Saturday, December 4th, 2010 10:00 AM
Spending time with the performers who inhabited the stage Friday at Oberlin College's Hall Auditorium could only be termed an honor.
The program was titled "Fly: Five First Ladies of Dance," which didn't begin to tell the story.
Make that stories. Each of these artists has been a distinguished contributor to the dance scene for decades, either onstage or behind the creative scenes or both. They take to the more › footlights as if they're the finest of terpsichorean wines, revealing textures and characteristics that continue to deepen.
To watch them in action, mostly performing their own solos, is to witness pages of dance history being turned. Carmen de Lavallade, nearing 80, remains a regal presence, even if she's just standing still. For a blend of buoyancy and spunk, Dianne McIntyre can hardly be surpassed.
It is impossible not to be struck in the gut by the whimsy, resolve and power that Germaine Acogny projects or mesmerized by Jawole Willa Jo Zollar's sizzling vitality and Bebe Miller's reflective sensitivity.
The program, presented by DanceCleveland and the Oberlin College and Conservatory Theater and Dance Program, could only provide snapshots of the work these aptly dubbed "first ladies" have been developing throughout their creative lifetimes. But as a glimpse into artistic souls, "Fly" is a knockout.
Presented with slight pauses between selections, the program proceeds with inevitable force from the resilient explorations of Miller's "Rain" to the grand theatrical gestures in the finale, Geoffrey Holder's "The Creation," spoken crisply and danced to the skies by de Lavallade, his wife.
The Miller piece begins in silence as the dancer-choreography moves from vulnerability to a place of calm. She simulates walking, reaches out with yearning hands and circles a patch of grass, in which she ultimately luxuriates. Explosive chants and percussion music by Hearn Gadbois give way to the haunting tranquility of Villa-Lobos' Bachianas Brasilieras No. 5, an ideal sonic odyssey for Miller's hypnotic monologue.
"Yes, we will," announced Acogny as she walked down an aisle of the theater proclaiming the need for more female presidents in Africa. Her "Songook Yaakaar (Facing up to hope)," choreographed with Pierre Doussaint, goes well beyond this charismatic act to become an ode to freedom, complete with narration, film clips and a soloist who applies spellbinding control and thrust to every moment.
McIntyre's "If You Don't Know " contains audio recordings of beloved departed colleagues singing, discussing the challenges of being a black filmmaker and playing exhilarating jazz. But the magnet is McIntyre, radiant in white, a feather who flutters, floats and fights to do her artistic thing. Her collaborator, pianist George Caldwell, plays Olu Dara's music with polished intensity.
In "Bring 'Em Home," Zollar also commands the stage, rising from a heap and waving handkerchief as if in surrender. Don't be fooled. Zollar, motivated by exuberant New Orleans jazz, is a convulsive and shimmying dynamo, proud to bring this brief masterpiece home.
RELATED COMPANY: FLY: Five First Ladies of Dance
Friday, December 3rd, 2010 11:00 PM
Click here to view photos from the FLY: Five First Ladies of Dance tech rehearsal at Oberlin College.
Plain Dealer photographer Gus Chan captures the five first ladies as they rehearse their solo works in preparation for sold-out performances at Oberlin College. more ›
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.
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."