writers on dancing


In brief


Twyla Tharp's "Torelli". Marymount Manhattan College Dance Department. New York, NY. April 28-May 7, 2005.

An intriguing and little-known work by Twyla Tharp was reborn after 34 years as part of Marymount Manhattan College Dance Department's Spring Repertoire performances April 28 - May 7). Created about midway between "Eight Jelly Rolls" and "The Bix Pieces," "Torelli" had its premiere on May 5, 1971. In this restaging by Jason McDole, it referred back to the experimental, breaking-down-boundaries period of its creation by having audience members seated onstage, behind and one the sides of the six dancers. Wearing white tank tops, stretchy grey pants and white jazz shoes, the moved through a series of vigorous phrases in silence, as though going through a checklist of tasks. At the start, they placed their hands behind their heads, twisting their torsos, then swung their arms while standing in p[lace, gradually increasing the speed until they were flapping them frantically. Then they started bending and twisting, lowering themselves roughly to the floor with reverberant thuds, then flopping around there with their limbs splaying. Lining up in a row, they launched into snappy, rhythmic footwork. Throughout, they displayed an alert awareness of each other and of their spatial positioning. A series of swiveling turns ended wit a loud unison jump. Periodically, they would stand or lean very close to the seated audience members, pausing to linger near them. Once they completed their robust series of athletic yet precise tasks, the eponymous Torelli entered the action—five movements of a concerto by Giuseppe Tortelli, and the fun really began. The dancers moved into structured improvisations, happily and confidently building on the material that came earlier. It was thrilling to see how eagerly they took to this challenge, moving with disciplined spontaneity, interacintg with the audience (one or two even sat on the viewers' laps). Marymount is documenting the work with video and written material—the phrases themselves and the exercises used to guide the dancers toward the improvisations. The dance program there, directed by Katie Langan (who danced with Tharp as well as several ballet companies) is clearly making impressive strides. The level of performing in this ambitious program—which also included works by Robert Battle. Jacqulyn Buglisi, Jiri Kylian, and William Soleau—was quite high, and the students have clearly been encourages to express their individuality on stage—Susan Reiter

“Mad Hot Ballroom”. San Francisco International Film Festival. Kabuki Theater. May 5, 2005

If you are sick of what passes for dance in those soulless televised ballroom competitions, “Mad Hot Ballroom” is the perfect antidote. The independently produced documentary, one of only two dance selections at the 48th San Francisco International Filmfestival, is a funny, touching look at a program in New York Public Schools which teaches ballroom dancing to fifth graders. It will it bring back memories of that awkward age when girls tend to tower over the boys who would rather be dead than look into a girl’s eyes.

Beautifully paced, directed by Marilyn Agrelo and written by Amy Sewell, “Mad” follows students from two rather different schools—one in Tribeca, the other in Washington Heights--on their road to a city wide ballroom dance competition. (I guess they start them early). While striving towards that goal provides the narrative tension, Agrelo keeps his eye on the real prize, the effect on these kids of learning something new which is challenging, beautiful and fun. He eavesdrops on their candid conversations—filmed in homes and against wonderful cityscapes--about their families and their own hopes and aspirations. Some of them reveal themselves to be remarkably mature and aware of the world around them. But it’s their sweetness and genuiness which is so endearing. Last not least, the film also pays tribute to dedicated and well trained teachers.—Rita Felciano

Panel Discussion and Film Clips. Masters of African American Choreography. Millennium Stage North, The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. Washington, DC. April 21, 2005.

To talk about the Black experience of becoming and being a professional dancer and/or choreographer in America, dance critic/historian Zita Allen chose three individuals of the many who came to participate in Kennedy Center's African American dance festival. They were, significantly, from three generations. Carmen De Lavellade, born 1931, was primarily ballet trained. Although she didn't say so, it is likely she could have passed as white. She didn't. Her career began on the West Coast in Lester Horton's modern dance company and (again she didn't say so) perhaps because she's not just stellar but also glamorous, eventually included other venues such as ballet companies, Broadway musicals and the Metropolitan Opera. Eleo Pomare, born 1937, didn't feel at home in established modern dance such as that of Martha Graham or Kurt Jooss. He's the classic outsider (he didn't quite say so) and in the early 1970s was the first person to appear nude at Kennedy Center. A group of nuns was in the audience. No fuss was made, people pretended it didn't happen. Ronald K. Brown, youngest of the trio, also wasn't attracted to older traditions but grew up with the alternatives of post-modernism. Allen showed clips from the Public Broadcasting System's film "Free to Dance", particularly of the earlier generation of Pearl Primus and Katherine Dunham.—George Jackson

Volume 3, No. 18
May 9, 2005


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last updated on April 18, 2005