Sunday, November 28th, 2010 9:00 AM
The numbers alone are impressive. Add up the years these dancer-choreographers have been active in the field, and the total comes to more than 200.
But their contributions go much deeper than figures. Separately, and now together, Germaine Acogny, Carmen de Lavallade, Dianne McIntyre, Bebe Miller and Jawole Willa Jo Zollar have risen to eminence in the world of contemporary dance.
Last year, they joined forces for the first time to perform more › a program of solo works, "Fly: Five First Ladies of Dance," at Long Island University's Brooklyn, N.Y., campus. The event was presented by 651 Arts, a Brooklyn-based organization devoted to the "awareness of and appreciation for contemporary performing arts and culture of the African diaspora."
This week, the five women travel to Oberlin College to give two performances under the auspices of DanceCleveland and the Oberlin College Theater and Dance Program. Although these women's lives have intertwined over the decades, either as colleagues or admirers, their dance version of a mutual admiration society only solidified last year.
"Once we got to our first dress rehearsal and we all sat around the theater and warmed up together and chatted, I said to myself, 'Oh, my goodness, I'm so humbled by this,' " said Miller, a faculty member at Ohio State University and founder of the dance company bearing her name, by phone from Columbus.
"It's a real privilege to be part of it. And I think it's an important thing to realize that we're still going on doing what we do on an individual basis. Our noses are not to the grindstone, but we're following our artwork."
The artwork represents a spectrum of dance perspectives. De Lavallade, who'll turn 80 in June, has performed with prominent dance companies, in movies and on Broadway -- sometimes with her husband, Geoffrey Holder -- and created works in many genres.
Acogny, known as "the mother of modern African dance," is artistic director of Compagnie Jant-Bi, the Senegalese male troupe that appeared in Cleveland in February 2008 with Urban Bush Women, the New York-based company led by Zollar.
The ties continue. Zollar devised some of her earliest works as a member of Sounds in Motion, the Harlem troupe led by Cleveland native McIntyre, who returned to her hometown several years ago.
McIntyre, who's choreographed works for Cleveland's Dancing Wheels, GroundWorks DanceTheater and Verb Ballets, exults in the opportunity to dance on the same stage with her "Fly" colleagues and to go solo.
"People in Cleveland haven't seen me dance since the 1980s," she said the other day. "I try to stay in good shape so I'm able to choreograph and teach. It's hard to choreograph if your body's not feeling vibrant inside."
Her solo, "If You Don't Know," is a tribute to late colleagues who were major influences on her artistry: Gwendolyn Nelson-Fleming, an actor and singer; St. Clair Bourne, a documentary film maker; and Lester Bowie, a composer and trumpeter.
Music is an essential element in McIntyre's creations. In "If You Don't Know," she dances to recordings of Bowie's music and an Olu Dara score performed live by pianist George Caldwell. Like McIntyre, Miller has spent most of her career basking in the team aspect of dance. A faculty member at OSU since 2000, she founded the Bebe Miller Company in 1985.
"As a choreographer, I generally don't make solos," she said. "I've only made a handful in my life. I'm built for a group process. I love to collaborate, love the feeling in the studio of a group of dancers sitting around talking."
Miller made her solo, "Rain," in 1989 after becoming enchanted with Heitor Villa-Lobos' Bachianas Brasilieras No. 5. The soothing music almost totally goes against her artistic grain, a factor in the decision to challenge herself.
"I saw myself as someone who didn't dance to beautiful music," said Miller. "I was fierce. I asked a composer-friend, Hearn Gadbois, to approach this piece of music to build a way into it, so he took the opposite direction."
Gadbois' contribution consists of a screeching voice and percussion that give way to haunting Villa-Lobos. Miller wears a red-velvet dress and performs around a patch of green grass. The theme of internal struggle reflects her views as a woman and an African-American.
"It resonates as a journey home or a return or some logic we can't define," she said. "We understand the places of ease we reach."
Acogny's solo, "Untitled," portrays a powerful African female president and employs video and an original score. The New Orleans tradition of Second Line dancing and failed efforts to assist victims of Hurricane Katrina are the crux of Zollar's "Bring 'Em Home."
The only work not made specifically for the "Fly" program is de Lavallade's solo, "The Creation," which she and Holder devised in 1972 to a poem by James Weldon Johnson.
Audiences aren't the only beneficiaries of these solos. So are the women who perform them. The dancers make every effort to watch their distinguished colleagues from the wings.
"When we can, we do, so that feels lovely," said the exuberant Miller. "Seeing things over and over again, and seeing the small adjustments people make, and seeing it from the side and watching transformation happen, and looking forward to that particular moment -- I've always been drawn to that."
