Friday, April 1st, 2016 12:00 PM
In the world of dance, tap has long been treated as the bastard stepchild. Someone looking to not only correct what she feels is an injustice but also redefine the style for future generations is Michelle Dorrance.
The New York City-based tap dancer, performer, choreographer, teacher and director brings her Bessie Award-winning company, Dorrance Dance, through Northeast Ohio for performances as part of DanceWorks '16. DANCECleveland, in collaboration with Cleveland Public more › Theatre, presents Dorrance Dance April 7 through 9 at Gordon Square Theatre.
"Dorrance Dance is basically a tap dance company, but a lot of my dancers do multiform dance," said Dorrance, calling from outside of New York City. "There's a great tap community in Cleveland but we are interested in bringing a much deeper and more dynamic respect for the art form to the entire country.
"It's the first American art form. There's a much larger agenda outside of just choreography and composition. What I love about tap is it's both music and movement at the same time. I think one of the reasons we're really excited is because we get to connect with audiences surrounding our passion for the form."
While tap dance is one of the first styles performers are introduced to as young children, this wasn't always the case. Dorrance said a bias towards tap is tied to derogatory racial stereotypes from a century ago involving African-American and Irish immigrant street performers.
"Eventually, Vaudeville and movies showed tap, but people saw it as just entertainment and not necessarily artful," Dorrance said. "That's another thing we aim to deconstruct."
For most folks, tap dance begins and ends with Sammy Davis Jr. and Gregory Hines. Dorrance offers perspective on their importance to the medium.
"Sammy (was) truly an incredible tap dancer and Gregory (was) a revolutionary," said Dorrance, who was recently named a MacArthur Fellow and was a recipient of the MacArthur Genius Award. "People don't realize Gregory revolutionized the rhythmic sensibility. He was the first one to bring in funk. He was a funk drummer in a band at some point, but he really changed the way we dance. He's the reason why we dance the way we dance now."
Dorrance Dance doesn't shy away from presenting a new tap aesthetic, which draws on street, club and experimental dance forms, as well as a variety of music. The visionary's love of tap began as a child. Mentored by Gene Medler, she grew up performing with the North Carolina Youth Tap Ensemble while studying dance at The Ballet School of Chapel Hill.
As far as audience members attending the upcoming Dorrance Dance performance, the choreographer promises they will leave feeling wowed.
"You can look forward to some bad-ass improvisation," Dorrance said. "One thing I value when it comes to choreography is tap-dance improvisation. That's the crux of creation. Every single one of my dancers improvises at least a little bit in the show, and I like to feature some of the more creative improvisational dancers.
"That's something I love. Seeing that improvisation juxtaposed with choreography is also something audiences never get to see. There's also exciting rhythmic composition. I love tap dance as dance, but I also love it as music. We hope audiences leave a show saying, 'Oh my God, it's music.'"
When: 8 p.m. April 7 through 9.
Where: Gordon Square Theatre, located at 6415 Detroit Avenue, Cleveland.
Tickets: $12 to $30.
Info: 216-631-2727, ext. 501 or cptonline.org.
John Benson, The News Herald
Tuesday, March 1st, 2016 12:00 PM
CLEVELAND, Ohio – If dance should be dazzling and entertaining, then the performance last weekend by Malpaso: A Cuban Dance Project was a home run, another success on the 60th anniversary season of DanceCleveland.
If, however, dance should also nourish or impart some meaning, then the evening, the first Cuban act in DanceCleveland history and the launch of a US tour, came up a bit short.
This was the fundamental tension Saturday more › night in the Ohio Theatre at Playhouse Square: relishing Malpaso's physicality and dynamic energy while also feeling strangely unsatisfied, yearning for greater substance.
"Ocaso," the opening work, came closest to covering all bases. Emotionally touching, visually captivating, and intriguing choreographically, the duet by artistic director Osnel Delgado Wambrug was the lone complete package.
Circular patterns predominated. In addition to a broad cycle of unison and solo movements, breaking apart only to end up embracing or back arm-in-arm, Wambrug and dancer Beatriz Garcia Diaz also traced smaller circles in the form of lyrical, looping motions and fluid, interlocking arms, all the while modeling intensity and elegance.
