Brooklyn-based Flex Ave performed on Friday night at The Egg.
No matter what style of dance one practices, bad choreography will defeat the dancer every time.
That sums up what happened on Friday night at The Egg where a crew of decent dancers with potential were marooned by amateur choreography.
Flex Ave, an ensemble of flexing or bone-breaking dancers from Brooklyn, is made up of styling street dancers that can bust some astounding moves with individual flair. But paired with literal choreography by Reggie “Regg Roc” Gray and Corey “Gutta” Batts, which directly express the music as opposed to enhancing it, wrung out Flex Ave’s capabilities early on.
The beginning was promising, however. A dancer in a spotlight glides along on the tips of his sneakers like a ballerina en pointe. His grace was prodigious and captivating. But the eye was pulled from him as the light rose up to reveal other dancers engaged in street play – jump rope, hop scotch and dice – casting them in an urban environment where the dance was born.
Much of what followed was aimless – well-executed moves that did not spin a thread of emotion or narrative to coalesce the one-hour show.
There was one section on suicide that I found rattling and powerful. It was set to rap music that spoke the point of view of the one who takes his life and then the one left behind. The lyric told the tale, thus all the dancer had to do was express the despair, anger and grief – which street dance can do well. But the dancers were boxed in by plainly dancing out the lyric – a missed opportunity.
I couldn’t help but think about Rennie Harris, the first to put urban American street dance on stage. His genius was leading break dancers beyond the wow factor and into territory that could speak to all humankind. His stories from the streets spoke of love, joy, generosity, want, hatred and agony.
Flex Ave can’t touch Harris’ artistry. But because Flex Ave’s dancers have the moves – including ones that look like arms are broken or detached (this was difficult to watch) – I think they can get closer to attaining that.
The point is for Flex Ave to stop gliding along the surface, to go deeper into their vulnerabilities. Honesty from the artist is the place where connection is made. It can’t be forged with power moves alone (which are thrilling, but hollow).
Show me the person behind the move and then the move will not only make more sense, it will enrapture me.
Christopher K. Morgan and Artists are working on a new piece at the Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center at Rensselaer.
There is something comforting about the art of choreographer Christopher K. Morgan. It only makes sense then that for his latest work fermenting at the Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center at Rensselaer, he would embrace the fiber arts. His new dance, the-yet-to-be completed “Native Intelligence/Innate Intelligence,” swirls in soft woven fabrics.
Of four parts shown on Thursday night with his Christopher K. Morgan and Artists, three were wrapped into sculpted macramé ropes that enhanced the dance’s fluidity and expanded the gentle movement beyond the body.
Add to that the resonating cello, as composed by Wytold, and a table full of delicious snacks where audiences were free to graze, all were instantly seduced into Morgan’s warm world. It was a place where one seeks to reconnect and give relevance to ancestral culture. It was also inviting, and at EMPAC, it became a salon showing at its most modern.
Morgan has once again drawn from his Hawaiian heritage for this work-in-progress. Hawaiian chants and hula, that show reverence to the Earth and to all humankind, punctuate into Morgan’s work. The movement appears as if he is opening a door, pulling something toward him or racing forward to capture the fleeting past.
His solo was especially alluring as he seemed to transform into an eagle – allowing his large shawl to span out and then coil around him before falling to his feet. Morgan has a way of making the simple, beautiful and dignified. He and his dancers are thoroughly charming.
The first section of his unfinished work showed the dancers at their best, converging and dispersing in the most interesting ways. Forming a human sculpture, with limbs entwined and hands, heads and feet melding in all directions, served as a testament to the body’s ability to be endlessly fascinating and, if open, the spiritual attachment we should feel to each other.
In another section, Tiffanie Carson escapes her physical trappings, but is held back by the group who take her emotional temperature with hands on her heart.
The lightening design is also gorgeous with color lighting up the floor in reds and blues.
There is much to see and consider in “Native Intelligence/Innate Intelligence.” And I do hope, once complete, it returns to EMPAC for a full airing. Snacks are welcome too.
