Fabulous philadanco: Sass and spirit
Philadanco dancers wowed at The Egg on Friday night.
Strength, speed and style – these are all the words that came to mind while watching Philadanco – the gorgeous contemporary dance company hailing from Philadelphia.
The ensemble of 13 returned on Friday night to The Egg where they haven’t been seen since 2013. It was a happy reunion with local dance fans who appreciate their generous spirit – devoted to entertaining and astonishing.
The tireless cast presented four ensemble works that showed off their range – from the African/hip-hop inspired “Conglomerate” to the classical “La Valse.” All impressed.
The evening opened with Francisco Gella’s “Between the Lines,” a piece that pays homage to Frank Lloyd Wright. Starkly drawn light lines cast on the floor defined the space. While that caught my immediate attention, I was hooked by the music – a hypnotic score by Philip Glass. His haunting composition set the tone for the sober, but animated piece that set minds onto an astral plane -- a charcoal journey swirling with lush duets in which the dancers unleashed their souls.
Unfortunately, the transition to music by Gideon Kremer felt artificial, but the change was soon forgotten as the dancers were deployed in a river of big jumps, kicks and turns. It was a fantastic opener that was tied up neatly with an ending mirroring its opening.
“Super 8!” followed. Choreographed by Ray Mercer with music by Bongi Duma and John Powell was a three-part work that explored relationships -- sensual desire, compromise and loss.
While lovely, I preferred the luxurious “La Valse,” of which only an excerpt was shown. To Maurice Ravel’s soaring waltz, the work is a cauldron of elegance with seven women who mesmerized. They twirled and twirled in gold embroidered skirts that rose and fell with their whirl. It was an exquisite visual.
They were ushered about by two men, Joe Gonzalez and Victor Lewis Jr., who made their own magic with a show of strength and earnestness.
The company closed with Anthony Burrell’s “Conglomerate.” The dance, all in red with the women in fringed skirts that looked like flames, tapped into the dancers confident sass. To rhythmic music compilation by Darryl J. Hoffman, the dance burst with energy and attitude that electrified.
The Trouble with the 'N' Word
Jade Solomon Curtis performed her “Black Like Me: An Exploration of the Word Nig...."
I don’t like the “N” word. Hearing it offends me, upsets me, hurts me and I’m white. It leaves me to wonder, how awful must that word sound to a person of color?
African-American dancer and choreographer Jade Solomon Curtis gave a University at Albany audience a sense of what it feels like for her in a “Black Like Me: An Exploration of the Word Nig...” In the evening-length work shown on Sunday night, Curtis took the audience on a journey from slave ships and lynching to today’s endless loop of police brutality videos in which people of color are the either abused or exploited.
The work was sometimes painful to watch. Images of men swinging from trees or the recording of Sandra Bland’s encounter with a Texas lawman – make the audience recoil. The piece was also thought-provoking with James Baldwin thoughts on the word that white people invented; and Richard Pryor speaking of his awakening and vow to never use that word again.
The dance opened with Curtis, in a raged white shirt, on what looked like an auction block. Her movement on the block was gradual shrinking into submission. Early on, she let out a silent scream. Her solo then constructs a narrative of sexual abuse, hangings, beatings – until she flat on the block, reduced to subjugation.
In another section, Curtis, who is lovely, long and limber, bounced around in a hoodie. Her posturing was bold and wide, but the audience couldn’t see her face, which dehumanized her. She was indicating she knows what (white) people are thinking – a black person in a hoodie is a faceless thug. The tragic killing of young Trayvon Martin was vividly brought back to mind.
Curtis also addressed hip-hop culture and the use of the word in music. In “A Star Called Nigga,” she strutted around in short-shorts and heels, revealing a swagger and confidence that was undeniable. At the same time, it was troubling to hear that the word used over and over in the by Boris Gardiner as remixed by DJ Topspin & Brianna. She was telling the audience that black people have, sadly, bought into this word too.
The piece was divided in half by a conversation with two people of color in the audience. (Full disclosure here: one was my husband Clifford Oliver Mealy.) It was conducted like an interview where collaborator Gail Boyd asked Mealy and Tammy Ellis- Robinson questions about their feelings about the word.
It likely helped Curtis catch her breath. The same could be said for the audience who was surely disturbed by the onslaught of images depicting injustice imposed on black and brown souls.
However, the conversation broke the flow. It did serve a point when the interview with the two ended abruptly with the ding of a bell and the stage going dark. It gave the impression that black people don’t have enough social capital to be able to fully air their thoughts or feelings.
The piece was less than an hour. But in those minutes Curtis jammed so much history and its residuals effects on today’s Americans that “Black Like Me” keeps one’s mind active and talking about the experience in the hours that followed.
I look forward to seeing more of Curtis. She’s an important voice in our deeply troubled times.
Chevalier Ballet performs "Ballet Meets the Beatles."
I have a rule. I don’t review student companies.
But adults who choreograph for these students, and charge money to see them, are fair game.
Honestly, I probably wouldn’t have gone to “Ballet Meets the Beatles” had I known it was nonprofessionals dancing. That said, I was at The Egg on Saturday night watching Chevalier Ballet, a company devoted to providing up-and-coming dancers with a professional touring experience. (The ensemble of 10 is also set to be the resident company of the yet-to-be-opened and newly renovated The Strand Theatre in Hudson Falls. Thus, there will be plenty of chances to see the company in the coming months and years.)
Certainly, the idea for Saturday’s show was a good one. Who doesn’t love the Beatles? And who would recoil from listening to a suite of the band’s lovable and pop tunes? Very few.
But the choreography to go along with the beloved music was disappointing and sometimes embarrassing – not because of the dancers – but because the choreographer, Artistic Director Sara Knight and others, missed opportunity after opportunity to tap into stories or the sentiment that made these songs so meaningful to the world.
The music, as played by Across the Pond, was well-done. The thing I liked about this group is they didn’t pretend to be John, Paul, George and Ringo. There were no costumes and wigs – just a group of five musicians (some with gray in their hair) and an electric string quartet that delivered songs such “Here Comes the Sun”,” “When I’m 64,” “Strawberry Fields” and “Yesterday” with reverence.
But most of the dozen dances inspired by songs like “Penny Lane,” “Something” and “With a Little Help from My Friends” made me cringe. I wanted the songs to be over as quickly as possible because I couldn’t bear the dance. For example, how can one choreograph a piece about friendship when the three dances perform the same moves separately – as if they didn’t know each other or have anything in common beyond the movement, which, incidentally, did not reflect the song.
The problem was much of the choreography looked like a ballet class exercises or a cheerleading routine. The steps had little or nothing to do with the music – it simply followed its rhythms for pirouettes or grand battements in unison.
Not all of the dances were like this. “Blackbird,” “Eleanor Rigby,” “I Am the Walrus” tapped into the era and the psychedelic sensibility of the music. But it was too little, too late to rescue the program.
“Ballet Meets the Beatles” is a fantastic idea. This could be a big show with an arena following. But the dances need an almost complete overhaul. Otherwise, “Ballet Meets the Beatles” is a monotonous dance recital with good music.