Dance Place-Washington, D.C.
February 20, 2010
Throughout his book, Choreography Observed, writer Jack Anderson poses important and challenging questions about the act of watching dance. Of all the issues this important book addresses, the exploration of focus specifically spoke to me. Are we visually drawn to choreography, to particular dancers, to the group dynamics or to the overall picture of theatrical movement? The answer for me, and for most I would guess, is that it depends. Sometimes it is the choreographic structure, or a dancer who distinguishes themselves, or the general architecture of the work. But, the more interesting underlying issue is when we make the decision of where our focus will be. There are those times when a piece or a company holds no preconceptions for you, and the recipient of your attention unfolds in real time, during the performance. I think this does happen, but it is rare. Rather, as viewers, we have often decided where our focus will fall before the performance occurs (a favorite choreographer, dancer, or variation). What we will watch has already been edited in our minds before actually taking a seat in the theater. This isn't a bad thing, it's just reality. This was the case for me at Dance Place for Jason and Friends, an evening of choreography by Jason Garcia Ignacio. I knew that there would be many elements worthy of commentary but my mind was fixed on the choreography even before the houselights went down.
The first half of the program was comprised of five shorter works, which all pointed towards the breadth in Ignacio's choreographic interest. In line with this expansiveness, many performers from the CityDance Ensemble's family participated in the evening: Conservatory students, CityDance 2, and all eight members of CityDance Ensemble. Hourglass (2009) is a captivating duet for Ignacio and Delphina Parenti that examines the relationship between ballet, modern and Kathak. The music is Kathak-fusion (if that label exists), and three integral components of this traditional Indian dance were present throughout the piece – fast pirouettes, precise foot percussion and attention to facial and eye movements. The Conservatory students performed another 2009 piece, Stampede, which again was influenced by several different styles of dance; both hula and jazz were particularly apparent in the movements and sequences. These younger performers did a great job, although struggled at times with their group spacing.
The premiere works also kept to the notions of scope and variety. I don't know if I just have Olympics on the brain right now but Heart of the Talisman, a solo for Elizabeth Gahl, reminded me of a brilliant gymnastic floor routine. The lighting and costume design were consistent with this conclusion: Gahl's leotard was very gymnastic team-like and the light was projected on the floor as a box, creating boundaries and parameters. I loved this inventive take on movement! The dance was beautifully performed and choreographed; very controlled, with every movement going through the same process: point of origin, development and point of completion. Toe The Line, a group piece for five women touched on the still simmering debate between modern dance and ballet. The performers wore long, flowing dresses, with their hair down, unencumbered. It felt a little like the ballerinas from Balanchine's Serenade were breaking out of their shell. They still had their ballet technique; exquisite developpes ecarte, and rond de jambe en l'air, yet still a tension and yearning for freer movement: running; flexed feet. The night I saw it, some of the five dancers were better able to demonstrate the tricky choreography than others. Nevertheless, Toe The Line has a valuable contribution to make to the issue of movement vocabulary. Morph, a solo which Ignacio performed, had the same control as Heart of the Talisman, but with a more alluring undercurrent. The piece had some amazing acrobatics and capoeira tricks in it, yet what I saw was accumulation. Not in the sense of adding movement to movement. Instead, Ignacio was exploring what each body part could do from small gestures to full range of motion.
The second half was made up of a longer work, The Mountain, originally commissioned by The Kennedy Center. I reviewed this piece back in September, and upon this second viewing, still share many of my initial thoughts. But, there was something different this time that requires mention. In Dance Place, the audience has a closer proximity to the stage, and thus, to the performance. This gave a much more personal viewing of The Mountain. The intended messiness of the stage was tangible, as was the joy evident amongst this layer of dirt. It emanated from the dancers in a way that I couldn't see when I was further away at The Kennedy Center.
In the past six months, I have had the opportunity to see Jason Garcia Ignacio perform onstage in several different concerts and no matter the piece, the passion, skill and risk in his dancing has always impressed me. This was still very true in this weekend's performance of Jason and Friends at Dance Place. But, this time, I went to see the choreography. And to my delight, the six works that he presented also demonstrated these three qualities (passion, skill and risk). It is not always true that gifted dancers show significant promise as choreographers; Jason Garcia Ignacio does. I look forward to watching him progress in both aspects of his career: as a dancer and as a choreographer.