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Long History, Deep Roots for DC Contemporary Dance Theatre

Posted in Dance, Modern dance, Uncategorized, World dance by lisatraiger on February 9, 2015

‘Deep Roots, Wide World’
DC Contemporary Dance Theatre/El Teatro de Danza Contemporanea
Dance Place
Washington, D.C.
February 7, 2015

By Lisa Traiger

“Long title and long history,” said Dance Place co-director Deborah Riley to introduce DC Contemporary Dance Theatre, which has also worked under the moniker El Teatro de Danza Contemporanea. Its founder and artistic director Miya Hisaka Silva created the troupe 30 years ago and yesterday’s celebratory program marked the company’s longevity: three decades of making and sharing dance here in Washington and in El Salvador and beyond. The company’s calling card since 1982 has been diversity in its dancers, its choreographers, even its favored genres. The anniversary program, for example, featured contemporary jazz, a balletic pas de deux danced on pointe, hip hop and African-infused jazz and modern dance.

Company co-founder Adrain Bolton, who currently directs a dance ministry in Atlanta, Ga., had two works on the program: 1986’s “Ballet Jazz”  and 2013’s “Here and Now.” Both pieces were solid examples of Bolton’s specialty, inspirational jazz technique — the splayed-fingered jazz hands, swooping fan kicks, switching hips, rolling shoulders, arcing bent-legged leaps — with a smattering of balletic influence in amplified arabesques and some classic ballet class footwork braided into the works. Both were sunny, feel good dances, the first featuring the music of Jean Luc Ponty, the second, Luther Vandross — and both were adequately though not spectacularly danced.

Maurice Johnson’s hip-hop infused “When the Day Comes,” for Johnson and six dancers, showed off the performers’ high-energy, fist-pounding, heart-pumping skills in breaking down and drawing the most out of Johnson’s movement sequences with pulsing hips, pumping contractions, snake-y body rolls and booty shakes. Reviving Mexican choreographer Gloria Contreras’s challenging pas de deux from 1995 to Mozart’s Adagio (K622) proved challenging for dancers Max Maisey, the evening’s strongest male partner, and Chika Imamura, who lacked both the turnout and the ruler straight balletic line that the choreography demands.

The program’s centerpiece, and the only world premiere, Felipe Oyarzun’s “Amores Secas,” proved the most interesting and layered work on the program. Dance Place’s Deborah Riley also spoke of the company’s bilinguality — its seamless ability to navigate two nations — the United States and El Salvador — and two cultures. It also tests itself with  a multiplicity of embodied dance languages from modern to ballet, jazz to African dance, hip hop to lyrical. There’s an Aileyesque bent to the works and the dancers, not surprising as Hisaka Silva herself has roots in the rigorous Ailey training.

Chilean-trained Oyarzun, currently a graduate student in dance at George Washington University, fuses a vibrant mix of Latin forms in “Amores Secas,” which translates as “Dry Love.” The work is playful, stylish and infused with sensuous tango moves and poses and here the dancers look the most well-rehearsed and comfortable in this playful game of boy-girl tag Oyarzun has set up for five women and three men. One duet unspools when a man in an oversized red sweater encounters his partner and, ultimately, they fuse — each with both arms in the sweater until he parts from her. Will Hernandez has the comic task of valiantly and vainly carrying a plastic rose (which lost its top Saturday night) to woo a partner. The appealing mix of heartfelt love songs, ballads and a zesty up tempo number, all Spanish, added spice to the piece.

Closing the evening Francisco Castillo and Danilo Rivera’s “Restazos de Vida,” featured six dancers in a high energy, glossy study of the African-Latin root dance forms. With a heavy reliance on percussive snaps, contractions and earthy floor work “Retazos de Vida,” which translates as “Fragments of Life,” brought the program full circle, hearkening back to both the company’s jazz and Latin roots. In dance-company years, thirty practically amounts to a lifetime. Founder Hisaka Silva has been a driving force for multicultural dance in the District and beyond, especially in El Salvador during the post-war reconstruction years, by building a company that doesn’t simply create flashy and fun dances but also works of substance that represent the pain-filled stories and difficult histories of El Salvadorans. It was a shame that none of those works, especially “Y ahora la Esperanza” (“And Now for Hope”), a memorial to El Salvador’s 80,000 war dead — even in excerpt form — were included in this anniversary program, because that’s the lasting legacy that DCCDT and El Teatro de Danza Contemporanea should be known for.

