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A Decade of Concert Dance: Celebrate Dance 2015

by Rachel Levin
March 7, 2015
Alex Theatre
216 North Brand Blvd.
Glendale, CA 91203
818-243-2539

Featured Dance Company:

Celebrate Dance
Celebrate Dance (office)

Los Angeles, CA
www.celebratedance.org

I have been attending and writing about Celebrate Dance, Jamie Nichols's annual concert dance showcase, since its inception in 2006. On Saturday night, I had the privilege of watching the 10th anniversary edition of the show and felt gratified to see it reach this important milestone.

The lineup was like a greatest hits collection of the past 10 years, during which 40 dance companies have graced the Alex Theatre stage. Some of Saturday's nine pieces were presented nearly identically to their original debut, while others were "remixed" a bit. For those discovering Celebrate Dance for the first time (which appeared to be about half the audience when Nichols invited first-timers to stand during her brief speech), it was a lineup that provided a glance at the diverse mix of genres − from the lovely ballet of Monat Dance to the abstract modern movement of Backhausdance and Pennington Dance Group to the lively tap of BPM beatsperminute − that characterizes the show.

For returning patrons, such as myself, the reprisal of pieces from years past offered a chance to reflect on how, over the course of the decade, Nichols as curator has shaped our ability to appreciate cutting-edge, long-form concert dance presentations. It is a cumulative education that has allowed every audience member to expand their dance horizons; for each accessible, feel-good number, there's always another that's darker and more challenging.

The work of the late Marie de la Palme, the choreographer of motion/TRIBE who passed away last year, is a quintessential example of the Celebrate Dance sensibility. With pieces such as "The Door" and "The Cage" in previous years, De la Palme was a master at depicting human desire in the face of physical obstacles. Saturday's reprise of "Le Coeur Illuminé" (The Illuminated Heart) followed a video tribute to the choreographer and showcased the intense physicality yet vulnerable and delicate aesthetic of De la Palme's work. As a solo dancer (Jean Michelle Sayeg) interacted with drapes of crimson fabric suspended from the ceiling, her breathtaking aerial stunts drew gasps of wonder from the audience. It is this marriage of crowd-pleasing physical feats and intense, electrifying beauty that exemplifies the Celebrate Dance brand.

Some of the other pieces depicted a kind of "performance within a performance," where we as the audience watched dancers performing for other dancers. This "meta" subjectivity called attention to the performative nature of dance and the way in which the audience is always, in a sense, a part of the performance itself.

For example, BARE Dance's "Drift," from choreographer Mike Esperanza, was presented in 2010 with a quartet of dancers who crossed paths on a central square placed in the middle of the stage. It was a piece about mingling and the evolution of relationships that happen by chance. On Saturday, the "mingling" was multiplied as the quartet was replaced with upwards of two dozen dancers, as Esperanza chose to feature a reunion of California- and New York-based dancers. Two at a time, they entered the square and executed playful partner steps as the rest of the group looked on. In the end, the entire company came together in the square, weaving between one another in a way that suggested our essential interconnectedness.

"The Dancing Man, a fairy tale," by Nate Hodges's RhetOracle Dance Company, was a memorable entry from the 2012 show. Here, the "performance within a performance" was carried out by a group of townspeople who welcome a magnetic outsider with the power to control their movement via his magical fingers. At first, the group is thrilled to perform the choreography that the Dancing Man compels them to do, and they beg him not to leave. But ultimately his power is a destructive force that seduces the townspeople into their own deaths. Community is destroyed when the people forfeit their will to an authoritative and lethal leader.

On a brighter note, in Viver Brasil's "In Motion," a reprisal from 2009 choreographed by Rosangela Silvestre, ebullient dancers alternated fierce samba de roda moves with the martial art of capoeira. At certain points, they formed a cypher, a circle of dancers that cheer one another on and dance in conversation with one another, an affirmation of community in Afro-Brazilian culture. Also a meditation on dance within community was SoleVita Dance Company's "The Walk West," choreographed by Joelle Martinec, in which movement was used to represent the group's journey to the frontier and portray its matters of the heart.

Taken together, these themes of community and performativity were ideal meditations for a show looking back at itself and the state of concert dance over the past ten years. During its tenure, Celebrate Dance has indeed helped to build and shape community, something reaffirmed by the school children who lined the theater's aisles to enthusiastically "boogie down" prior to the start of the show. Every year, the show has reminded us that dance is a reflexive art, allowing us an opportunity to see something of ourselves mirrored in the movements of others. We as the audience are never completely outside of the performance looking in. Rather, dance is a dialectic in which movement is created to communicate something specific beyond the fourth wall; even as passive viewers, we participate. Jamie Nichols, in looking back through the decade, has exposed us to challenging work that makes us wonder, what will the future hold?
Celebrate! The Bancroft Middle School Dance Company

Celebrate! The Bancroft Middle School Dance Company

Photo © & courtesy of Tim Agler


'Out Of', Pennington Dance Group

"Out Of", Pennington Dance Group

Photo © & courtesy of Tim Agler


'Push', Backhausdance

"Push", Backhausdance

Photo © & courtesy of Tim Agler


'Le Coeur Illumine', Marie de la Palme for motion/TRIBE

"Le Coeur Illumine", Marie de la Palme for motion/TRIBE

Photo © & courtesy of Tim Agler


'In Motion' Viver Brasil Dance Company

"In Motion" Viver Brasil Dance Company

Photo © & courtesy of Tim Agler


'Drift', BARE Dance Company

"Drift", BARE Dance Company

Photo © & courtesy of Tim Agler


'Beyond the Edge', Monat Dance

"Beyond the Edge", Monat Dance

Photo © & courtesy of Tim Agler


'The Dancing Man, a fairy tale', RhetOracle Dance Company

"The Dancing Man, a fairy tale", RhetOracle Dance Company

Photo © & courtesy of Tim Agler


'The Walk West', SoleVita Dance Company

"The Walk West", SoleVita Dance Company

Photo © & courtesy of Tim Agler


'A 7 Piece Band with a Twist', BPM beatsperminute

"A 7 Piece Band with a Twist", BPM beatsperminute

Photo © & courtesy of Tim Agler

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