VelocityDC Dance Festival 2010 at Sidney Harman Hall

VelocityDC Dance Festival was this past weekend at the Harman Center for the Arts. Shakespeare Theatre Company, Washington Performing Arts Society and Dance/MetroDC presented the event which featured fourteen dance companies from the DC area. I attended the performances on Thursday, October 7th and Friday, October 8th, which were also presented in two performances on Saturday, October 9th.

Both nights, attendees were greeted by dancers in the lobby area of Sidney Harman Hall. Jane Franklin Dance climbed and danced on a metal contraption that spun around and could be reconfigured in different ways. Andile Ndlovu of the Washington Ballet performed a beautiful solo piece titled ‘Wording’ while people milled around before the performance. When you walked into the auditorium, you had to breakdance battle with Urban Artistry to get to your seat and groove to the music blasting from DJ BaronhawkPoitier and DJ Obeyah.

On Thursday and Friday night, Urban Artistry opened the show with ‘Funk In Focus.’ I’m not well versed in the bboy world, but it looked like a strutting combination that also featured popping and locking solos by the two performers. The piece was followed by flamenco both nights with Furia Flamenca taking a more traditional approach on Thursday with colorful shawls and dresses for costumes and Edwin Aparicio bringing a modern take on Friday with his dancers dressed in sharp black suits. Both were huge crowd pleasers generating a roaring applause from the audience.

The Washington Ballet also performed the same routine both nights but with different casts. ‘High Lonesome’ choreographed by Trey McIntyre featured music from Beck’s album Odelay and according to Trey McIntyre Project’s website is an autobiographical piece that premiered back in 2001 by Ballet Memphis. The white streamers hanging from ceiling to floor created a playful set that allowed the five performers to enter and exit the stage in unexpected ways. The juxtaposition between traditional ballet movements and modern hip hop moves also made for a unique twist that captivated the audience.

CityDance Ensemble performed both nights as well, but presented two different works. Thursday night they closed the show with Paul Taylor’s ‘Esplanade’ which they also performed at the DC Arts on Foot Festival. Friday night they performed Christopher K. Morgan’s ‘+1/-1’ before Suzanne Farrell Ballet closed out the show with George Balanchine’s ‘Tzigane.’ ‘Esplanade’ had a much warmer reception from the audience than ‘+1/-1’ but I thought the Morgan piece showcased their talent and athleticism more.

One of my favorite pieces on Thursday night was ClancyWorks Dance Company’s ‘Driven [by the female heartbeat].’ This piece, which featured four female dancers, started with spotlighted solos – one of which included a crazy headstand balance that generated an audible gasp from the audience. Unique use of lighting and a blend of both individual movements and group choreography created a cohesive modern dance piece. Friday night, Dana Tai Soon Burgess & Company’s ‘Khaybet’ performed by Connie Lin Fink stood out in my mind. The soloist danced within a sepia tone diagonal light on stage with her face covered by a veil. The haunting image of the dancer and majestic music created a moving piece about death and mourning.

Overall, my favorite piece was Liz Lerman Dance Exchange’s ‘Still Crossing,’ performed on Friday night. All ages, races and body types were represented in this piece which featured dancers dressed in different shades of blue. The ethereal lighting and music had somewhat of a sci-fi quality to it, but created a somber setting for choreography that literally moved me to tears. I don’t usually cry in public, but the sight of everyone dancing in unison – including a man with a cane and a man who did not have full movement of his arms – really spoke to me. I hope you’ll get a chance to see this piece sometime.

Did you attend the VelocityDC Dance Festival? Which performances did you like best and why? What other dance styles would you like to have seen represented in the show?

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Dance Performances at DC Arts on Foot Festival

Sidney Harman HallThe Washington Examiner’s Arts on Foot is a free festival held every year to showcase upcoming works from the District’s visual and performing artists. Yesterday, several dance performances took place at the Shakespeare Theatre Company’s Harman Center for the Arts at 6th and F Streets NW. I didn’t make it to the festival until about 2pm and left around 4pm so missed out on dance previews from Step Afrika!, Tehreema Mitha and Jane Franklin Dance, but was able to catch both the 2pm performance in Sidney Harman Hall and the 3pm show in the theatre’s smaller venue The Forum.

