writers on dancing


New Space

Opening Concert at Strathmore
CityDance Ensemble
Concert Hall, The Music Center, Strathmore
North Bethesda, Maryland, USA
Thursday, February 17, 2005

By George Jackson
Copyright 2005 George Jackson

A unanimous verdict: the Concert Hall in Strathmore's brand new Music Center is gorgeous. Acoustically it is proving to be controversial. Tonight it made its debut as a dance stage. The eight works on this first program were performed by CityDance, Paul Gordon Emerson's familiar Washington ensemble which now is Strathmore's resident company and school for the movement arts. For the bill's first half, I had a seat almost at the center of the hall's main floor. After intermission, I moved to the rear of the topmost gallery, floor 5. To my surprise, I preferred the latter location and the reasons had to do with both the architecture and this particular program.

Dances are usually made in studios, yet most of them are still seen in theaters that have a proscenium stage. Even choreographers tend to envision their work within a border formed by the proscenium arch and the lip of the stage and not in a studio's mirrored extensions or in the limitless spaces of the mind. Movement may be so designed that it appears to pass beyond the visual boundary provided in traditional theaters, yet something seems to be missing when those enclosing lines aren't there architecturally—like a picture in need of a frame. The early moderns, the so-called podium dancers, had to work hard to dispense with the conventional environment. Lighting and drapery, and not motion alone, helped them to configure and delimit space. Using the new concert stage at Strathmore as a floor and backdrop for dance is also going to take work, especially to make it more effective for the large portion of the public seated at orchestra level and having to look straight on.

What Strathmore has is an expanse of a stage, particularly in width. Wood paneling at the rear of the concert platform served as the backdrop for this performance. The side panels stood open, and sitting downstairs one could see into the wings. The lighting was such that it illuminated the performers adequately, but away from them it became diffuse. That made the far space to the sides and rear relatively dim without blotting it out. The dancers, like figures in the night traversing an endless and unevenly lit street, looked a little lonely as one faced them.

The view from upstairs gave a sharper image. As one looked down at the concert platform it had a frame; the edges of the projecting balconies became a sort of proscenium. The lighting's distinct patterns on the floor helped too. No longer did the dancers seem lonely and lost, but rather at home within their pods of illumination. The dancing showed distinctly, even without binoculars and, although bodies appeared smaller of course, I was far enough back that no one was made top heavy by the high angle.

All pieces on the program except the last had small casts—one to four dancers on stage at a time. Was that a wise choice for such a large hall? Only the finale, Emerson's callisthenic "Peregrine", had more, a total of 9 performers, and while it used some of the available stage it was more a pattern piece than a space devouring one. Projection into the vastness wasn't a problem for the dancers, notably Bruno Augusto, Melissa Greco, Alice Wylie, and Florian Rouiller. It certainly wasn't for guest Rasta Thomas who did two of Vladimir Angelov's high-energy, dance-with-mime solos, "Soul-o" and "Bumble Bee". A new Angelov duet for Tiffani Frost and Reginald Cole, "A Comfortable Quiet", was danced to her poem of that name which probes a longtime relationship and does so with passion and perspicuity. This dance's simple movements were well suited to serve the text (read by Joseph Mills and Frost). Augusto and Frost were dramatic in one of Angelov's old duets, "Suitcase", although this time it wasn't clear whether he's leaving her because he lost his angel's wings or because he has become allergic to the eiderdown in their bedding. Roger C. Jeffrey's women's quartet, "Be Still... Listen" started strongly and then ran out of invention and clarity.

"Eclipse", by Doug Varone, likened an amorous triangle to a jail break. It was danced to wailing sirens and had a blinding light aimed at the audience at the beginning and end. Augusto, Greco and Ellen Rippon used Varone's everyday movements and stances succinctly to established three distinct characters. The program began with the late Eric Hampton's "How Do I Love Thee?", a series of wry Valentine vignettes. Hampton's little jokes didn't read as interesting dance, particularly in this big setting. Would that one of his larger scale, more dynamic pieces had been chosen to initiate dance performance at Strathmore.

While the visual challenge of dancing in the new concert hall wasn't solved and will require further experimentation by lighters Cheles Rhynes, Martha Mountain and Brian MacDevitt, the live performance of music for two dances worked effectively. Vasily Popov, cellist, was seated on stage for the Yan Tiersen score that triggered the bowing and anguished slicing movement in "Soul-o". Perched in a balcony above the stage, Popov and faculty from another Strathmore resident, the Levine School of Music, performed the Antonio Vivaldi accompaniment to "Suitcase".

Volume 3, No. 8
February 21, 2005
Copyright ©2005 by George Jackson


DanceView Times

What's On This Week
Index of Reviews
Index of Writers

Back Issues
About Us


Mindy Aloff
Dale Brauner
Mary Cargill
Christopher Correa
Clare Croft
Nancy Dalva
Rita Felciano
Marc Haegeman
George Jackson
Gia Kourlas
Alan M. Kriegsman
Sali Ann Kriegsman
Sandi Kurtz
Alexander Meinertz
Tehreema Mitha
Gay Morris
Ann Murphy
Paul Parish
John Percival
Tom Phillips
Susan Reiter
Jane Simpson
Alexandra Tomalonis (Editor)
Lisa Traiger
Meital Waibsnaider

Kathrine Sorley Walker
Leigh Witchel


The Autumn Issue of DanceView is OUT! (Our subscription link is working again, so it's easy to subscribe on line!)

Robert Greskovic reviews two new DVDs of Fonteyn dancing "Sleeping Beauty" and "Cinderella"

Mary Cargill on last summer's Ashton Celebration

Profile of Gililian Murphy, reviews of the ABT Spring season, springtime in Paris, reports from London and San Francisco

DanceView is available by subscription ONLY. Don't miss it. It's a good read.  Black and white, 48 pages, no ads. Subscribe today!

DanceView is published quarterly (January, April, July and October) in Washington, D.C. Address all correspondence to:

P.O. Box 34435
Washington, D.C. 20043
last updated on February 21, 2005