Kyle Marshall Choreography in "Colored," with from left Marshall, Myssi Robinson and Oluwadamilare Ayorinde. (Photo by David Gonsier)
One can’t hide the color of one’s skin. And for people of color that means carrying the burden of society’s preconceived notions.
Choreographer Kyle Marshall reflects on that and more in “Colored,” a work that delves into stereotypes. Performed on Saturday night at UAlbany Performing Arts Center, Kyle Marshall Choreorgraphy portrays the load of racism as one that people of color manage through unity. But the toxicity is epidemic. No person of color survives unscathed.
The piece, with Marshall, Oluwadamilare Ayorinde and Myssi Robinson, begins like a prayer. The trio stand in a circle, holding hands, heads bowed. As they break away, a ticking, like a clock, has them waving their hands, a gesture showing their cool as they go about their individual lives.
The dancers draw us in further as Robinson talks about caring and styling her hair. Her narrative surveys products, people’s responses and how her white mother didn’t know what to do with her mane. As she speaks, she moves toward the audience, settling at the feet of those in the first row where she sculpts her locks into nobs, creating an intimate moment for those close to her, but a frustrating one for those who can't see her.
As the dance progresses, the movement suggests seamless support, mutual trust and a joy within that. But the movement also shows that maintaining the support can be complicated. With the music by M. Clegg becoming mangled, like listening to a stretched out cassette tape, the dancers begin to stumble and twist. Their joined hands are now a liability.
When their hands form the shape of a gun, Ayorinde goes down. As Robinson mourns, alone, the lights go down.
“Colored” begs for more conversation on how prejudice can distort those it targets. But what I found most interesting about the work is that it tells a story in post-modern dance language. Marshall is a Trisha Brown Dance Company member and one can see the influence her clinical style has on his work. Brown sought to free movement from meaning and narrative. Marshall is embracing it.
While “Colored” was not the most damning work out there on the ills of racism, it shows that Marshall is moving the art of dance in an untried direction, adding depths and dimension to the style. And for that, he’s worth keeping an eye on.
The evening at UAlbany also featured “Horizon,” a duet for Marshall and Miriam Gabriel. In a curtain introduction, Marshall said the dance was meant to explore the relationship between a black man and a white woman.
I found the piece too obtuse to fully enjoy. The red and blue costumes by Gabby Grywalski indicated that the two are opposites, but the movement - the man with swinging hips and the woman with stomping feet – didn’t lead my mind in any one direction. I was searching for meaning when I should have let the movement wash over me.
Once again, those preconceived notions can destroy more than enlighten.
Vuyani Dance Theatre performed its tour de force "Cion: Requiem of Ravel's Bolero" at MassMoCA on Saturday night.
It started in blackness with the sound of weeping – muted and gentle at first but then it grew into a full-fledged wail – one that echoed through the Hunter Center at MassMoCA on Saturday night.
As the lights rose, the audience saw the mourner shuffling among crosses – a graveyard that encircled the stage and set up Gregory Maqoma’s powerful and resonate “Cion: Requiem for Ravel’s Bolero.”
As performed by nine ardent and talented dancers from South Africa’s Vuyani Dance Theatre along with four amazing vocalists from Soweta’s Gospel Choir, the work is a haunting indictment of religious authority in a world filled with despair. And while there were glimmers of joy and even hope, the piece is a cautionary tale, one that exhorts us all to wake up to the pain in the world that we ourselves are upholding – often by our unconscious neglect and indifference.
Dancer Otto Andile Nhlapo danced the central role – a potent priest who in the first minutes demonstrated his sway with a wave of his arm that moved the others to do his bidding. He presided over the ensemble that was at first meek but allowed the pain and anger to bubble up and over into a cauldron of ferocity.
After submission, with imagery akin to communion, the dancers turned on the priest – pounding on him and eventually taunting him. And this was just the beginning.
