstructed to the point that any movement happening on the ground was completely blocked. Normally, I would be hesitant to mention these venue issues because I believe that they are separate from what was happening on stage during the festival. However, when embarking upon a new and hopefully annual event, cultivating an audience base is important. The Eureka Dance Festival was well done and worth seeing. It would be a shame if organizational problems kept people away in the future.

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