At the moment, the women are only scheduled to be drawn together after Oberlin for an engagement next week at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center in Newark. McIntyre expects their bond to endure.
"We all complement each other," she said. "The work is what it is because we are all one. I know all of us will be kind of sad that we don't know the next time we'll be together. But we'll have that connection, and it will last forever."
RELATED COMPANY: FLY: Five First Ladies of Dance
Monday, November 8th, 2010 12:00 PM
The members of Hubbard Street Dance Chicago appear to be equal to any task a choreographer sets before them. It's a good thing they are. The works in the modern-dance company's repertoire require enormous helpings of dexterity, daring and personality.
Hubbard Street's program Saturday at the Ohio Theatre – a presentation of DanceCleveland and Cuyahoga Community College – revealed the polish and depth the dancers bring to creations that test body more › and sometimes soul. It is an electrifying company eager to face every fresh and surprising challenge.
The evening was packed with dance ideas, occasionally too many to maintain coherence. But the results more often than not were arresting and even thrilling, whether the ensemble was immersed in abstraction or hinting at spiritual or human relationships.
Two works by Alejandro Cerrudo, the company's resident choreographer, introduced a vibrant and sensitive creative voice. The first thing you see in "Blanco" is fog, through which four women emerge under white shafts of light.
The fog continues to swirl as the dancers, dressed in gray leotards, perform solo or unison patterns marked by snapping and soaring arm gestures. Set to piano music by Felix Mendelssohn and Charles Valentin Alkan, the two short movements abound in sleek interplay and sculptural beauty. The dancers – Meredith Dincolo, Laura Halm, Jessica Tong and Robyn Mineko Williams – managed the piece's demands with exceptional control and nuance.
Cerrudo's "Deep Down Dos" takes nine dancers through seamless chains of activity to Mason Bates' "Music from Underground Spaces." The score's driving rhythms and touches of sonic nature fuel the choreography, a bold explosion of physical encounters for dancers dressed in black and often performing in silhouette.
Once four women and five men have inhabited every corner of the stage, a couple – Ana Lopez and Benjamin Wardell – breaks off to enfold in a duet of sensuous lyricism. Choreography, lighting and dance come together in a work of haunting mystery.
The mood is playfully subversive in Victor Quijada's "Physikal Linguistiks," which is crammed with quirky and humorous episodes that sometimes take the dancers past the fourth wall. In the opening sequence, the men push each other's heads, elbows and more in a goofy expansion of movement language that almost spills over into the audience.
Jasper Gahunia's score, a collage of classical and contemporary music, serves as ingenious companion to Quijada's novel mix of spoken and danced sequences. The in-jokes tend to wear out their welcome, but the dancers were gloriously in sync with the work's offbeat aesthetic.
The company also reveled in the fluid and stately duets that pervade Nacho Duato's "Arcangelo," performed to music by Arcangelo Corelli and Alessandro Scarlatti. From the golden walls and tiny pyramids of light to the black curtain that lifts a couple at the end, the piece is a luminous flow of images danced with characteristic Hubbard Street energy and poetry.
RELATED COMPANY: Hubbard Street Dance Chicago
Sunday, October 31st, 2010 12:00 PM
So, what's new at Hubbard Street Dance Chicago? Virtually everything.
Unlike dance companies that occasionally dip feet into the past, Hubbard focuses on works by living choreographers eager to stretch the bounds of movement. The troupe, founded in 1977 by former Broadway dancer-choreographer Lou Conte, has been lauded for its daring personality and top-flight dancing.
Hubbard will share both aspects when the company -- last here in 2000 -- appears more › Saturday at the Ohio Theatre under the auspices of DanceCleveland and Cuyahoga Community College's Tri-C Presents series.
Artistic director Glenn Edgerton was a dancer with another admired Chicago company, Joffrey Ballet, when Hubbard was in its infancy.
"It was a different company certainly from the Joffrey," Edgerton said recently by phone from Chicago. "But what we did have in common was the sense of cultivating and searching for new work and new choreographers. That spirit of creativity was what I grew up with."
At Joffrey Ballet, Texas-born Edgerton was inspired by founding artistic director Robert Joffrey, who balanced classical ballets with works by living choreographers. Among them was Jiri Kylian, then artistic director of Nederlands Dans Theater, who became Edgerton's next mentor.
After 11 years with Joffrey, Edgerton joined the Nederlands company, which he later led for a decade. (Jim Vincent, his predecessor at Hubbard, is current director of Nederlands.)
Edgerton's time in The Hague prepared him for Hubbard's mission of nurturing the new, though the Chicago company differs from the Dutch troupe's tradition of "doing classical ballet where you're on pointe one day and the following day you're rolling on the floor," he said.
"It's important to me to challenge the dancers and create a wide range with the contemporary world field."
