writers on dancing

The DanceView Times, Washington, D.C. edition


CityDance Ensemble
Terrace Theater
The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts
Washington, DC
Wednesday, October 22

Reviewed by George Jackson
copyright ©2003 by George Jackson

It isn't easy being a Rasta Thomas fan. He's elusive. Here today, there tomorrow: the transient artist, forever a guest and solitary, often appearing in tricky, tailor-made solos. Undeniably, though, Thomas leaves behind him fans as faithful as those of the stars who dance standard repertory and have regular orbits around big ballet companies. On his home ground, the Washington area, Thomas first attracted attention at age 11 on a school recital program. He danced with adult intensity and refined precision, standing out despite considerable competition from his fellow students, a top generation at the Universal/Kirov Academy of Ballet. For that debut he had choreographed his own vehicle, a Black Belt fight solo. It was a well made piece. Thomas's first fans date from that performance. In the years since, he's been globe trotting. Only with the Hartford Ballet in Connecticut and the Kirov in St. Petersburg, Russia did he dance sustained roles as a regular company member. Because his stays there were brief, it hasn't been possible to see his Prince or Prodigal grow. Fans, though, keep springing up regardless.

On this CityDance program, too, Thomas—listed as Artist in Residence—did solos, two of them. Now in his mid-20s, his shape has changed. The legs are less apparent; he has a torso dominant body, solid looking and somewhat wide, strong yet still agile. With it, he continues to pull off stunts unexpectedly. Things like a stretched somersault or pretzel spring are done without visible preparation, and he carries through almost as easily as in his teens. What astonishes, though, is the overall polish of Thomas moving. This is a Parisian trait, although one can't type him as a dancer of a particular school. Thomas is himself, and not an example. His smallest gesture registers. At the conclusion of something big, he may extend an arm a little and bend his hand back slightly. This is something many dancers do without thinking. Thomas doesn't over-deliberate about it either, but he feels it. Moving even that minimally gives him pleasure, and he conveys this genuine sensuality to viewers. It is a feeling that goes well with his stern demeanor, the adult focus of attention he already had at school. As for the pinpoint precision, the control, it isn't used as much now, but there is more power.

The first of Thomas's two solos was Bumblebee, a further variation on the clever theme of flying attack, being swallowed, and stinging inside that choreographer Vladimir Angelov has used several times to show Thomas off. The music was credited to Bobby McFerrin / Mussorgsky, not Rimsky Korsakov as in earlier versions. This Bumblebee was brief, and made its points clearly. It let Thomas mime and move like lightning. The other solo, Roger C. Jeffrey's Awakening, to George Winston music, was about rising from sleep as well as arousal. Thomas dealt tastefully and in a human manner with this Nijinsky-faun topic. From the comments made by one of Thomas's fans, a former Miss New Jersey, his status is secure, he's a "turn-on".

The program, for whose overall title of Airborne there was no discernible reason, began with two strange, moody, intriguing pieces, Jeffrey's Be Still...Listen (premiere) and Dana Tai Soon Burgess's 2003 Khabet (The Shadow), made for Karen Bernstein's farewell season as a performer. Jeffrey is a New York choreographer new to Washington. Still, like the Awakening solo, takes off from the work of Vaclav Nijinsky. It is a women's quartet that seems to be a primitif invocation of spirits, a tribal rite. Some of its imagery was animal, some Amazonian and there was allusion to the Chosen One in Le Sacre du printemps. The music too, by Jaimek Potter, bore an odd relationship to Stravinsky's Sacre score although it was less climactic and less dissonant. Both of Jeffrey's works left me unsatisfied in ways that make me want to see more of his choreography.

Khabet has mummy imagery. It could become a real danse macabre, yet it didn't due to the slow but not snail paced, weighted but not heavy movement Karen Bernstein performed so wonderfully plainly. Bernstein didn't rush a single step or retard any gesture. Nothing she did floated away nor sank to the bottom. She moved within her veils and wrapping (a Judy Hansen construct) without embellishment, so evenly and inevitably that the effect was startling and frightening until one thought about it. Then, the Egyptian 12th Dynasty text quoted in the printed program made sense—"Death ... like a draught to banish sickness ...". The music by Philip Glass was from Kuru Field of Justice.

Something funny, even frivolous would not have been amiss after two pieces like Still and Khabet. Angelov's brand new Axiom, though, was more silly than funny and seemed to go on and on. Dancers ran around and waved their arms more than they danced. The music was a David Byrne and Yale Evelev compilation of numbers such as To Rocco Rot and I Sound. Also featured on the program was a new version of company director Paul Gordon Emerson's 1997 Message (Song of Sarajevo). It had much expected earnestness, but despite that, Emerson gave his cast of 9 a surprising amount of dancing. Most vivid in all the movement were the transitions between remembered joy and the here and now of devastation. Might it be worthwhile to make a short piece of only these transitions? Such cuts might not work for Petris Vasks's music, but why not try?

Bubbly fare, a series of glances at yesterday's ballroom, closed the CityDance program. Kris O'Shee's A Fine Romance (premiere) set 4 couples flirting and cavorting. I liked especially Tiffani Frost, who can be outgoing and withholding in the same movement and moment. The piece stepped and swept seamlessly across the stage, yet was long. Might not 3 couples suffice? That could be done without a permanent loss if a different couple were furloughed on different nights.

Originally published:
Volume 1, Number 5
October 27, 2003

Copyright ©2003 by George Jackson



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The Autumn DanceView is out:

New York City Ballet's Spring 2003 season reviewed by Gia Kourlas

An interview with the Kirov Ballet's Daria Pavlenko by Marc Haegeman

Reviews of San Francisco Ballet (by Rita Felciano) and Paris Opera Ballet (by Carol Pardo)

The ballet tradition at the Metropolitan Opera (by Elaine Machleder)

Reports from London (Jane Simpson) and the Bay Area (Rita Felciano).

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last updated on October 7, 2003