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Celebrate Dance 2011 - Yes They Can!

by Rachel Levin
March 12, 2011
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

It was ironic that I arrived to the Alex Theater seven minutes late for Regina Klenjoski Dance Company's performance "Emoticons," which opened the sixth annual Celebrate Dance showcase on Saturday. The ever-punctual production had started on the dot of 8:00 pm, and I found myself locked out in the lobby for the first piece with other latecomers craning our necks to see the performance on a grainy TV in the lobby. Scanning my written program, I read the tagline that described the theme of the piece: "Is technology enabling or disabling our ability to connect?"

It was technology, of course, that had made me late: navigating congestion and traffic lights, fumbling with the credit card pay station for parking. As I watched the dancers on the TV frolicking in a way that electronic circuits might fire within a microchip, I realized more than ever the importance of showcases like Celebrate Dance. While the myriad dance reality shows and umpteen YouTube video channels splashing bodies across the screen have raised the visibility of dance in recent years, there are too few chances in Los Angeles to see real live dancing bodies in the tussle of masterful performance - sweating, slapping the stage with bare feet, breathing audibly. It's a kind of cathartic physical experience that's wiped clean for audiences when dance is broadcast over satellites or streamed through broadband.

As I pondered the question posed by Klenjoski's piece, in that moment it seemed clear that while technology may be enabling our ability to see more dance, it is indeed disabling our ability to connect with the ephemeral excitement of live performance. Standing in the lobby waiting for the closed-circuit transmission of "Emoticons" to end so I could be seated, I keenly felt a yearning to connect with real live dancing bodies. Being denied immediate entrance to the show filled me anew with appreciation for the simple yet elegant principle that guides producer Jamie Nichols each year in her tireless production of the program: put beautiful bodies on a beautiful proscenium stage, and open the doors.

Three of the evening's nine pieces were contemporary duets that shared a combination of acrobatic strength and fluid tenderness. Though spare in production – each with two dancers dressed in simple black body wear under a single spotlight – they were fresh in perspective. Among these were two entries from San Diego-based Malashock Dance. The first, "Everybody Knows," featured a pair of dancers tumbling over one another in rag doll fashion and intermittently striking gorgeous lines that doubled as punch lines for the audience in a commentary on the push-pull of a less-than-perfect relationship. In the second, "Tethered (from Wayward Glances)," the couple never broke physical contact with one another as they balanced and climbed their way over each other's bodies. Their inaudible whisperings to one another intensified the intimacy on display, but a kiss denied at the end was a humorous coda that spoke to universal relationship tensions. Terri Best Dance's "Threshold" was the third duet of the night, and while it too was danced beautifully at the borders of strength and tenderness, closeness and distance, it was overshadowed in impact by the Malashock duets that came before it.

Several ensemble pieces by local companies added more flourish in costume, color, and flow. Dressed in diaphanous powder blue and peach dresses, the young women in Deborah Rosen's "The Space Between, Before and After" were so nymph-like that they seemed to be Olympian Muses, but the piece took a surprising and engaging turn when their fluid gestures gave way to vigor and spunk. The ensemble in Visions Dance Theatre's "Twist of Fate" wore multiple shades of purple and violet, hues that conveyed the power of the central couple to turn the fates of the dancing chorus, rendering them immobile with a mere wave of their hands. In Monat Dance's "Beyond the Edge," jewel-toned dresses set the jubilant tone of a beaming ballet ensemble. These fresh-faced performers conveyed a sense of joy through their classical ballet vocabulary infused with a thoroughly modern mood. It was hard not to find yourself smiling back at them – the piece felt like a true celebration of dance.

The clear standouts of the evening were BARE Dance Company's "Unoccupied" and Creative Outlook Dance Theatre of Brooklyn's "Prize." Both drew their strength from unique interpretations of word and sound. Choreographer Mike Esperanza of BARE captured the bubbly, tongue-in-cheek musical spirit of lounge group Pink Martini masterfully. "Unoccupied" opened with socked feet "lip synching" to the frothy vocals, a crowd-pleasing sleight-of-foot that drew laughter. The piece evolved into what might only be described as a hipster rumba party of young dancers dressed in frocks and socks, where the only thing missing was actual martini cocktails. The ensemble moved from awkward pairings to flirty formations with hints of Busby Berkeley, and their self-conscious participation as spectators of one another undercut any sense of taking themselves too seriously. It was a delightful romp that melded innovation and fun.

Brooklyn-based choreographer Jamel Gaines ended the night on a more serious note as his piece "Prize" was danced not to music but to the election-night presidential acceptance speech of Barack Obama. I felt chills as the quartet of dancers found rhythm in the cadence of Obama's words. They danced the strength of the president's professed convictions for hope and change and at times took on personas of individual voters from all walks of life who cast their ballots in the historic election. The movement ranged from ancient African to postmodern gesture, and the juxtaposition in styles spoke to the disjuncture between the promises the president made on election night and the political realities that have interceded in the ensuing years.

Whatever the legacy of Obama's presidency may be, it was clear on Saturday night that Celebrate Dance offered its own "Yes We Can!" to the dance community and to local dance audiences. A seamless (and ever-punctual) production, gorgeous lighting (by designer Eileen Cooley), consistently high-quality concepts and choreography, and a real (not virtual) chance to connect with knock-out dancers…if only the political theater of America could run this smoothly.
'Beyond the Edge'; Choreographer: Sophie Monat; Company: Monat Dance

"Beyond the Edge"; Choreographer: Sophie Monat; Company: Monat Dance

Photo © & courtesy of Tim Agler


'Everybody Knows (from Shadow of Mercy)'; Choreographer: John Malashock; Company: Malashock Dance

"Everybody Knows (from Shadow of Mercy)"; Choreographer: John Malashock; Company: Malashock Dance

Photo © & courtesy of Tim Agler


'Prize', Choreographer: Jamel Gaines; Company: Creative Outlook Dance Theatre of Brooklyn

"Prize", Choreographer: Jamel Gaines; Company: Creative Outlook Dance Theatre of Brooklyn

Photo © & courtesy of Tim Agler


'The Space Between, Before and After', Choreographer: Deborah R. Rosen; Dance Company: Deborah Rosen and Dancers

"The Space Between, Before and After", Choreographer: Deborah R. Rosen; Dance Company: Deborah Rosen and Dancers

Photo © & courtesy of Tim Agler


'Twist of Fate'; Choreographer: Macarena Gandarillas; Dance Company: Visions Dance Theatre

"Twist of Fate"; Choreographer: Macarena Gandarillas; Dance Company: Visions Dance Theatre

Photo © & courtesy of Tim Agler


'Unoccupied'; Choreographer: Mike Esperanza; Company: BARE Dance Company

"Unoccupied"; Choreographer: Mike Esperanza; Company: BARE Dance Company

Photo © & courtesy of Tim Agler

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