Rarely has a dance couple behaved so realistically. Performing to minimalist string music on a bare stage, the pair embodied the intimate give-and-take that is the essence of every relationship.
Such conclusions are harder to draw from "Por Que Sigues" ("Why You Follow") and "24 Hours and a Dog," the other two pieces on the program. Though much longer, and inviting in their ways, they amounted primarily to dances for the sake of dancing.
That's not such a bad thing, of course. "Why You Follow," a four-scene work by Ronald K. Brown, of Evidence fame, was plenty engaging, if a bit homogeneous, set to rhythmic dance-club music and stocked with wave upon wave of movement recalling African tribal dances. If the title of the work were a question, the answer by Malpaso Saturday would have been simple: because it's fun, and who they are.
"24 Hours and a Dog," a collaborative creation, had the added benefits of live music and a storyline. Thus, even when the work overstayed its welcome, one had the basic gist of a day in the life of a Cuban dancer and the vibrant, brassy wailing of Arturo O'Farrill and his Afro Latin Jazz Ensemble to fall back on.
The structure may have been hard to follow, but the spectacle was a delight. Through an enormous variety of movement alternately literal and abstract, somber and playful, rigid and fluid, the picture emerged of a profession defined by extremes.
In "24 Hours," the limitations of life in Cuba and the tedium of exercise and rehearsal contrasted sharply with the highs of performance and the perks of dance company membership. Often, the dancers seemed mostly to be reveling in their own highly-developed physical abilities and celebrating Malpaso's expanding freedoms as a troupe. As a work of art, "24 Hours" wasn't deep, but as a dance, it was a joy.
Zachary Lewis, The Plain Dealer
RELATED COMPANY: Malpaso: A Cuban Dance Project
Wednesday, January 27th, 2016 12:00 PM
We've seen just about every Cleveland performance of Momix, Pilobolus and (remember them?) ISO. These troupes of dance-illusionists have much in common with Cirque du Soleil, and dance critics are often dismissive. So, when we read reviews of Momix's latest production, Alchemia, we weren't surprised that two out of three were negative.
But, like every other Momix/Pilobolus/ISO performance we've attended, Clevelanders turned out and approved. The Connor Palace was packed with more › over 2,000 people on Saturday night, more than twice the audience of any other DanceCleveland presentation in recent memory.
"We love Momix! Yes we do!" enthused DanceCleveland's Pam Young in her curtain speech. "Whoo!" cried the audience right back.
And neither the general audience nor your two faithful dance critics were disappointed by what followed. Alchemia has a thematic through line – something about Fire and Water, Lead and Gold - but you really don't need to pay attention to that.
Like every other show by Momix, Alchemia is 21st Century vaudeville, one spectacular vignette after another arranged in ascending order of magnitude, each vignette built around a prop or a special effect.
The first and weakest half of the program was most vulnerable to the usual criticism of Momix, that each prop or special effect is exploited, exhausted and discarded to no lasting effect. In the first vignette, the columns the dancers danced around became pipes they manipulated; they rolled them like logs, blew into them like alpenhorns, and used them to corral one of their number. Then the pipes are gone and two men variously run with and lift a woman across the stage. They are joined by a second trio and then … A thunderclap and a flying red apparition appears. What is that? How do they do that? Then we recognize that it's a large piece of cloth, brilliantly lit and jerked about by thin sticks held by the dancers like Balinese puppeteers.
And so it goes throughout the first half of Alchemia. Dancing is incidental to props and effects. We're entertained but disappointed that this very capable group of dancers doesn't get more of a chance to do what they probably do very well, dance.
The second half of Alchemia presents the black-lit dancers running in place and undulating. They're apparently supported by frames rendered invisible in the black light. Just another prop, perhaps, but entertaining long after the mystification fades. Then we see one and later two women flown by wires. Flips, spins, and travels put other theatrical flying to shame. Yes, we see how it's done, but it's done very well indeed.
Then there's another black light number, a woman surrounded by mysteriously floating balls. The dancers manipulating the balls are almost entirely invisible. Then tinkling keyboards and three triptychs of mirrors; many women dance in front of the mirrors, pacing and flipping their hair – oh, wait, it's only three women and a multitude of reflections.