One person helping him do so is dancer Alejandro Cerrudo, who's also Hubbard's resident choreographer. Like Edgerton, he began his career in classical ballet before venturing into contemporary dance. The Madrid-born Cerrudo was dancing with Germany's Stuttgart Ballet when he entered the creative world.
"My first interest was to become a better dancer," said Cerrudo, from Chicago. "If I would step into a choreographer's shoes, I would see what the choreographer's perspective is and what they want from a dancer."
Cerrudo's perspective will be evident in two works, "Blanco" and "Deep Down Dos," on Saturday's program. Four women dance "Blanco," set to music by Mendelssohn and Alkan, while a large ensemble explores relationships in "Deep Down Dos." The latter's score, Mason Bates' "Underground Spaces," was played first by the Chicago Symphony.
Cerrudo chose the music for "Deep Down Dos" after hearing several pieces by Bates, the Chicago Symphony's composer-in-residence. The title refers both to the score's underground sounds and the piece's final duet (dos means two in Spanish).
"It was very exciting to work with something I was not naturally attracted to," he said, "but at the same time there were things about the music that really intrigued me. It was a very, very fun process, because I took it as a blank canvas and I was just sort of feeling the painting."
Along with the Cerrudo works, Hubbard will perform Victor Quijada's "Physikal Linguistiks," a blend of ballet and hip-hop, and Nacho Duato's "Arcangelo," which is more balletic in style.
"It's a very wide range for the dancers," Edgerton said, "even though they're not on pointe. Somehow in there is a common thread of organic, inventive movement."
RELATED COMPANY: Hubbard Street Dance Chicago
Tuesday, October 5th, 2010 12:00 PM
Who knew a single tire rolling across the E.J. Thomas Hall stage could be so funny?
Things got even more comical when a second lone tire traveled by and more started to crisscross, followed by a whole mishmash of tires thrown onstage in the world premiere of Bolero Akron Saturday night.
The uniquely Akron dance, which featured 65 local volunteers, was created by Keigwin and Company of New York to reflect the more › flavor of our city and its people. The backdrop was Ravel's hypnotically repetitive, swelling Bolero.
The tire prop was a heavily used Akron icon in this dance, paying homage to the industry that for many years shaped this city. But the people of varied ages, shapes, sizes and races who wore them around their hips, hopped through them and executed cool moves on top of them are what brought sheer joy to the experience.
This was choreographer Larry Keigwin's gift to Akron. Aided by assistant choreographer Nicole Wolcott, the dance was built on-the-spot over 12 days at Guzzetta Hall at the University of Akron. It's the fifth time Keigwin has built a city-centric dance with local volunteers, beginning with New York City and spreading to Denver, Santa Barbara, and Purchase, N.Y.
Thanks to co-commissioners DanceCleveland, the University of Akron Dance Program and E.J. Thomas Hall, our city had 15 minutes onstage to celebrate itself. This exact group of dancers will never come together to
perform this unique dance again, so it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience for both the cast and audience.
Bolero Akron's athletic themes alluding to football, the marathon and dance competition made it clear we live in a sports-crazy town. But there was more.
Akron folks aren't afraid to get their hands dirty, and you saw that come to life as the volunteer dancers artfully handled scores of old, dirty tires.
The motif of reinvention was ever present in Bolero Akron as these performers used the symbolic tire in new and different ways. As they gyrated on top of the tires or hopped through them in football-drill fashion, one got the feeling that these dancers were embracing Akron's industrial past while also moving forward. It could be seen as a subtle allusion to Akron's transition from the Rubber City to one focusing on the polymer and bioinnovation industries.
In a nod to the university, the Soap Box Derby and a celebration of diversity, Akron's best-known drag queen, Trixie Morgan (Gary Grether), burst through the backstage door in a glorious entrance as part of a massive pep rally. Flag-waving dancers in this flash mob segment of the dance rolled her out on an elevated platform, with Morgan, in full gown and regalia, waving a checkered flag.
Little girls in cheerleading and dance outfits ran through with blowup Goodyear blimps, and other youngsters frolicked or did flips amid the tires. Special kudos go to the animated Robert Grant in his Zippy kangaroo glasses and Valarie Moss with her exuberant flag-twirling solo that ended a swift segment of flag runs in honor of the Soap Box Derby.
Throughout Bolero Akron, the Keigwin and Company members were giving partners in the dance, serving as dance captains and directing traffic in a way that helped hold the performance together and also made them vital participants.
The world premiere couldn't have ended more perfectly than with bows to Whip It, by Akron's own Devo.
Leading up to this Akron love fest, Keigwin and Company performed a program of sexy, funny, witty dances. This hot young company was formed in 2003 by the 40-year-old Keigwin, whom Metro New York described as ''the premier choreographer of the MTV generation.''
