Brief Snapshots From Downtown Dance Festival

I’m exhausted from spending the weekend down at the lower tip of the island watching other people dance (how does that happen?), so this is going to be short (word-wise at least). The Downtown Dance Festival took place during lunch hour each day last week at Chase Manhattan Plaza in the Financial District, then moved for the weekend to a nice little outdoor amphitheater in Battery Park. I wasn’t able to see all of the dance companies (nearly 20 in all), but here are some highlights from what I did see.

First, sorry, but I simply must bombard people with just a couple more photos of Quorum Ballet, who performed again Saturday in Battery Park. They were really so lovely… so, just, HOT for lack of a better word :)

I wrote in my last post on them that their lifts looked a bit “trick-happy” and on watching again I think that might be in part because the lead female dancer, Theresa da Silva, would often look out into the audience and choose someone to flirt with, which seemed to happen most often while she was airborne. Very interesting, and something I haven’t really seen in concert dance before, only in ballroom comps and some club acts. Anyway, their next performance in NY will be February 13th at the Tribeca Performing Arts Center. I urge everyone in the city to check them out!

I also liked the Ashley Browne / Kinetic Project. Some very sweet duets with fun, pop music from Jill Scott, Mos Def, and Fiona Apple.

Ms. Browne is a choreographer I could really see working on SYTYCD. I really wish they would open the show up to other choreographers besides the same ole Mia Michaels and Wade Robeson. I mean, keep them, but instead of having them choreograph something practically every week, let the country see some of this other awesome talent!

Another favorite, Vissi Dance Theater. I loved them! Their mission statement reads, “Vissi is committed to art that explores moral and social issues… Vissi seeks to speak to the human condition, lift the spirit, ask questions, celebrate the joy of life and reflect the truths of human nature.” I felt they did that splendidly. This piece above, danced by four women, reminded me a bit of Alvin Ailey’s Cry with its upbeat celebration of womanhood, and was kind of a combo of modern dance with disco / hustle, to music by Macy Gray and Jocelyn Brown.

Their second piece, named “Melbabcd,” was a combo of all kinds of stuff — modern, hustle, hip hop, Latin, African, you name it. Great fun, as dance that makes you think and has social relevance can often be :) This one kind of reminded me of Bill T. Jones with its very colorful cast of characters. I’d love to see more full-length work by this company.

The choreographer, Courtney Ffrench, by the way, is another whom I can really see peppering up SYTYCD with some romping group numbers. C’mon Nigel, expand those horizons!

Another highlight:

Gallim Dance Group. This piece is from “Snow” based on the novel by Orhan Pamuk and choreographed by Andrea Miller (yet another who could inject that aforesaid pop-fest with a blast of brain power). This was a haunting piece, like I imagine the book to be (okay, admitting I haven’t read it here!). The women bent their bodies every which way, inched forward, ran backward — the movement was beautiful but juxtaposed with musical lyrics like “question democracy…” became chilling. A Juilliard grad formerly with Ohad Naharin’s Batseva, which I’ve enthusiastically blogged about before, Miller’s mission is to “explore issues such as feminity, power, community and solitude.” Gallim will be performing at Dance Theater Workshop in Chelsea in September. See them there if you can.

On Sunday, we were treated to Darshana Jhaveri Manipuri Dance who came all the way from India, and who specialize in bringing the classical Indian dance, Manipuri, to contemporary audiences. So sweet, so lovely, and so educational.

This guy BLEW ME AWAY. He had this amazingly intense look of concentration the whole time. Sometimes when a performer has that look in his or her eyes, you’re almost mesmerized just by the face. He beat the hell out of this double sided drum, as well as another that required a stick, later on. Not only did he play those drums, he danced while playing. And not only did he dance, he did these continuous barrel turns at whiplash speed. The entire audience sat there open-mouthed.

And here he is barrelling all over stage with the other, larger drum. Between turns, he made beautifully intricate gestures with that drumstick. At one point, he put the drum down on the center of the stage and did repeated turns around it, beating it with the stick after each rotation, and managing somehow to hit the stick on the drum right in time with the lightening-fast music. Talk about the necessity of great speed and precision on those turns — if a turn was off, you wouldn’t just see it, you’d hear it. It was breathtaking, and I can’t tell you how much respect I now have for this classical Indian dance form.

Okay, I can’t write anymore. I do have a few more pictures of the whole festival, along with the Sitelines performance series, in my photoalbum, here.

Speaking of Sitelines, Apollinaire and Eva Yaa Asantewaa are having a very interesting discussion of the Macaulay NYTimes review of the Reggie Wilson / Andreya Ouamba work I wrote of earlier. Eva’s review of the piece puts me to shame — she saw all kinds of things I hadn’t thought of — do read it! I do have thoughts on the subject of socio-cultural meaning in dance and whether the choreographic duo’s mission statement should have been confined to grant application writing, as Macaulay argues, but am far too exhausted to formulate them now…

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