writers on dancing


Tots and Matriarchs

CityDance Ensemble
Millennium Stage Northwest
Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts
Washington, DC, USA
Monday, September 20, 2004

By George Jackson
copyright © 2004 by George Jackson
published September 27, 2004

It was a big production number, relatively speaking, that opened CityDance's six part evening. "TransParent" had a stage cast of five dancers plus a screen cast of several children. It mixed media and lasted about 25 minutes. Everything else on the program was smaller scale compared to this Kennedy Center commission. Yet, "TransParent" didn't flaunt its scope. Quite the contrary, it seemed unduly reticent. On the level of content, too, one expects modern dance to be daring and dangerous, so this piece came as something of a shock. It was soft and cuddly, unclosetedly sentimental, and all of it was about very little kids. The adult dancers onstage impersonated the children, while behind and above them there was movie footage and still imagery of tots at play, of daisies and a teddy bear.

Credited for writing, directing and choreographing "TransParent" is Vladimir Angelov. The same Vladimir Angelov whose wickedly witty valentine was the hit of Washington Ballet's 7x7 bill last season? Hard to believe, but it said so in the printed program and in the credits on screen. I can now also give him his due for bringing out my latent W.C. Fields nature. It was W.C. who said that he liked children—boiled or broiled!

Even so, I must acknowledge the craftsmanship that went into "TransParent". There was correspondence between the dancing in the foreground and the playing behavior in the background. Mr. Angelov and his cinematographer, Ludovic Jolivet, know how to isolate movement tellingly. To see a child rolling around in a sandbox and below, almost in parallel, a dancer revolving across the stage floor, links the raw material and the refined product. It establishes a rare connection between spontaneity and art. At times the effect can be magical. That the dancing by itself might seem bland or too cute is irrelevant because there is always the counterpoint with the screen to give it character and bestow a resonance.

The dancers were adept at echoing the children's concentration, their resolve, as well as their sudden gear shifts. Karen Bernstein, Reggie Cole, Tiffani Frost, the elegant Kelly Mayfield and the technically strong Florian Rouiller acted and danced as if they had stepped out of their own skins and were inhabiting children's bodies. I'm not sure whether the piece's title is just a pun or refers to such a transference. The accompanying music, from Chick Corea's "Children's Songs," had a jazzy lyricism and there was internal counterpoint. Mr. Jolivet and Paul Gordon Emerson were the cameramen. Joe Nay's lighting was interfered with a bit by the daylight penetrating the foyer's window curtains.

Three of the five other pieces were what the Soviets used to call miniatures, one was a divertissement variation and one a chamber composition. All three categories encompass works on a modest scale, with the divertissement variation being for entertainment's sake and also serving to show off the performer's technical prowess. "Flight," the last item on the CityDance bill (an add-on, not mentioned in the printed program), was such a variation.Mr. Emerson had choreographed it to display Morgann Rose, a dancer who has been seen regularly with Washington Ballet. She is fully at home with the classical step vocabulary. Mr. Emerson, though, is not. While he had Ms. Rose move rapidly, lightly, in what amounted to a joyful dance, quite a few of the steps he gave her were not on full toe. There's no law against that, but the off-pointe steps must be chosen carefully, so that the toe shoes don't look like hindrances. In the "Flight solo", they sometimes did.

I much preferred another Emerson piece, "A Journey," which was a miniature history of a complex relationship between a woman, Kelly Mayfield, and a man, Reggie Cole. Emerson used a contemporary dance vocabulary cannily to express feelings and states of mind.

A gem of a miniature was Mr. Jolivet's pantomime, "Roger & Lucie." The choreographer plays Roger, a sad sack janitor mopping the floor. The mop becomes Lucie, and Roger woos her. She remains aloof. He tries other approaches to win a response and when those fail, he tries to rid himself of his illusion. Reality sees to it, ultimately, that Lucie again becomes just a mop in Roger's hands. That, though, makes the piece poignant. Hats off to Chaplin, Barrault, Marceau et al. and Mr. Jolivet!

Another miniature was "Arabesque," Tiffani Frost's slow and sensual dance for herself, for which she was in scrumptious form.

Roger C. Jeffrey's "Be Still...Listen" looked large, although it was just chamber size, for four dancers— Ms. Mayfied, Eileen Beth Mitchell, Ellen Rippon and Alice Wylie. It harkened back to the choric women's groups of early modern dance, bending the torso with effort and angling the arms with rigor. Nothing soft, cuddly in this piece. Never would Mr. Jeffrey's women have raised the children of "TransParent".
Volume 2, No. 36
September 20, 2004

Copyright ©2004 by George Jackson


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