Keigwin and his dancers have a bold sense of humor that became campy in the Fly segment of the dance Air, with a pilot and flight attendants dancing to the Muzak tune Up, Up and Away. The comical piece included rolling suitcases, a cheesy rendition of flight attendants' safety presentation, and plenty of soaring lifts.
All of the dances were choreographed by Keigwin, including the quirky male duet between him and Matthew Baker in Breeze, part of Air. It was followed by the beautifully whirling, freewheeling Wind, featuring the full company of eight dancing to Philip Glass' Channels and Winds.
Love Songs was an often humorous look at relationships, composed of six duets set to the pop music of Roy Orbison, Aretha Franklin and Nina Simone. Most memorable was the resistance and opposition between Keigwin and Wolcott to the song Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood, where the couple enters with him pushing her head and exits with her pushing his chest as he walks backward. In I Never Loved a Man (the Way I Love You), Liz Riga was ferociously sexy as the femme fatale to Baker's needy love interest, who straddled her waist like a baby and held onto her leg as she dragged him off stage.
Triptych, inspired by a black and white photo triptych at a museum, was an aerodynamic dance that heavily featured the dancers' arms in long, linear motions that Keigwin likened to a metronome quality. The movements felt robotic as dancers walked and waved in unison, rotated their arms like helicopters, and ran in circular patterns.
The dancers themselves evoked black and white images, with stark lighting making their bodies look ultra-white in contrast to their black club-style leotards or shorts. The piece became poetic with all the barefoot dancers en pointe, their feet aflutter as they moved in quick, sweeping circular patterns.
Wrapping it all up, Bolero Akron was a delightfully celebratory finale to a cool, eclectic evening of dance. After nearly two weeks of hard work, sweat and collaboration, the event was one that Akron will always remember with pride.
Tuesday, October 5th, 2010 12:00 PM
A tire rolls across the stage. Then another. Then a few dozen more. So begins "Bolero Akron," the gleeful dance piece that received its world premiere by Keigwin + Company and a crowd of Akron-area residents Saturday at E.J. Thomas Hall.
The work was part of the New York troupe's program opening DanceCleveland's new season. Presented with Thomas Hall and the University of Akron, the evening introduced a company that more › floats, skips and vibrates on wings of artistic director Larry Keigwin's fluent and witty choreography.
Keigwin and company member Nicole Wolcott have staged "Bolero" celebrations to the hypnotic Ravel score in several American cities. Each version is geared to the specific community, which, in Akron's case, meant references to tires, blimps and even an Amazonian drag queen (Trixie Morgan).
"Bolero Akron" unfolded to Ravel's insistent rhythm and theme like an uproarious block party. Dressed in hip variations of red, the local residents and Keigwin dancers made a merry parade of their various duties.
Little ones, teens and mature participants alike marched through the tires as if going through exercises at psychedelic boot camp. As the music increased in volume and tension, the cast became bikers, sports fans or, in the big finale, flag wavers at the Roller Derby.
Keigwin + Company
The coup de theatre was the arrival of Trixie Morgan (aka Gary Grether) atop an enormous portable ladder. The moment won't give Dolly a run for her money at the Harmonia Gardens, but it did add another giddy layer to this lark of a creation.
The 60 or so local residents who volunteered for "Bolero Akron" aren't likely to forget the experience. They looked thoroughly drilled in the dizzying material, as if they'd been practicing for months, instead of the two weeks they rehearsed the piece.
Earlier in the program, the Keigwin dancers performed works by their artistic director that revealed a buoyant, whimsical and inventive choreographic voice. "Air" and "Wind" send the company through an array of breezy metaphoric episodes.
We meet a group of air stewards and stewardesses dancing goofy patterns with one another and luggage to Jim Webb's "Up, Up and Away." Keigwin and Matthew Baker are light-hearted protagonists cavorting to a Perry Como favorite, "Catch a Falling Star," while the cast engages in soaring lifts and intricate steps to music by Philip Glass in "Wind."
Keigwin's "Love Songs" uses classics by Roy Orbison, Aretha Franklin and Nina Simone to portray three couples in assorted states of emotional upheaval and euphoria. The funniest sequences find Liz Riga as a torrid dominatrix dancing to the frenzied hilt with Baker. Keigwin, Wolcott, Kristina Hanna and Aaron Carr were the other charismatic lovers.
Quirky rituals and angular arm patterns form the crux of "Triptych," a high-energy work – set to Jonathan Melville Pratt's pulsating score – that shows Keigwin's ability to take his marvelous troupe through arresting dance images minus a narrative.
RELATED COMPANY: Keigwin+Company