The music for the journey into grief was outstanding. At first, the four voices from the quartet – Simphiwe Bonongo, Xolisile Bongwana, Sibusiso Shozi and Thabang Mkhwanazi – sounded so precise and so substantial, I was certain it was a recording of a large group of singers and musicians. But when the lights rose up on them, I could see that it was from these gifted vocalists doing the broad soundscape purely a capella.
When they created Ravel’s iconic “Bolero” with their voices, I was stunned. That in itself was a worthwhile listening experience - an orchestra of sound from four.
Back to the dancers – they performed this miracle with Maqoma’s unique language that combined modern, ballet, African, street, martial arts and tap dance. Nhlapo’s role was a tour de force, requiring him to be onstage nearly the entire 70 minutes -- working out his character’s inherent cruelty to find a place where love can seep in.
While Nhlapo was engrossing to watch, every second of the ensemble work was enthralling. It shouted pain, especially during the section where they are pounding the floor with a bundle of cloth. Their unity, honesty and willingness to go for broke was mesmerizing. There was no way to turn from its awesome might.
“Cion: Requiem for Ravel’s Bolero” is an amazing artistic achievement and one that makes me curious as to what else is out there in modern African dance. For decades, the only thing American audiences saw were the traditional dance and music troupes. While those groups are rightly beloved, I want to see more Vuyani and those like it from Africa. Obviously, the mysterious continent has much to offer.
A simulated black hole from NASA that Su Wen-Chi thought best illustrates her yet unnamed and unfinished work.
Dance is a play with gravity; and one that choreographer Su Wen-Chi is exploring on the level of a physicist.
The Taiwanese choreographer is going deep on the subject of gravity – its subtlety and its power – in her latest work-in-progress. Yet unnamed, it’s taking shape during a residency at the EMPAC at Rensselaer and rightly so. Much of what is developed on the Troy campus is scientific, academic and, of course, experimental. And while the work, as shown on Thursday evening, is clearly in its infancy, Su’s work offers some sparks of promising inspiration.
For one thing, her single dancer in the piece, a man named Adam (last name not given), actually dances. Anyone who is familiar with EMPAC knows that walking in a circle, crawling through a hoop or standing at a podium is often, annoyingly, deemed to be dance. Thus, I was well-pleased when I saw that Adam moved, and moved well.
In the opening section of five shown, the soloist is revealed by the flash of strobe lights that freezes him in various states of movement. He hops in arabesque and cartwheels his legs behind him. His arm shoots upwards, but the feeling is gentle, carefree. He doesn’t devour the space, he freely inhabits it, comfortable with the gravitation pull.
That section moves onto one in which ambient sounds hums while his limbs float upwards – above his body as if gravity no longer exists.
Music is added – at various speeds – and his solo becomes gestural as if demonstrating how to live or cope in the force field of our often taxing world.
The lighting design was spectacular, a whirlpool of dotted lights that left one seeing Adam tumbling through the universe. At one point, the audience is allowed to take the stage. The experience from there, with the lights and sound in the Goodman Studio rotating around the crowd, was intriguing. But equally fascinating was the view from the seats – with the audience in silhouette, they looked like aliens exploring an uncharted cosmos.
The only problem with the unfinished piece, and this was likely because it was in-progress, was Su. She kept stopping the show to explain what she was trying to do in each scene. And as much of what she was describing was beyond my comprehension, it was not helpful, only bothersome.
I prefer the dancing, the lights and even the unusual sounds. No narration needed.
"Dancing With the Stars Live!" is on tour and stopped at the Palace Theatre in Albany.
What’s not to love about “Dancing With the Stars Live!” tour?
Yes, it is cheesy, and yes, it is contrived. But it is pure eye candy that flashes so quickly that I still can’t tell if, on Wednesday night, I was entertained or stunned.
Either way, I barely remember what happened at the Palace Theatre. The images do linger, however, of scantily clad dancers who gobble up the space to pop tunes in front of swirling digital backdrops on a two-story stage.
