Home › Forums › 2013 WDA-Americas Conference & Festival – Vancouver, BC › Friday, August 2, 2013 Review by Lodi McClellan
September 9, 2013 at 2:00 pm #3890
Friday, August 2, 2013 Review by Lodi McClellan
Gazing onto the blackened stage, waiting for the Friday, August 2 performances of the World Dance Alliance Festival to begin, I mulled over an earlier discussion with colleagues about our expectations for live theater. In essence, I long for transformation. Mystery and unanswerable questions transporting me into the strange universe of a choreographer’s mind are what captivate my imagination. Internal logic, structure and rigor are also key, yet alone aren’t enough. The chemistry must result in transcendence and gut-level truth. Otherwise, why bother? In Friday’s showcase, two of the five pieces reached this state.
Before Tarana began, in the dark we heard dancer Bageshree Vaze’s ankle bells. Program notes explained that we would be seeing Kathak, India’s 17th century form The title refers to a 13th century Persian song. Still, when the spotlight came up we gasped. Center stage, poised in a wide, low stance, with a slight smile and arms held like branches, in her deep azure silk and brocade dress trimmed with silver, Vaze appeared like a magnificently exotic orchid under glass. She rose, spun three times like a fiend (known as chakkars), stopped, rhythmically stomped, spun again this time with complex and extravagant tendril-like wrists flourishing in counterpoint to isolations for eyes and ribs. Vaze’s precision and control astonished. Each variation, faster than the last, was crystal clear, a fascinating hybrid of rationality and reckless abandon. To a recording of her own voice singing an operatic composition by Pt. Balwantrai Bhatt, she concluded Tarana with an exhilaration of multiple chakkars, at least 12 in succession. Anyone else would have been dizzy for days. Vaze simply stopped as though commanding the universe to halt.
Amy Chavasse’s Remnant Hit/fix transported the audience to a more subconscious realm. By turns humorous and profound, she undulated and twitched her articulate body while cradling a red-headed ax and reciting snippets from familiar lyrics (at the Loveshack baby…), poetry (my bare ass on the floor; that was a landscape…), and non-sequiturs (…highjack, capsize, twist, fold….I fell down stairs; …). Blond hair flying, she alternately noodled to a lush orchestration layered over the repetitive “cha-chu, cha-chu” of a Xerox machine, or sat in one of two chairs, seeming to rest from exorcising her demons. We watched and tittered, voyeurs only, until the house lights came up and, in silence, Chavasse calmly crossed the fourth wall, gently took the hand of a young woman in the front row, and guided her to the second chair just inches away from her own on stage. “I do believe our love’s in danger,” she intoned, while the woman chuckled nervously, utterly vulnerable. “I gaze into your eyes of blue; you’re not for me…you’re dreaming….” Imperceptively, silliness transformed into poignancy.
The full impact of Li Chiao-Ping’s Riot of Spring, choreographed to the celebrated, iconic Stravinsky score and excerpted here from a full evening length work, suffered mostly from the partial student cast, who appeared too lackadaisical in their performance to match the intensity of the music. As an educational tool, Chiao-Ping’s work presents needed challenges for these eight young dancers: angularity, quickness, tricky timing, fiendish unison. Yet only Chiao-Ping and the dancer in red (apparently a “secret” homage to Martha Graham) convincingly physicalized the anger, fear, and escalating momentum of the piece. Unfortunately, due to the mixed experience cast, although the choreographic intention was clear, we saw the watered-down version here. Or maybe Chiao-Ping intended ironic detachment? Hard to say. During a post-performance discussion I learned that the piece was informed by many riots including those at the 1913 premiere of Nijinsky’s Sacre du Printemps, Tiananmen Square, Kent State, and recently, Madison, Wisconsin. All the more reason to dance the piece with life or death urgency.
Susan Kendal’s Organ Stories also presented us with excerpts of a longer work. Dancer Krista Posyniak captivated our imagination while wearing a knit hat crafted to suggest a brain. Near the end, she darted and dabbed, swooned and fluttered like a hyperactive Baroque dancing master. Unfortunately, her previous stuffed heart solo, and the quirky, stop-action anatomy lectures interspersed throughout the piece quickly become tedious. Maybe the longer version of the piece transcends the formula, but her mugging here seemed to substitute for substance.
There was more to contemplate in Clockwork, choreographed and performed by Michelle Beard’s Visual Acoustics Dance Project (herself and four peers). The repetitive, arcane gestures such as rubbing a cheek or gently touching another’s back intrigued. Five women, dressed in knee-length wool skirts and turtleneck sweaters, with black socks, and hair obediently in braids or buns, seemed to gesticulate to the hormonal thrumming of the Kronos Quartet like a clique of Catholic schoolgirls. They were tentative though, even when bullying one of their own. Were we seeing a vague, distant memory? Or, was this another case of young performers not fully inhabiting a piece? Oddly, the effect was of watching the dance through wavy glass – difficult and fatiguing to discern. After the show we learned that Beard, in fact, wasn’t sure of her intention and was surprised by people’s interpretations. She had scattered a few ideas like a packet of wildflower seeds, to see what would happen. While Beard’s instincts for the mysterious are evident, Clockwork could benefit from parsing its internal logic, and commitment to a point of view. We want to be transported to the strange universe of her mind, but need more help in getting there.
Lodi McClellan, Professor at Cornish College of the Arts, has been teaching dance technique for over thirty years in colleges and private studios on both coasts. In addition, she has taught Dance History and Criticism to Pacific Northwest Ballet summer students and was an Artist-in-Residence at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, choreographing on and teaching modern dance to engineers. Lodi’s performance credits include the University of Washington’s Chamber Dance Company, the Mark Morris Dance Group, Beth Soll and Company, Bill Evans, Llory Wilson, Wade Madsen, and Georgia Ragsdale, among others. Her dance writing credits include the Seattle Weekly, Eastside Week, Dance International, The International Dictionary of Modern Dance, Curve, and DanceNet , which she also co-edited, and many pre-performance lectures for a variety of venues. She received her BA in Dance from Mount Holyoke College and her MFA in Dance, specializing in dance criticism, from the University of Washington.
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