Choreographer’s Showcase, Jan 31

By Scott MacClelland

THE ANNUAL WINTER Choreographer’s Showcase presented by SpectorDance in Marina on the weekend featured the work of eight guest choreographers, three of whom—Mads Eriksen, Traci Klein and Jobel Medina—have been guests here previously. As is traditional, Fran Spector Atkins had each of them line up ahead of time to introduce themselves and say a few words about their work. On an extremely windy afternoon, this gave the audience a warmly personal connection to what has grown into a very popular semi-annual adventure of discovery.

That discovery process involves looking for a balance between the narrative and the abstract—storytelling and dance movement for its own sake. As often as not the pieces on display exhibit elements of both, but there are no hard rules that fit all. In the case of a solo work, the burden of communicating intent depends entirely on expression unless it is an exercise in pure physical movement. Yes, that statement is ambiguous, and there’s the challenge.

The biggest works of the program’s first half, each lasting about 15 minutes, were No Man, for ten dancers, created by Terronique Brown (pictured), and excerpts from Shift in Expectation, for six dancers, by Nancy Evans Doede. No Man, inspiVerroniquered by the John Donne poem, began with six dancers (including Brown) seated in two rows, knees drawn up, while the remaining four provided the action and initial energy. The piece unfolded into a dizzying array of ideas, gestures and mixed ensembles—not unlike the musical score itself compiled from various sources. I asked Brown if she had conceived all the elements and then assigned them to her troupe. Not at all, she told me, “It was a collaborative process.” (Fran Spector advised me that today, “Dancers want to be part of the process instead of being told what to do.”) I wish I had words to describe everything that happened here but will suffice to say that the formal gave way to the intensely personal and restraint to struggle.

Doede’s Shift dealt with the “conflict in roles women play in society.” Two dancers, one female and one male—sorry I can’t name them—grappled with the age-old stresses between the sexes, personal and, for the woman, anxiety-laden. The second part, Shifting Sands, drew in the ensemble of six, starting with compliant women—think Stepford Wives—who soon-on grow restless and ill at ease under the stresses of “Age vs. Time.” White leotards were complemented by gently colored cape/gowns used as surrogates for modesty. The original score by Blake Colie made use of percussion and electronica.

The first half opened with Stephanie Golden’s Unfold, to music of Girls by Slow Magic. Five women began the short piece in a circle of motion that gave way to poses then to a tasty counterpoint of individual lines. What Golden had to say is worthy of more time and development. Traci Klein’s solo, Creature of Habit, made the point that daily routine can dull the senses down to lethargy. Erik Satie’s adagio Gnossienne, arranged for acoustic guitar, underscored the idea. The implicit answer, hinted at in her movement, was to change the routine, which indeed she did as the piece blossomed.

Deep, a solo by Harmony True, to Adele’s Rollin’ in the Deep (which Donald Trump does not have permission to use) also spent time flat on the floor, then showed the influence of ballet in her arms as she rose and the pace picked up.

Following the interval, Angela Dice Nguyen danced her intense Inkspilt, with partner Stephen DiBiase. After setting an athletic tone in silence, Debussy’s soothing Clair de lune joined the dancers in a contradiction. The low-key music and the highly energized physicality and tight interplay continued to go their separate ways.

Costume color and unique styling and storytelling appeared when Jobel Medina, co-choreographer Joey Navarrette and Evelyn Cortez danced Próxima Estación: Esperanza (Next Stop: Hope) to music from Manu Chao’s multi-language hit album. The piece ranged from wide-angle dance to a close-up focus on making a tiny paper boat which was then pushed slowly across the floor. Feel free to infer the dynamics between two virile men and an alluring woman. Ten minutes later, a paper airplane dropped the other ‘transport’ shoe. Part of the imaginative piece was danced in dark ambient light without artificial illumination. This was an unexpected and refreshing departure.