I’m not a fan of ABC’s long-running and popular competitive dancing showcase. But I do understand the attraction. It’s dancers – who in Albany included such champs as Emma Slater, Whitney Carson, Gleb Savchenko and Sasha Farber – are all fine ballroom technicians. They are sleek, polished and know how to play to the audience. They lend every step -- in such dances as a paso doble or a waltz – a confident attitude, unleashing showy flourishes that are typically kept under wraps in a sanctioned ballroom event.
Its “stars” are another matter. Rarely does the show have A- or even B-listers. Mainly, their stars are fallen ones, ones seeking their first or second shot at fame or any fame at all.
Singer Ally Brooke was the night’s celebrity guest. It was her last night on the tour and it’s probably a good thing. She looked terribly unable to move competently and each of her appearances, despite her partner’s best efforts, were embarrassing.
Luckily, the sequined females and the bare-chested male dancers were marvelous. Among my favorite dances were a tango to the Eagles’ “Hotel California” and a lyrical one to the Doors’ “Riders on the Storm.” The pairing of music and dance were always surprising, proving that clever choreography, well danced, can be coupled with nearly any song.
The team of five male dancers also did a silly bit where they pulled five women, of a certain age, up onstage for a lap dance. It was hilarious and all of the women seemed to enjoy the joke.
What struck me the most was the dancers’ generosity. Valentin Chmerkovskiy came out solo to tell the crowd how much he appreciated Capital Region fans who have cheered them on in previous tours – including one at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center. His sincere thank you was followed by a video Valentine from the ensemble that was also sweet.
The gesture wiped a bit of the TV sheen away – showing a glimmer of heart and humanity. “Dancing With the Stars” is more than spray tans, sexy costumes and plastered on smiles. It’s people who love to dance and do it in dazzling style.
Anna Jankowski from the School of the Arts at the National Museum of Dance as the Snow Queen in "The Nutcracker." (Blackburn Photography)
But outside of a metropolitan area, finding a “Nutcracker” that is worthy of one’s dime can be difficult to find. Many ballet school versions can often bring on more winces than smiles.
That is not the case with the School of the Arts at the National Museum of Dance’s production, which was a pleasant surprise. While the lighting options at the Trombley Auditorium at the Maple Avenue Middle School in Wilton were limited and the sets and backdrops were either nonexistent or underdone, the dancing was delightful.
Better still the costumes were sparkling and the choreography by Joan Anderson, Christie Handley, William Otto and Cristine Santos was engaging – thus making for an entertaining Sunday afternoon.
This is the school’s first full-length “Nutcracker.” For several years, it has staged Act II of the Tchaikovsky ballet only. Thus it’s understandable why the scenes for the first act were stripped down. The Staulbaum’s drawing room was downsized to a divan, a grandfather clock and the magic growing Christmas tree, the latter being essential. The snowy forest, unfortunately, had no snow.
My hope is, as the years go by, the school can add to it theatrical illusions with more and better production values.
What this version does have are some finely trained dancers. As Clara, Hannah Barber was mature with a beautifully developed port de bras, not something one sees frequently in a dancer her age.
And it wasn’t just Barber. So many of the young dancers were lovely. Leama Devincenzo who led the Spanish dancers was electrifying to watch. The spring in her step, though a little loud because her pointe shoes were not fully broken in, was spirited and joyful.
Sophia Olechowski in the Arabian divertissement was luscious to watch as she melted into backbends and oozed exotic.
Though I missed the snow that usually accompanies Clara’s stroll through the forest, the dancing in this scene was also wonderful. Sam Epstein and Anna Jankowski were well matched and in tune in the snow pas de deux. And the snow flurries and flakes were equally enchanting as they swirled and swooped across the stage.
However, Epstein, who doubled as the Cavalier, did not fare as well with his Sugarplum Fairy Alexandra Nicolaus. Their grande pas de deux was a little off because they were either too tense or early on the music. Both managed better when they were dancing alone.
