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Celebrate Dance 2006 - A showcase of seven California choreographers

by Rachel Levin
March 29, 2006
The Alex Theatre
216 North Brand Boulevard

Glendale, CA 91203
818-243-7700

Featured Dance Company:

Celebrate Dance
Celebrate Dance (office)

Los Angeles, CA
www.celebratedance.org

Celebrate Dance 2006 - A showcase of seven California choreographers

The Alex Theatre
216 North Brand Boulevard
Glendale, California 91203
Tel: 818-243-7700
http://www.alextheatre.org

Rachel Levin
March 29, 2006

The inaugural showcase "Celebrate Dance 2006," held at Glendale's Alex Theatre Saturday night, proved to be wholesome family dance entertainment that at times revealed flashes of brilliance. Executive producer Jamie Nichols - a three-time Lester Horton award winner and former artistic director of the Pasadena company Fast Feet - brought together an eclectic collection of seven California-based choreographers to premiere their works, ranging from ballet to modern to Latin styles.

It was refreshing to see an Armenian dance company represented, especially within the context of the large Armenian community in Glendale. Choreographer Anna Djanbazian of Djanbazian Dance Company in La Crescenta presented "Ser (A Story about Love)," inspired by the work of Armenian poet Grish Davidian. Ostensibly set in the garden of a monastery - suggested by crosses carved into stone props - the piece featured the pixie-ish Arsineh Ananian, who evoked a peasant folk dancer in her costume of bright pink skirt, black velvet vest, and fringed head scarf. Flitting around earnestly and fingering the crosses, she prayed for love - and found it. Powerful dancer Arsen Serobian encountered her in the garden, and the pair engaged in a chaste and coy dance of first love that combined ballet with authentic folk steps. In the "Rated PG" ending, they completed the dance with a kiss.

"White Light," choreographed by San Francisco-based Viktor Kabaniaev, was a cupcake of a dance: light, sweet, and satisfying. Performed by dancers-cum-siblings Irene and Emily Liu, the piece relied on the subtlest of gestures to elicit humor and "deconstruct" the classical duet. It began with the elder sister in a white beaded bodice and skirt of white tulle posing in a single spotlight. The light blinked out, and when it came up again, it found the girl in a pose that exposed her rump to the audience, legs poised in the air. It was such a simple and innocent exposé that it left the audience giggling. The girl was then joined by her smaller sister dressed in an identical outfit. The two mirrored each other's movements like twin swans. At one point, the older girl tapped her younger companion gingerly on the nose, causing her to fall to the floor, another moment of unexpected physical comedy that was met with audience laughter.

The finale and stand-out of the evening was "Love and Other Impossibilities" performed by Backhausdance. The piece was set to Latin/lounge selections from the delightfully quirky band Pink Martini. The choreography captured the playful self-consciousness and exuberance of the musical selections. Eleven dancers - women in colorful satin sheath dresses and men in slacks and button-downs - engaged in a variety of Latin ballroom partner dances with comic exaggeration that I can only describe as "white people dancing Latin." They stuck their backsides out practically to the ceiling as they cha cha-ed in shifting pairs and suspended flexed feet in the air like cartoon characters. The odd person out would dance alone like the spirit had moved them. These dancers were also convincing actors; at one point, they stopped dancing to offer kisses to the crowd, effectively communicating "Aren't we great?" Indeed, they were.

The remaining four pieces were competent and gracefully executed, though not particularly groundbreaking. Liss Fain's "The Line Between Night and Day" and Pennington Dance Group's "Out of" were modern pieces that in individual ways touched on the theme of renewal. Jazz Antiqua's "Chasing the One," set to a Miles Davis tune, was smooth as silk and a pleasure to watch. San Pedro City Ballet's "Silence" was a response to September 11th, envisioning the twitch of agony and recovery of the fallen through the dancers' bodies.

Celebrate Dance, in its inaugural year, showed promise as an annual vehicle for choreography premiers. The theatre crowded with families was proof of the renewed appeal of dance as mainstream entertainment, an alternative that can compete with TiVo and movie megaplexes. There was no MC, no competition, no awards given - just the pieces presented with pauses in between. In its simplicity, Celebrate Dance honored the work itself.


Chasing the One by Jazz Antiqua
Photo courtesy of Allen Birnbach



Love and Other Impossibilites by Backhausdance
Photo courtesy of Allen Birnbach



Out Of by Pennington Dance Group
Photo courtesy of Allen Birnbach



The Line Between Night and Day by Liss Fain Dance
Photo courtesy of Allen Birnbach



Silence by San Pedro City Ballet
Photo courtesy of Allen Birnbach



Ser by Djanbazian Dance Company
Photo courtesy of Allen Birnbach



White Light by Viktor Kabaniaev and Dancers
Photo courtesy of Allen Birnbach

Photos copyright Allen Birnbach 2006, www.allenbirnbach.com

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