Oklahoma!, Silk Road Dance Company and CityDance Ensemble

This weekend I traveled all over the DMV for various events. Thursday night, I went to the Waterfront area for the opening night of Oklahoma! at Arena Stage. Saturday night, I made my way to Joe’s Movement Emporium in Mount Rainier, Maryland for Silk Road Dance Company’s 15th Anniversary Celebration “Spirit of the Silk Road.” And yesterday, I took the Metro to Strathmore in Bethesda for a performance from CityDance Ensemble. Thanks to Brooke Miller, Dr. Laurel Victoria Gray and Tara Compton for inviting me to these performances. Here are some highlights from my dance adventures:

Arena Stage Oklahoma!

source: Arena Stage

Thursday, November 4th
Oklahoma! at Arena Stage
Even if you haven’t seen Oklahoma! before, you probably know more of the musical score than you think. The show starts off with Curly singing “Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin’” followed by “The Surrey with the Fringe on Top.” There’s also “People Will Say We’re In Love” and of course the title track “Oklahoma!”

If you’re looking for dancing in the musical, there are a few parts where you’ll get your fix. Will Parker and the male ensemble deliver a great performance in “Kansas City.” Choreographer Parker Esse brings this number to life with lively movement. It seems like the choreography in “Kansas City” was inspired by hoe downs of the South, but I felt some influence from tap and flamenco in the powerful movements of the male dancers.

The female ensemble had a less memorable dance number in “Many a New Day,” but it was the ladies who brought it on during the Out of My Dreams/Dream Ballet which ended the First Act. It’s hard to describe the Dream Ballet without explaining the entire plot of the musical, but highlights for me were the burlesque dancers in Jud Fry’s hole in the ground home and Hollie E. Wright, who played Dream Laurey. It takes a lot of courage to dance in lingerie!

In case you’re curious about non-dancing parts of the performance, Eleasha Gamble (Laurey) has an amazing voice; Nehal Joshi (Ali Hakim) and Cody Williams (Will Parker) have great comedic timing; and June Schreiner (Ado Annie) somehow makes promiscuity adorable. At times, you miss facial expressions from the actors and actresses due to the 360 degree stage but it created more visual appeal than your typical auditorium seating. For more information about Oklahoma! visit www.arenastage.org.

Saturday, November 6th
Silk Road Dance Company at Joe’s Movement Emporium

Joe’s Movement Emporium was more difficult to get to than Arena Stage as it’s not Metro accessible. I took the train to Rhode Island Avenue-Brentwood then hopped on a bus to 34th Street NE. From there, the walk is only a couple blocks. Door to door from Farragut North to Mount Rainier, it was about an hour trek. Joe’s is a more intimate setting compared to some of the larger performing arts centers in the area, but it was a great setting for Silk Road Dance Company to celebrate its 15th Anniversary Celebration.

Before the opening number, Founding Director Dr. Laurel Victoria Gray spoke of the importance of raising awareness of other cultures – something Silk Road Dance Company has been doing since its inception. According to Gray, “if you want to understand another culture, you need to dance their dances.”

Silk Road Dance Company, along with guest artists Ahmad Matty and Canae Weiss, presented 18 pieces. Each dance introduced the audience to a different language of movement and featured beautifully detailed costumes. The opening number “Good Thoughts, Good Words, Good Deeds” reminded me of the Filipino candle dance Pandanggo Sa Ilaw. The candles are possibly a metaphor for the good thoughts, good words and good deeds which can be used to ward off negative forces. The note in the program about the dance goes on to explain that “fire is an agent of ritual purity.”

I found the second act much more entertaining than the first. In Act Two, “Ringa Ringa” used familiar music from the soundtrack of Slumdog Millionaire. The Ambassador of Uzbekistan was a fan of this number in particular. It was the first time I saw him take out his iPhone and start taking pictures. “Gur Nalo Ishq Mitha” fused more modern dance elements with traditional movements. I think I saw some raising the roof and vogueing in there. Even the music had some DJ scratches in the mix. The biggest crowd pleasers were solos from guest artist Canae Weiss, as well as the final number where Dr. Gray came out to dance with her ‘silkies.’ Visit www.silkroaddance.com and www.joesmovement.org for more information.

Sunday, November 7th
CityDance Ensemble at Strathmore
I’ve already seen CityDance Ensemble perform Paul Taylor’s Esplanade – the first time at DC Arts on Foot and the second time at VelocityDC Dance Festival, but I was excited to see a number of other works from the contemporary modern dance company. I attended the Sunday matinee at Strathmore which was added to the original performance schedule of Saturday and Sunday evening. I was surprised to find out that the show was in the same studio where I’ve taken Culture Shock DC hip hop classes on Thursday nights.

Artistic Director Paul Emerson greeted the audience and walked us through the program as no paper ones were distributed. This change in practice is just one green initiative implemented by CityDance Ensemble. The company will also focus on sustainable development as it transforms the current CityDance Center at Strathmore Studio 405 into a black box theater.

CityDance Ensemble performed four pieces in the first act of the show. “Pathways” with choreography by Alex Neoral, “Twine” performed by students of the CityDance Conservatory and choreographed by CityDance member Maleek Washington, “A Certain Slant of Light” choreographed by Christopher Morgan and “Mattress Suite” a dance in four parts by Larry Keigwin and Nicole Wolcott. “Mattress” was by far my favorite of the four presented. Not only was it sexy (the dancers performed in nothing but white underwear), but the dance also had some funny and even violent parts to it. The choreographers cleverly used a simple mattress as both a prop and a set which the dancers bounced on and off of into impressive jumps and lifts.

After a short intermission, CityDance Ensemble presented “Drop Down” by Kate Weare, which was voted Best New Work of 2006. Emerson described the work as exploring the darker side of relationships, which was personified by the dancers heavy stomping and an intense floor part performed in silence. Paul Taylor’s “Esplanade” was the final piece of the show. Before the dancers came on stage, Emerson expressed his gratitude to Taylor for taking a chance on CityDance and allowing them to perform his work. It is his spirit that has truly transformed the company, he said. For more information about CityDance Ensemble, visit www.citydance.net.

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About Cecile
Cecile Oreste is an arts marketing and public relations professional living in New York City. Follow her on Twitter @cecileoreste.

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