Too soon the main curtain lowers and the final projection, "Fin." Applause. People start to hurry back to the 'burbs. But there's more. The curtain goes up on a pair of large metallic "U" shapes. Dancers variously rock and position the props while other dancers support themselves inside them. Wow! That tops everything.
With video design attributed to Woodrow F. Dick III and artistic direction from 67 year-old Moses Pendleton, Momix has done it again. Gimmicky, yes. Too little actual dancing, true. But oh so entertaining and we'll be back next time.
DanceCleveland has more in store. Malpaso: a Cuban Dance Project at the Ohio Theatre on 2/27. Dorrance Dance 4/7-4/9 at Cleveland Public Theater. Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater 4/29-5/1 at the State Theatre. Get tickets and learn more here.
[Written by Elsa Johnson and Victor Lucas]
Victor Lucas & Elsa Johnson, Cool Cleveland
RELATED COMPANY: Momix
Monday, January 25th, 2016 12:00 PM
Everything…yes, everything…that you perceive about contemporary dance changes with a single performance of Momix. The company performed to a sold out and enthusiastic Connor Palace audience on Saturday. Billed as "a company of dance illusionists", Momix uses motion, music, light, dark and various suspension devices to create a world onstage that few people could dare to dream exist. It is in fact a magical experience.
Saturday's performance (presented by Cleveland's own more › DANCECleveland) was titled "Alchemia" and was in fact the turning of a base material into a precious element. The show began very low key with various video projections being projected onto the curtain that then erupted into digital flame which was then doused with the same video element of water. The curtain rose to the sight of eight white 12' columns with images projected on them. Suddenly, a large fish appeared high on the left portion of the stage and slowly swam across. At this point you knew that you would be in for something extraordinary.
"Alchemia" is an extraordinary journey into the worlds of earth, wind, water and air that throughout the performance has you asking yourself if you can truly believe your senses. The director's notes in the program gives you clues such as, "Mercury's serpent swims", "the city of Atlantis sinks", "wild winds fan the anatomical furnace", "the sisterhood of the moon at the alchemical wedding is disrupted by male magnets" and "the white peacock soars."
The performance is a seamless blend of various vignettes with each one capturing a portion of the overall theme of the show. Of special note is the red silk fire storm, the sisters of the moon, the magnet men, the three suspended women, the soaring dancer dressed in white, the women in red, the sorcerer with the 12 floating light spheres and the five dancing light forms all of which are totally captivating.
It is of course the small army behind the scenes consisting of 32 hard working individuals who assist the ten performers onstage thus making the magic happen. This includes Tsarra Bequette, Dajuan Booker, Autumn Burnette, Jonathan Bryant, Aaron Canfield, Jennifer Chicheportiche, David Dillow, Simona Di Tucci, Eddy Fernandez, Rory Freeman, Jon Eden, Vincent Harris, Morgan Hulen, Catherine Jaeger, Jaime Johnson, Jennifer Levy, Elizabeth Loft, Nicole Loizides, Steven Marshall, Anila Mazhari, Emily McArdle, Danielle McFall, Graci Meier, Sarah Nachbauer, Cynthia Quinn, Quinn Pendleton, Rebecca Rasmussen, Cara Seymour, Matt Shanbacher, Brian Simerson, Ryan Taylor and Evelyn Toh.
The dancers featured are Jerrica Blankenship, Anthony Bocconi, Jennifer Chicheportiche, Gregory DeArmond, Steven Ezra, Jenna Marie Graves, Andrea Guajardo, Vincent Harris, Catherine Jaeger and Changyong Sung.
Additional talents are supplied by Michael Korsch (Lighting Design), Phoebe Katzin in collaboration with Moses Pendleton and Cynthia Quinn (Costume Design), Phoebe Katzin (Costume Construction), Michael Curry (Red Fire Silk Design), Beryl Taylor, Linda Durovcova and Kimberly Lombard (Costume Assistants), Moses Pendleton (Video Imagery and Direction), Woodrow E. Dick, III (Video Design), Moses Pendleton (Music Collage) and Andrew Hansen (Music Editing).
At the end of the "Alchemia" show, the company returned for a spectacular encore that they called, "The Cracking of the Alchemical egg."
