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Celebrate Dance 2009 — A Beacon for Artists and Audiences

by Rachel Levin
March 14, 2009
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

In keeping with these lean economic times, the choreographers in Jamie Nichols' annual Celebrate Dance showcase offered many pieces that called attention to the basics of dance and nuances of movement, eschewing elaborate sets and costumes in favor of simply clad bodies in motion.

The opening piece, presented by California Contemporary Ballet, featured the duo of Ryan Morrison and Jaclyn Speas in nude tights and leotard, respectively, bathed in orange light. The title, "Quintessence," was fitting for the clean lines and elemental energy of the duet, which walked the tightrope between classical and contemporary.

RhetOracle Dance Company also favored a stripped-down spirit, with a troupe of 16 barefoot dancers in white tops and rust-colored hot pants. Exploring the theme of "self-induced paranoia," the piece — titled "Siren" — alternated between flowing, synchronized movements and disjointed, individual tics set to an industrial soundtrack.

"The Presence of Absence," an entry from Keith Johnson/Dancers, was inspired by the journals of deceased grunge rocker Kurt Cobain, yet there were few traces of the punk aesthetic. Instead, two couples in all-black outfits courted one another to a lyrical piano arrangement. The duos partnered, collapsed into themselves, and rose again in their seeming search to fill perceived voids with their movement.

Bradley Michaud's Method Contemporary Dance opted for black and grey streetwear to create a video-game-like landscape of martial arts-inspired moves. The piece, titled "volenti non fit injuria" (to a willing person no injury is done), had an improvisational quality, with dancers flowing from headstands to knee bends and from clusters to dispersion.

The sparest production was surely Ledges and Bones Dance Project's "Experiment II, Sky Rising," a solo in which dancer/choreographer Holly Johnston, also clad in black, fixated on tiny movements, like the articulation of joints in the elbows and fingers.

Taken together, the nearly-bare bodies in these pieces seemed to lay bare the yearnings of the heart and soul in the face of alienation and isolation — self-imposed or otherwise. For a sold-out audience seeking an escape from the doom-and-gloom of daily news, it all might have been too much to bear if several acts in the latter half of the program hadn't offered some welcome flourishes of color and camaraderie.

Several pieces employed ensembles of women to animate feminine power and pleasure. Viver Brasil's "In Motion, Em Movimento" was a toast to "the vibration of possibility." Clad in cheery green and white outfits, the women — joined by a male tambourine player — alternated between samba shimmies and acrobatic capoeira-like boasting. Live Brazilian musicians and the indefatigable Katia Moraes provided the soundtrack. It was the only piece of the night in which the dancers smiled, a salve for the audience.

Deborah Rosen and Dancers explored the ethereal nature of femininity in "Giunone," the name of the Italian sky goddess who protects women in marriage and birth. Eileen Cooley's gorgeous lighting design had the five female dancers dressed in flowing grape gowns prancing in a sunset sky of pink clouds, while vocalist Laine Proctor's otherworldly chanting provided the rhythm.

Josie Walsh's company MyoKyo offered the only va va voom of the night in "Internal Affairs." Six women – one of which was suspended in a hammock of crimson fabric – colluded to seduce a male dancer. Kiyomi Hara's costumes were reminiscent of deconstructed pirate outfits, appropriate for a group whose leggy moves stole the leading man's heart and agency (by the end of the piece, he was the one tied up in the hammock).

The finale belonged to Lux Aeterna, Jacob "Kujo" Lyons' hybrid breakdance/ballet company. Dressed as gladiators, the ensemble combined lyricism and athleticism in "Fiddling While Rome Burns," an examination of excesses that lead to the extinction of grand civilizations. Lyons, a participant from last year, has perfected his ability for crafting nearly impossible human pyramids that – unlike such decadent empires – never crash and burn.

Collectively, the showcase confirmed the power of dance to both reflect and critique reality and distract us from it with good, old-fashioned entertainment. In our current cultural climate, we desperately need both. As funding for dance companies and the arts in general withers under the burden of a sour economy, Celebrate Dance proved itself once again a beacon of light for both artists and audiences.
'Quintessence' performed by California Contemporary Ballet

"Quintessence" performed by California Contemporary Ballet

Photo © & courtesy of Tim Agler


'Giunone' performed by Deborah Rosen and Dancers

"Giunone" performed by Deborah Rosen and Dancers

Photo © & courtesy of Tim Agler


'Fiddling While Rome Burns' performed by Lux Aeterna Dance Company

"Fiddling While Rome Burns" performed by Lux Aeterna Dance Company

Photo © & courtesy of Tim Agler


'Internal Affairs' performed by MyoKyo

"Internal Affairs" performed by MyoKyo

Photo © & courtesy of Tim Agler


'Siren' performed by RhetOracle Dance Company

"Siren" performed by RhetOracle Dance Company

Photo © & courtesy of Tim Agler


'In Motion, Em Movimento' performed by Viver Brasil

"In Motion, Em Movimento" performed by Viver Brasil

Photo © & courtesy of Tim Agler

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