On Saturday, July 9, the 34th season of the Bates Dance Festival opened in Bates’ Schaeffer Theatre with DanceNOW, advertised as featuring “fresh voices from a new generation of contemporary dance makers.” The show, presented for only one night, brought together an eclectic mix of dancers and choreographers spanning the range from postmodern to hip hop and everything in between. These seven pieces were made and performed by members of the BDF community, the majority being faculty members in the Young Dancers Workshop, providing an opportunity for the students to see their teachers in action.
For many audience members, the show began before they even arrived. Half an hour before curtain, choreographer Heidi Henderson and her company member Christina Jane Robson performed nowhere going quietly on a lawn next door to the theater, foreshadowing much of the movement that would be seen in Henderson’s piece Leslie later in the show. Impervious to the chilly, damp weather, the dancers held long balances and gestural, shape based movements. The piece was the perfect next step in a long history of site-specific work at the Festival, and whet audience members appetites for the proscenium show to come.
Long time BDF community member and current Young Dancers Workshop repertory teacher Danté Brown opened Joe’s Babel with his back to us, arms flapping furiously, rocking from front to back foot, his body cloaked in a dark hooded sweatshirt. Dancing to a steady percussive beat, Brown dove into turns and slides on the floor with a weighted-ness, as if his upper body yearned to take off while his legs acted as stubborn roots. As the energy of the dancing wound down Brown painstakingly crawled on hands and knees to a microphone stand on the other side of the stage. Using it like a rope he pulled himself to standing. The music faded out as he scanned the audience, seemingly on the verge of speaking. Softly, all he uttered was “hello” before the stage went black. In a Q+A session following the show, Brown spoke about the piece as an externalization of his introversion, evident in his struggle to bring himself to speak.
Next came BDF emerging choreographer Ali Kenner-Brodsky performing an excerpt called parT III of the longer work parT she’s been working on during her residency at the Festival. The curtain opened on a set stage: three café tables with accompanying chairs, Kenner-Brodsky seated at one while her dancer Meghan Carmichael stands on the opposite side of the stage, bobbing her head in an up and down “no” motion while taking in her surroundings. Though a duet, the two dancers never truly interact with each other – Carmichael looks at Kenner-Brodsky, but she never looks back. Their dance reads like a conversation; as one dancer starts moving, the other pauses, her movement shrinking. A soundscape by composer MorganEve Swain creates an atmosphere of domesticity: kettles hissing on the stove, children (Kenner-Brodsky’s own) playing in the snow, humming, and more.
Moving away from the category of modern dance came Shakia Johnson’s Playing Games. The Young Dancers Workshop hip-hop faculty member, Johnson’s solo was playful, performed to a series of excerpts of songs interspersed by a recorded voice telling her to quiet down, giving the illusion of being let into Johnson’s late-night private dance party. Johnson gestured to the audience to interact by clapping and stomping, engaging them in an exciting contrast to the rest of the performance.
Jane Weiner’s Called Back featured members of her company Hope Stone Dance including Courtney D. Jones, jazz faculty member at the Young Dancers Workshop. The trio opened with the dancers standing in high heels and long tan trench coats with glittery wings on the backs under a large black umbrella, holding an old-fashioned leather suitcase. Dancer Candace Rattliff Tompkins was the first to take off, stepping out of her shoes to leap and run through space. She rejoins the group with a spool of masking tape, creating a circle on the floor around them – a recurring moment throughout the piece. Called Back moves from The Supremes-style background dancing to huge, technical contemporary movement to complex partnering. At the end of the piece the stage is littered with props: the suitcase lies open, pairs of shoes spilling out and lined up across the stage, umbrellas scattered, and tape circles crowding the stage, the dancers back in their trench coats, standing calmly in the chaos.
The second act featured two pieces very different from each other. The first was Awassa Atrige/Ostrich, choreographed in 1932 by Asadata Dafora and performed by Garfield Lemonius, modern faculty member for the Young Dancers Workshop. The program notes for the piece read, “This groundbreaking solo was one of the first modern dance compositions to fuse African movements with Western staging. A warrior imitates the graceful but powerful movements of the ostrich, King of the Birds.” Lemonius strutted onstage in a skirt of feathers, upper body coated in oil and glistening, his arms articulating from the shoulder, movement rippling through. Regal and strong he fully embodies the historic role. This piece provided an important glimpse into the depths of modern dance history and as a grounding for the more contemporary work shown.
Lastly was Young Dancers’ improvisation teacher Heidi Henderson, back again performing Leslie, a trio danced by herself, Christina Jane Robson, and Tristan Koepke, Associate Director and modern teacher of the Young Dancers Workshop. The piece builds on the movement vocabulary Henderson and Robson set up in the site-specific work that opened the show. Leslie was divided into three sections. In the first, the three dancers sat with their legs stretched in front, moving slowly upstage wearing white socks with their costumes, high-waisted colorful pants and short sleeve turtleneck tops, introducing the audience to a series of gestures while classical piano music plays. They lay on their backs to slither back down, moving their ribs and knees like inch worms. The second section was in silence, the dancers moving bigger; Koepke and Robson broke off into a duet complete with gentle lifts and weight sharing. In the third section seven dancers dressed similarly in pants and turtlenecks joined the trio in neat rows onstage as a Justin Timberlake played. The group was made up of many of the performers from the show as well as other Festival staff members. The whole group stared passively at the audience, executing a routine in unison with moments of individuality. Henderson writes, “the work is exact without being virtuosic… There is no message.” This sentiment rings true – though this ending to DanceNOW feels on one hand like a funny finale for the talented and diverse cast, it is ultimately more a feat of exactitude and randomness, the perfect postmodern ending for a show spanning the gamut of dance “now.”
This post was written by Chava Lansky. Chava is the BDF Social Media Intern for the 2016 summer.