It is sincerely hoped that upon seeing the sold out standing ovation response to this truly magnificent show that Momix will make plans to put Cleveland on their list of regularly scheduled tour stops in the years to come. Cleveland has over the years been a strong supporter of not only the fine arts but of contemporary dance in particular. Having performances such as this visit us is our reward for that support.
Dance Cleveland is thankful for their funders, sponsors and supporters that include The Cleveland Foundation, Cuyahoga Arts & Culture, The Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, The George Gund Foundation, The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, Anonymous, Akron Community Foundation, Eva L. and Joseph M. Bruening Foundation, John P. Murphy Foundation, Ohio Arts Council, PNC, The Reinberger Foundation, Eaton Corporation Charitable Fund, The George W. Codrington Charitable Foundation, The Mary S. and David C. Corbin Foundation, Margaret Clark Morgan Foundation, Arts Midwest Touring Fund, FirstMerit Foundation, Nordson Corporation, New England Foundation for the Arts and Sterling Jewelers.
RELATED COMPANY: Momix
Monday, January 25th, 2016 12:00 PM
By STEVE SUCATO
CLEVELAND, Ohio -- It might surprise many who attended Momix's "Alchemia," Saturday night in Connor Palace Theater at Playhouse Square to learn that the 90-minutes of theatrical magic they witnessed got its start in the modest surroundings of a barn in northwestern Connecticut, where the company's dancers spent months playing with balls, exercise machines and other props to create the work.
The non-narrative "Alchemia" (2012) is the brainchild of more › Momix founding director Moses Pendleton and was inspired by the ancient form of chemistry and speculative philosophy, alchemy, which sought to transmute baser metals into gold. Unfortunately, however, like many past attempts to turn lead into gold, "Alchemia" never quite achieves that glittering end.
The production, part of DanceCleveland's 60th-anniversary season, lacked the wow factor of past Momix productions such as "Lunar Sea," "Opus Cactus" and "Botanica." The dance world's version of Cirque du Soleil, Momix is known for blending dance, acrobatics, theater and illusion into their popular shows.
Set to a collage of atmospheric music from electronic to classical, "Alchemia" was less visual fireworks than a slow burning reveal of colorful video images and some equally eye-catching images created by the dancers who constantly transformed themselves via costumes, props and lighting effects into lovely shapes and creatures.
The work's imagery related to the four elements: fire, water, earth and air. It appeared Pendleton looked to past productions for help in bringing these images to light, and with mixed results.
Where the production stumbled was in the use of several rather tired and recycled visual gimmicks, some of them decades old, such as angled mirrors to multiply a dancer's image into many and rolling walls aimed to disguise the dancers' movements across the stage.
For the uninitiated, these, and other chestnuts may have appeared new and dazzling, but for those who have seen the troupe before or productions like it, the effects were akin to seeing decades-old special effects applied to a new science fiction film.
Despite this, "Alchemia" still retained a level of charm that was warmly received by the audience. Standout moments included a segment presumably related to the element of earth in which a handful of dancers in luminescent bodysuits with root-like patterns moved aboard elliptical exercise machines on a pitch-black stage, giving the effect of watching athletic apparitions working out.
Another section evoking the element of fire had the dancers in shadow, manipulating a giant silk sheet with poles to look like a roiling flame that danced in the air about the stage.
The work's most captivating tableaux, however, came in sections relating to air and water. One had the company's female dancers costumed in double-layered, floor-length hoop skirts shuffling about the stage as floating over it. At one point, the dancers pulled one layer of the skirt above their heads making them look like deep ocean plankton pulsing back and forth.
The finest moment in "Alchemia" came in a quiet, graceful duet, in which a female dancer in a flying harness appeared to defy gravity as her male partner gently lifted and guided her into spellbinding visions of loveliness that culminated in the dizzying mid-air spin of a figure-skater.
Great dance choreography has never been a hallmark of Momix, but Pendleton and company have delighted audiences worldwide in their own unique way with clever, visually appealing and highly accessible productions built to entertain. Unfortunately, even in that regard, "Alchemia" still fell a bit short.
Steve Sucato, The Plain Dealer
RELATED COMPANY: Momix