It was also wonderful to see Otto once again take the stage as Herr Drosselmeyer, the quirky toymaker. The former New York City Ballet dancer owned the role, and others like it, for a time. It was nice to see him once again bring the mischievous character to life.
With a little more cash to bolster the scenery and snow, this version is headed to be a perennial favorite for those in and around Saratoga Springs.
"Mutka: A Liberated Woman" was performed by Barkha Dance Company at The Strand Theatre.
Women have the power. All can be accomplished, all can be overcome if women acknowledge and release their oft dormant courage and fortitude.
That is the message from Barkha Dance Company, an all-female kathak dance company that performed its “Mukta, A Woman Liberated” on Saturday night at The Strand Theatre in Hudson Falls. While the work is not fully formed, the evening-length dance is well on its way to becoming a work that can speak to all audiences.
This is not always the case with kathak – the storytelling dance/pantomime that is often beyond the comprehension of Western audiences. But as conceived and choreographed by Artistic Director Barkha Patel, “Mukta” is an overt and honest portrayal of women's struggles and triumphs.
As in many cultures, the “Mukta” women are tied up, pulled in conflicting directions and, in general, maintain second-class roles. Yet by invoking Hindu goddesses of knowledge, wealth and power, the Nayikas (heroines) realize that they can “launch themselves toward any dream they desire.”
The piece initially lures the eye with its beauty. A cast of seven, including Patel, are clad in colorful vests and white skirts that billow softly around their belled ankles. Dancing in formation and assembling intricate and synchronized hand-gestures, they conjure the spirits that comfort and press them to fight.
The choreography is full-bodied. The dancers battle unseen oppressors with both with fists and arrows, the latter a metaphor for their spiritual discharge. They also demand with assertive flat-footed stomping that echoed to the far-reaches of the theater. Finally, they vanquish the enemy (often found within their own minds) and rise to their full potential.
All is accompanied to music by Kedar Pandit and narration by Juhi Desai, who is also among the dancers.
Patel, however, holds sway every time she steps on the stage. A captivating dancer, she is both sharp, but soft, strong, but feminine. She is an engaging stage presence.
The Strand stage is not ideal, however. The theater, which just opened a month ago, is not fully complete. A back curtain would do wonders to hide the back wall, which is unattractive in a dance setting.
The lighting is also too bright, stealing from some of the work’s mystery. This made the spotlight, which didn’t follow the dancers anyway, essentially invisible and impotent.
Other than technical glitches, “Mukta” is enjoyable. I hope Barkha Dance Company returns with the finished product.
10 Hairy Legs, an all male-dance company, is fueled by kinetic power. (Photo by Nina Wurtzel@Hudson Valley Dance Festival)
One might think that a contemporary dance company that revolves around one gender might be lacking.
But with 10 Hairy Legs, it’s rather the opposite. The all-male company, seen on Saturday night at Kaatsbaan Cultural Park for Dance, has a leg up on much of the competition. By focusing solely on the strength and power of big-moving men, the company is fueled by the kinetic power that male dancers exude. Led by Founder and Artistic Director Randy James, the repertory company is also willing to experiment, engaging some of today’s top choreographers.
Needless to say, those that have seen 10 Hairy Legs, love 10 Hairy Legs. Certainly, every time I’ve seen them, I’ve been well-pleased.
This time around, I was also happy to see the range of the troupe of five (it actually has more dancers) has expanded. The company showed off its usual strength, but also updated the persona to reflect today’s sexual mores. While not overtly romantic, some of the pieces were flirty, allowing the company to go in a direction that it may not have explored when it was established in 2012.
This was notable in Larry Keigwin’s new work for the company, “Cruise Control.” Set to jazz standards sung by Diana Ross, the piece was a nod to the first sexual sparks that can fly between passersby. With a nightclub feel, the piece was upbeat and carefree with the five swinging by each other in fleeting and chummy encounters.