Everyone was already seated when I arrived around 2pm, but I was able to sneak in the back and get a seat in the second to last row. I missed the first pointe solo from The Washington Ballet, but was able to catch their other two pieces. One was a traditional ballet solo with a woman on pointe. The piece was fun and festive with a tambourine as her prop. The choreography also demonstrated the ballerina’s core strength as it involved several balances on releve. The second piece was a contemporary ballet solo performed by one of The Washington Ballet’s male dancers. The dance started and ended with an awkward squatting pose, and included several impressive moves that showcased his flexibility.

The Washington Ballet ended their time on stage by inviting several members of the audience to learn and perform a dance inspired by things you do first thing in the morning like brushing your teeth, yawning and walking the dog. This was definitely a crowd pleaser that also spoke to the director’s broader point that “choreographers organize movement to express a moment in their lives.”

CityDance Ensemble performed an excerpt from Paul Taylor Dance Company‘s Esplanade, which was inspired by the sight of a girl running to catch the bus. Needless to say, this dance involved a lot of running but also included several movements influenced by every day motions such as walking, tripping and falling. The first movement of this piece is very light and happy – both in the music and the choreography. This in contrast to the second movement which is more fast pace with dancers jumping and sliding all over the stage. In addition to paying tribute to one of the most famous modern dancers in the world, CityDance Ensemble also reminded us that their is dance in everything – even the most mundane of moments.

Arts on FootI left Sidney Harman Hall after CityDance Ensemble ended their set and made my way downstairs to The Forum for the 3pm dance preview. This venue was much smaller than the auditorium, but made for a more intimate experience with the  performers. Furia Flamenca started the preview off with a  fiery performance accompanied by a sick guitarist. The dance – and the music – was a huge hit with the audience. I’m sure people will check them out in the future at Happenings at the Harman or at Joy of Motion where the company teaches flamenco classes.

Eureka Dance Festival performed next. Their first piece featured four females dancing barefoot in little black dresses. The movement was extremely interesting, but I didn’t feel any emotion in the piece. The music stopped abruptly during the set, but the dancers kept going like pros. I’m almost positive that was a technical glitch. If not, I’m not sure what the break in music was for. Three females wearing pink and red dresses with intense red makeup over their eyes performed the second piece.  The feel was almost sci-fi with the music and costumes. It was also eerie at the end as the dancers kept moving without music and the audience could only hear the sounds of the dancers’ breathing.

Silk Road Dance Company brought the dances of Tajikistan to the District. The first dance was influenced by the story of Alexander, The Great who met his wife Roxanne at the watering hole. Apparently, that was a good place to pick up chicks since during that time people would only send their females to fetch water. This piece involved more acting than dancing, but featured pretty elaborate costumes with long braided wig extensions. The second piece had a bit more dancing and was inspired by the tulips covering the countryside of Tajikistan. I didn’t really see the connection, but there was one move that looked like they were mimicking a seed blossoming into a flower.

Ballet Teatro Internacional closed out the dance preview with two duets choreographed by Francisco Castillo. The first was a dance choreographed as a poem to the nature of Lain America. Some of the arm movements reflected waves in the ocean and their one strapped multicolored unitards seemed appropriate for the piece. Alvaro Maldonado, Artistic Director and Founder of BTI Dance Institute on 14th Street NW, was an impressive partner – holding the female dancer over his shoulder while she did an attitude. The second piece was set to beautiful Spanish music with the dancers sporting more formal attire. The dance ended with an over the shoulder lift again displaying Alvaro’s strength.

If you missed this year’s Arts on Foot Festival, definitely be on the look out for next year. The previews were a great way to get a taste of what the District has to offer in the world of dance and you know you can’t beat FREE.

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