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Felice Lesser’s Lightning, Politically-Charged Dance Theater

by Taylor Gordon
February 9, 2017
The Duke Theatre
229 West 42nd Street
New York, NY 10036
Dark clouds roll by. Dancers scurry covering their heads, avoiding imaginary raindrops. It’s an ominous opening to Felice Lesser Dance Theater’s production of Lightning, a multimedia dance work performed at the Duke Theater in NYC on February 8, 2017. The evening featured 12 vignettes zooming in on different issues affecting the world today.

Video sometimes streamed behind the dancing and served as animated backdrops - credits like a Hollywood movie or experimentations with technology. The latter was most obvious in “Artificial Intelligence,” a dynamic solo for Donna Wiley where clones of her danced as a corps de ballet on the screen. One clone of Donna magnified over time into a full screen dancer while the real life Donna waved to her giant self. It was interesting to see the blend of live and recorded movement.

“Breakthrough,” a commentary on global warming, was another section where video set the tone. Grey waves crashed as Acee Francis Laird danced, first happily as if on a beach, then perilously as if she was drowning. A strong image was when the other dancers lined up linking hands to elbows to create a human wave, their arms swimming up and down as Mr. Laird tried to pass through them. Soon he was enveloped in the wave of dancers as their movements grew. And then he died as if the wave – and global warming – had knocked him out.

There were hints of humor in other sections like “Swipe Right,” where a female dancer romanced another female only to take her ice cream in the end, or “Celebrity Gossip,” where a copy of People Magazine was passed around in creative ways. With all of these sections, Ms. Lesser is a choreographer who has a lot to say – but her messages are best portrayed when the dancing stands alone as in the “Black Lives Matter” vignette. The duet performed by African-American dancers Katherine Files and Mr. Laird moved beyond the classical ballet vocabulary and added a lift of energy to the end of the evening.

The final piece, “Funeral March,” projected images of the wall of Post-Its in Union Square following Donald Trump’s election win. The dancers walked across the stage consoling each other, finally meeting as a group under an umbrella. One dancer reached out to feel the raindrops as the post-it behind her read, “Stronger Together.”

Perhaps all of the issues covered in the production were bits of lightning, unexpected and disconcerting…but hopefully this storm will pass.
Center: Chanmee Jeong and Acée Francis with the cast in 'March to Eternity.'

Center: Chanmee Jeong and Acée Francis with the cast in "March to Eternity."

Photo © & courtesy of Gerry Goodstein


Chanmee Jeong with the Company in 'Celebrity Gossip.'

Chanmee Jeong with the Company in "Celebrity Gossip."

Photo © & courtesy of Gerry Goodstein


Kat Files and cast in 'Funeral March.'

Kat Files and cast in "Funeral March."

Photo © & courtesy of Gerry Goodstein


Kat Files & Dona Wiley in 'Invisible Borders.'

Kat Files & Dona Wiley in "Invisible Borders."

Photo © & courtesy of Gerry Goodstein

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