As with every piece that 10 Hairy Legs presents, the dancers were the thing. These men: Alex Biegelson, Robert Mark Burke, Derek Crescenti, Jared McAboy and Will Tomaskovic were marvels. They moved with a suppleness that served the choreography well. They were also able to do it all and do it articulately.
The evening opened with a meditative work, “So It Goes.” With choreography by Yin Yue, the dance immediately captured the imagination. Burke, McAboy and Tomaskovic tumbled through the nonstop work that set minds on a journey to another plane – both beautiful for its seamlessness, but slightly disturbing as the men shaped their hands into claws and fists.
Darkness fell on “Heist,” a work by Adam Barruch that was also intriguing. To original music by Roarke Menzies, the piece was a replaying of crimes, with stabbings, shootings, jailings and then exorcisms. The actors appeared to be rewinding and seeking redemption for murderous acts. The shadowy work was haunting and one that begs to be seen again and again.
The evening also featured Stephen Petronio’s “Bud,” the only piece on the bill that I didn’t fully enjoy. Mainly I was distracted by the costumes by Tara Subkoff as realized by Abraham Cruz. To a song by Rufus Wainwright “Oh What a World,” Biegelson and Crescenti let on that the outside world infringed on their private one. While I liked what Petronio’s was aiming for, the black straps on the costumes reminded me of sadomasochistic outfits. My mind couldn’t overcome it.
Despite that disappointment, 10 Hairy Legs remains a top 10 on the modern dance charts.
Camille A. Brown and Dancers performed "ink" at Mass MoCA on Saturday night.
Camille A. Brown has completed her trilogy on the black identity with “ink.” And as seen on Saturday night at Mass MoCA, the third and final piece is her best. It’s the most expressive, thoughtful and engaging.
It’s also a relief as that two that proceeded “ink,” “Mr. TOL E. RAncE” (2012) and “BLACK GIRL: Linguistic Play” (2015), were respectively disturbing and disappointing. “Mr. TOL E. RAncE” was offensive as it appeared to mock black entertainers from minstrel to gangsta rap. “BLACK GIRL” was simply dull, a mime of girlhood games that did not lend any sympathy to the characters. Nor was there any real dancing.
For “ink,” Camille A. Brown and Dancers did move; and they also depicted the world in which they live and their ability to adapt to circumstances. Brown, in program notes, likened it to being a superhero.
The six-sectioned work began with the athletic Brown in “Culture Codes.” With a musical quartet behind her, she appeared to both dress herself and shed her skin. She violently shook her hands as if letting go of something before venturing beyond the box on which she sat. Once beyond, she stomped her feet in a rhythmic ballet and bent over to hike up her buttocks. It was partially a power play, exuding confidence, and a signal that she was still pigeonholed in a part played on the outside world.
Among the most memorable segments were “Milkshake” with Catherine Foster who shimmied and shook her whole being as if to discard something repugnant. Like Brown, she demonstrated an indisputable potency. She was vigor, she was dominance that none could defeat.
“Turf” with Juel D. Lane and Maleek Washington also captured the imagination with the two who looked to suit up and float away. Their broad view of world awed and enlightened them, but back on earth, they were once again victims of brutality – unable to breath and kicked down into submission by an invisible larger hand.
The intimate “Shedding” with Quinlan Arnold and Beatrice Capote was also indelible. As violinist Monique Brooks Roberts circled around them, the two took turns trying to contain upset and anger. The struggle, perhaps, was a reflection of the mandatory suiting up to face the world on a daily basis.
Enhancing it all was the music, from Roberts, Kwinton Gray on keyboard, Mike Ramsey and Wilson R. Torres on percussion, which was atmospheric, sharp and responsive to the dancers. The scenic design by David L. Arsenault was also fantastic – two peeling billboards framed the dances and musicians on which fully formed black faces could be seen.
The final in the triptych prompts me to rethink “Mr. TOL E. RAncE.” Perhaps Brown wasn’t mocking artists, only noting the horrible lengths black performers go to in order to be accepted and successful in this white world. The question lingers.