writers on dancing

The DanceView Times, Washington, D.C. edition

Shared Paths

"Together By Ourselves"
Program 2
Dance Place
Sunday, September 21, 2003

By Lisa Traiger
copyright Lisa Traiger

It's impossible to deny Carla Perlo her due; she deserves applause and support for her visionary ideals that have over the past two-plus decades shaped the Washington, D.C. dance community. By sheer force of will in the face of increasingly parsimonious funding cuts and ever-rising production costs, Perlo has nurtured the nation's capital's most prolific dance presenter, Dance Place, which opened its 23rd season on Sept. 20 and 21. Presenting 48 weeks of performance each year, Dance Place remains the hub of the D.C. dance community, offering modern, African, percussive, non-Western dance and performance art week in, week out. But to kick off the season, Perlo looked to her peers: Uncommon women who have made dance their lives and made Washington the home in which they live and dance.

"Together By Ourselves," as Perlo named the opener, refers to the solo nature of the programs, to the sense of shared space and shared paths these women have trod, and to, what Perlo finds is a vernacular pun. "These are really together women," she notes, with admiration for the 15 colleagues who participated over two evenings. Sunday's program, choreographed by and for a cadre of strong, beautiful women who continue to dance, teach, perform, produce and advocate for the next generation well into what we Americans ungracefully call middle age, show little diminishment in body, and only growth in spirit and presence on stage. Not one of the performers on Sunday's program was on the near side of 40, and some have unselfconsciously stretched the prescribed bounds of dance performance well into their 50s and 60s.

Dancer and assistant professor Mary Buckley continues to grow more elegant, more expressive, more beautiful as she matures. Her collaborative solo, Was, Is, Will, crafted with Joseph Mills, relies on Buckley's highly articulate technique, her sylph-like lighter than air leaps and her space-engulfing gallops. To a pair of arias, by Scarlatti and Cesti, Buckley follows her own exquisite bliss, her arms wafting in graceful akimbo, her head playfully tilted at first, until the music darkens and she turns contemplative. Was, Is, Will, a loving emotional study, feels, ultimately like a sonnet set in motion, for Buckley to lovingly dance.

From Fifty Modest Reflections on Turning Fifty, Liz Lerman's Body Map relies on personal narrative—long her forte—for its power. Succinct in movement, as Lerman maps the state of Israel on her own body, Tel Aviv an armpit, the Gaza Strip a cocked hip, she ultimately finds the heart of the matter, Jerusalem. And where else would the holy city reside than in the pulsing thrum of Lerman's own heart, made visceral by her stomp, pump action. There's less dance than gesture carefully parceled out to highlight or underline the movement, but in Lerman's sure hands, Body Map finds its deliberate closure, for Lerman, at 55 the same age as the country she has mapped, knows from broken hearts.

For Karen Bernstein, a long time dancer and now assistant director of D.C.'s CityDance Ensemble, Dana Tai Soon Burgess crafted Khabet, or The Shadow, based on words penned by an unknown 12th century Egyptian poet. With sharply etched plasticity the veiled Bernstein recalls Etruscan vases or carved hieroglyphics. Teacher Sandy Fleitel Perez manifests intensity of concentration in Alvin Mayes' New Beginnings, a premiere, as does Sherrill Berryman-Johnson, in her A Healing Song … A Prayer … a sunrise of power, which features spoken word by Kim Bey and song by kora player Amadou Kouyate.

A puzzle, Debra Kanter's The Gift, danced by CrossCurrents co-artistic director Helen Hayes, features brackish music by the Ahn Trio and scooping, cradling and embracing gestures. The program note, a quote from Fred Rogers about giving of yourself not merely boxed gifts, too, seems at odds with the movement choices and the overly emotive performance. The evening's oldest work, Woman See, has a worn-out feel. Maida Withers' 1981 manifesto on feminism created in the wake of the eventual non-passage of the Equal Rights Amendment, begins with a dry reading on the U.S. Constitution. Mining expressive gestures—thumbing her nose, sticking out her tongue—and a film of a contorting tongue and mouth projected on a giant balloon, doesn't really add much depth of meaning. Woman See, performed by the white haired, long legged Withers with fearless abandon, is, perhaps, a work of its time. Today, though its ideas are far from dated, its artistic underpinnings are.

Now Baltimore-based, Cathy Paine closed the program with one of her improvised Occasional Dances. This piece d'occasion, #20, was crafted specifically for the Dance Place audience. Paine, too, in true Washington fashion, speaks while she dances (see above Lerman and Withers). But she tells us outright that she was selected to close the program because she's funny. And we laugh. Then she tells us, as she twitches, slithers, and makes roundabouts through the well-lit stage, that she cried all the way to Dance Place because she's now in the throws of middle age and menopause. And we laugh once more. There Paine goes, catlike slinky, rolling over her shoulder, splaying her legs and defying what well think of as joints and bones. Meanwhile her husband and performance partner Julyen Norman improvises his own electronic music score that's as loopy and idiosyncratic as the quicksilver slices Paine cuts with her legs and arms. How will this end? We don't know; and neither does she. But, "We're not ready to pass on the torch yet," she admonishes royally to the younger students she spies squeezed onto the steps of the sold-out theater. A tumble of boneless shakes and rolls, and then she's gone.

First:  Carla Perlo
Second:  Maida Withers

Originally published:
Volume 1, Number 1
September 29, 2003

Copyright ©2003 by Lisa Traiger




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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