This review appeared originally on DCMetroTheatreArts.com.

(c) 2015 Lisa Traiger

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Timeless

Posted in Contemporary dance, Dance, New performance, Performance art by lisatraiger on September 25, 2011

Eiko and Koma in “Land,” courtesy Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center

“Regeneration”
Eiko and Koma
September 14 and 15, 2011
Kogod Theatre, Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center
University of Maryland, College Park, Md.

By Lisa Traiger
© 2011 by Lisa Traiger

Eiko and Koma choreograph at the intersection between earth and sky. They dance of earth and air, fire and water, animal and avian, and the elemental lifeforce: birth, death, sex and regeneration. Their dances reflect a vision of the world that is at once timeless and ageless, primal and new agey. The husband and wife duo — artistic partners for nearly four decades – returned to the Clarice Smith PAC for the first of three visits this season as part of a year-long creative residency, which includes both a retrospective of their collaboration on their singular choreographic vision and a new work to be made with contemporary music experimentalists the Kronos Quartet.

Aptly titled “Regeneration,” the duo’s first visit this season looks backward on their career-defining artistic output, beginning with last year’s “Raven,” and moving back in time to one of their earliest efforts, “White Dance,” from 1976. The four-decade span sheds light on the duo’s remarkable ability to captivate attentive dance goers with their distinctive manner of capturing the primal and most elemental nature of humanity and presenting it in living, breathing sculptural, painterly and poetic terms. Their bodies painted a chalky white, recalling the influence of Japanese butoh masters Tatsumi Hijikata and Kazuo Ohno, Eiko and Koma become one with whatever and wherever they are performing. At the Smith Center, they swath the black box stage in a white canvas, seared with burn marks and strewn with black feathers and dried grass. They have also adventurously performed outdoors in a customized wagon-like caravan, at the base of an imposing canopy of a large oak tree, in a river and in a church cemetery, among other locales.

“Raven” begins in quietude. Pueblo-influenced composer Robert Mirabal’s drum-centered score, drawn from his original work with the duo on their 1991 piece “Land,” sets the work’s pace, as first Eiko, a thin slip of a woman, stretches and flexes from a fetal position. At one point she uncurls her toes one at a time, like a baby splaying her fingers. Later Koma enters, his movement more erratic and full bodied when played against Eiko’s finely porcelained shapes. The dance, though shortened to 25 minutes for this retrospective evening, feels like an incantatory chant, an appeasement to the gods and nature danced through the wildness of Koma’s stomps and forceful reaches skyward, and Eiko’s more restrained entreaties to a gentler earth mother.

“Night Tide,” a briefer duet from 1984, follows and becomes a paean to the beauty of the body. Danced without clothes, their bodies starkly white, the two become slow moving sculptures, amplifying their joints and muscles, flexed elbows and splayed toes, arched backs and bared buttocks. The sensuality here sings of the body beautiful; aesthetic in its everyday grace, magnified by the languorous pauses and meditative repose they attain in performance.

“White Dance” is the first work the pair performed in the United States and it reflects most vividly their early butoh training. The program’s excerpt of the 1976 work uses baroque music — Bach’s Concerto for Harpsichord No 5 in F Minor and an Agincourt Carol – to oddly unusual effect. There’s Koma prancing around the same white canvas, kimono-clad, a look of pleasant tom-foolery on his face. At one point he hefts out and spills a bag of potatoes. It’s light and comical and recalls that the oft-assumed apocalyptic nature of butoh was just one side of the Japanese, post-Hiroshima dance form. Butoh also has its playful, absurd side and that’s where this dance is rooted. Later Eiko, wrapped in a printed kimono, becomes one with the backdrop, a moving image of silken threads woven into paisleys of butterflies and flowers. She nearly emanates a perfume in the delicate manner that she wafts gently across the scrim of two dimensional multicolored art, her body becoming one with the two dimensions.

There’s a boldness and uncompromising steadfastness knitted into the way Eiko and Koma fearlessly approach their movement projects. They never doubt the integrity of their bodies to speak volumes about life. In slowing down and living in the moment, they teach us lessons of profundity that are sorely needed in a world encumbered by the multitasking demands of technology. At a point in their lives when most dancers have long left the stage for more forgiving pursuits, Eiko and Koma create work that is ageless and timeless.

© 2011 Lisa Traiger
Published September 23, 2011