writers on dancing

The DanceView Times, Washington, D.C. edition

Intentions and Integrity

The DC Contemporary Ballet Festival
Takoma Theatre
Washington, DC
Friday, May 21, 2004

by George Jackson
copyright 2004 by George Jackson
published 24 May 2004

Discovering a new house for dance doesn't happen every day, especially when the new turns out to be historic as well as practical. The Takoma Theatre is a two-story structure of yellow brick, with Grecian temple trimmings outside and in the lobby. It dates from 1922/3 and for many years served as a movie palace, a modest one in terms of size but a leader in featuring talkies. Today, it stands adept to dance productions of a small to a medium scale. The stage is wide and just deep enough. Sight lines are excellent, though the lighting cues could have been more subtle. Sound, both live and recorded, was ample. Located in the far north of town, the theater is eminently accessible, having its own adjacent parking lot and being a few steps from Metro's Takoma Station on the Red Line. Congratulations to the festival's artistic director, Robert Bettmann, and its technical director, Charles Rhynes, for bringing dance into an unfamiliar yet hospitable space!

Bettmann, in his program essay, dodges definitions. Audiences, though, want to know whether they'll recognize anything on stage as "ballet"—dancing bodies that display the textbook aspects of line, turn out and articulation taught in ballet class. To these eyes, the program's opening and closing pieces were balletic, but not the 9 dances in between.

Three women wearing toe shoes and clad in gauzy black danced the opener. They used their pointes conventionally, to balance and reach upward, but they also crouched low like caryatids bearing great burdens and one woman in particular sank to the floor to writhe. A hand to the brow in arabesque, as if experiencing a headache, seemed a signature pose for this trio, these three Sorrows, of Casey Lynn Maliszewski's Because Regret is for Forever. Exposition of the theme to a droning rendition of a well known Albinoni adagio was somewhat schematic.

The other ballet, the closer, was a meticulously crafted male solo—Monologue of Narek. There was no need to know Narek's story to recognize him as a heroic figure who encounters challenge and emerges both victorious and wise. Roudolf Kharatian's choreography used a broad pallet of classical bravura steps to show how the hero is tested. Flattened stances lent an Oriemtal sensuality, and contemplative poses a mythic aura. The music, by Terteryan, suggested nature's forces and might have been played on ram's horns and wind gongs. Washington Ballet's Jonathan Jordan danced the technically difficult passages with fine, swift clarity. However, to fully show the hero's inner life, he needs to relax a little and open his true center.

Male solos abounded on this program. In Prelude / Frustration in a Martini, to Bach, Vincent E. Thomas used his angular anatomy and the color contrast between an ethereal white shirt and earthy skin tones to create a cubist portrait of a sinfully unsatisfied being. Jason Hartley showed off his athletic prowess in Nocturne Monologue and Underneath, pieces familiar from previous showings. There is little meaningful connection between Hartley's favorite moves—crawls, lunges. dives, flips—other than that he does them well, very well. Underneath has a walk-on for his non-dancer wife, Carissa, in which she seemed more comfortable now than last month at the work's Washington Ballet premier.

Heather Pultz's three studies—the women's trio Nike's Dream, and the female solos Mobile and The Gaze—showed her drive for movement continuity. I wish she had stopped a while here and there to explore some of the tensions her movement generated. Pultz's costume designer, Masha Freyblim, came up with some unusual off-colors but had the habit of adding loose cloth trimmings that distracted from her strongly shaped gowns and from the choreography.

Gesel Mason's Black Angel had an excess of ingredients—spoken text, video, music, assorted dance movement, a crowd of walkers. What stood out was Ari Frankel's opening text, a late 20th Century urban ghetto version of Milton's Lucifer complaining to God. Too few ingredients for its duration were in Rafael Perdomo's Let My Soul Soar, a belly dance with a native American twist for a couple that once in a while indulges in strained lifts.

There was live music by Osman Kivrak for To Be Good To Me, a domestic duo that in a more loosely balletic vein resembled the late Clark Tippet's Some Assembly Required. Two violinists, Kivrak and Teri Lazar, stood on stage, playing away while Robert Bettman and his partner/collaborator, Stacey Price, danced out their squabbles and then went separate yet nearly identical ways.

The many new choreographers on the program faced similar problems. How to choose a dance vocabulary that has consistency, yet doesn't become boring. What role should music play? Few of these dance makers entered into conversation with their composers. There is, though, just one way to learn, and that is to keep trying.

Photo:  Gesel Mason.

Originally published:
Volume 2, Number 19
May 24, 2004

© 2004 George Jackson




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