The program ended with Desdemona, a traditional ballet, including toe-shoes, by Mads Eriksen. For music, Eriksen borrowed from Elliot Goldenthal’s full length ballet, Othello, and the heart-wrenching scene from Verdi’s Otello when the hero feels the full heartbreak of Desdemona’s imagined-betrayal—here oddly taken from a German language recording of the opera. The three dancers opened the scene, often en pointe, in a joyous upbeat mood. A solo ensued, to be followed by another now much darker. When Verdi’s music took over and the trio appeared again, the mood matched the gloom that portended the tragic end to come.

SpectorDance has events coming up in March and April. The next Choreographer’s Showcase is scheduled for the end of July.

A Smuin Christmas

Smuin Christmas Ballet 6_Chris Hardy

By Scott MacClelland

SMUIN BALLET does “Classical” and “Cool” like no other company, thanks in large measure to its proprietary choreography by late founder Michael Smuin whose work holds a dominant position in the annual Christmas Ballet program now on tour. The second of two performances in Carmel, seen in a Saturday matinee, with an audience that included lots of kids, offered something for everyone. But there was no dancing down; this was sophisticated stuff that, in the ‘Cool’ second half, evoked no small amount of laughter at the numerous slick tricks and sight gags.

It would seem obvious that the turns, swivels, body language and facial looks would take their cues from theCapture 1 music and words of this pageant of mostly seasonal songs. But, under artistic director Celia Fushille, those cues seemed to inspire even more surprising choreographic phrases and gestures than Smuin’s annual event here in years past. The always-popular Santa Baby, to Eartha Kitt’s immortal 1953 take on the Springer/Javits classic, gave Erica Felsch and the men of the company (above) a new bunch of twists along with the most familiar bits. It was as recognizable as it was fresh.

And fresh is the word that made this show feel like a Christmas present being unwrapped as if just pulled out from under the tree.

The first half—Classical—opened with JS Bach’s Magnificat, the women wrapped in colorful capes. Those were then abandoned in favor of shades of white, like the set itself. Highlights included Hodie Christus natus est to music from the 16th century by Palestrina and the even more ancient Veni, veni Emmanuel. Resident choreographer Capture 3Amy Seiwert created her own versions of the Carol of the Bells and the rollicking Troika from Prokofiev’s Lt. Kije. Hanukkah was celebrated with Licht Bensh’n and Dobra Notsch (right.) The set concluded with dancer Nicole Haskins’ Joy to the World for the entire company, a World Premiere. (See photo at top of the page.)

Like the first half, the second—Cool—with set and costumes dominated by red with touches of black contained 14 numbers. Variety in both halves was underscored by small ensembles, solos, duos, vivid lighting—sometimes dark and mysterious, sometimes explosively bright—and special effects. Cool began with drawings by young children projected on the scrim, while Louis Armstrong recited T’was The Night Before Christmas. That abruptly cut off in favor of Santa Claus is Coming to Town sung by Capture 2the Jackson Five. (Remember them?) With plenty of pelvis bumps and crawling with adoring women, Elvis Presley’s Blue Christmas brought The King back to life in the person of Weston Krukow (left.) Ben Needham-Wood and two drum sticks soloed in his original creation of Drummer Boy, to the voice of Lou Rawls. Willie Nelson’s Pretty Paper had its way with one extremely versatile blue ribbon in a duet by Erin Yarbrough-Powell and Ben Needham-Wood.

On a blacked-out stage, three Christmas trees appeared with only tiny lights to outline them. As the stage lights came up, Dustin James, Weston Krukow and Robert Moore turned Droopy Little Christmas Tree into a feast of tap dancing. Benny Martin’s music ended with ‘nobody cares what happens to me…nobody loves me, they throw me away.’ The scene ended to the sound of a wood chipper.

For this show, Amy Seiwert’s Home for the Holidays (below) got its World Premiere, as Perry Como crooned. SnSmuin Christmas Ballet 1_Chris Hardyowflakes galore came gushing down on the stage and on several rows of the audience for the spectacular finish on White Christmas by—who else?—Bing Crosby.

All photos by Chris Hardy