Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Review: "Renovate" choreographer's evening, Ritz Theater

Minneapolis, Minnesota

A showcase for 40 dance artists – choreographers and dancers – provided a welcome complement to the first weekend of spring-like weather in the Twin Cities, Mar. 13-15. Styled as "Renovate: Enhancing the Edifice of Twin Cities Dance," the three performances represented a second year of choreographer's evenings presented by Ballet of the Dolls and The Ritz Theater in Minneapolis.

As she did last year, Lisa Conlin, a member of the Dolls, curated the lineup of 11 dance works with advisory assistance this year from Uri Sands, artistic director of TU Dance, and Penelope Freeh, artistic associate of James Sewell Ballet. The major aim of Renovate is to introduce and highlight new talents by giving them a stage, publicity, and an audience. With one exception, all of the choreographers were new to me, as were most of the dancers.

Hip-hop and breakdance veterans Lisa Berman and Carlos Garcia opened the program with "Breakin' Through Cancer," using a music mix including Everyday People, Everday Struggle, Underdog, HAIR, Do Your Thing, and Age of Aquarius. The two choreographers were joined in a variety of solo, group, all guys, and all gals configurations by Amy Sackett, Nicki Cullinan, Madeline Howie, Aneka McMullen, Joe Tran, Tybierius Nguyen, and Mikhail Sakhvadze. The ensemble moved with a nice cohesion and energy. As breaking evolves, however, its movers with staying power for the concert stage will be those who can differentiate themselves from their peers and colleagues. A sharper attack and finer synchronization would be welcome seasonings for this group's nascent virtuosity.

Megan Parlanti performed very fluidly in Stephen Schroeder's "Trial By Grace," created for her senior concert at St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minnesota. Her costume, a tunic and skirt in contrasting shades of darker blue, was striking and well-suited to the flavor of the dance. Schroeder's background as a modern dancer with Zenon Dance Company and Arena Dances is reflected here in the soloist's athletic use of space and, in the third section, time spent on the floor becoming acquainted with the floor. The abrupt editing shifts between musical selections – from Kate Havneik, Univers Zero, Jerry Rau, and Edit: sdeezers – injected a dissonance that served no apparent purpose.

Remember the color of Dreamsicles, those orange-white ice cream treats on a stick? That was the flavorful color of the costumes worn by Estevan Esparza and Pam Plagge in "Lucumi," the duet of Cuban dance they created for themselves to music by Pancho Quinto and Grupo Danzon. They performed nicely together, with Plagge displaying an articulated spine and body not matched by Esparza. Their choreography has a decent base on which to add more complexity and depth in future endeavors.

Although probably not intended or controlled by Esparza and Plagge, the abrupt departure of their many fans – seated near the stage – at the conclusion of "Lucumi" on Sunday was a rude disruption for the audience and the next performers in the first half of the program. The insult was exacerbated as the fans broke into conversation while exiting the theater and one of their number noisily dropped a beverage bottle into the trash.

While the printed playbill for the evening included a number of brief and helpful program notes, the absence of any information about the featured choreographers was notable. For sure, large photos and small-print bios were posted in the theater lobby. The omission was striking on a number of counts. Artists at every stage of development desire to be taken seriously. When the audience does not know who these artists are, and from what background and influences spring their creative impulses, it is near impossible to develop an investment in their work. This was true with Esparza and Plagge; I found nothing of use about him on the internet, while for her I searched enough to learn that she has studied somewhat in Havana and been presented in a choreographer's evening at the Walker Art Center. One should not have to look for basic information. A purpose of showcasing newer artists is to remove them from the insider's game and bring them forward for increased scrutiny and visibility.

Bryan Gerber
is a modern dancer with a background in ballet, jazz, and yoga whose heroes include the modern dance pioneers Martha Graham and Ted Shawn. He accompanied the opening of his solo, "Finding Balance," with humming and other vocalizations that gave way to a recording of Rachmaninov's Vocalise, Op. 34/14. Attired in bare torso and shin-length black skirt, Gerber's well-structured movements, largely within a central pool of light, had the look and feel of a captive bird exploring its boundaries.

"Sisterlove," Lisa Conlin's lovely trio for herself and Dolls colleagues Heather Cadigan and Stephanie Fellner, opened with the three women seated, facing upstage, and backed by a meditative segment of Mike Hallenbeck's sound mix. The mix drew from Tim Story, Assumpta Est Maria in Coelum, Ray Lynch, and Minoru Miki. As the abstract narrative unfolded, the dancers interacted with large and small pieces of translucent white and black fabrics.

The last time I saw Jim Lieberthal's work several years ago, he had choreographed a dance for people in wheelchairs. The curiosity of his artistic voice leads him on some worthwhile journeys. He was joined here in performance by Brian Evans, a member of the Stuart Pimsler Dance Theater, and Debra McGee, a member of Arena Dances. I liked the overall crafting of "The Bottom Fell Out...and then." The dancers came across as three independent, interdependent creatures or machines, moving in an angular and staccato – pizzicato? – response to the m
etallic vibes, clanks, and hammering of music by Ben Siems.

Jaime Carrera
is a visual and performance artist who hails from Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, by way of Kansas and Chicago. "Frontera," his Renovate offering, is part of a trilogy about Mexican immigrants. In this conceptual solo work, set to music by Cuatro Milpas and El Llorar, Carrera moves with idiosyncratic movement phrases. In an interview with 3MinuteEgg about "Tableaux," his recent production at the Bryant-Lake Bowl Theater, Carrera remarked that he has "done a lot of stuff." It would be interesting to see him attempt fewer things and pull from within more of the complexity and nuance that clearly motivates his expression.

The choreography, vocals, text, and costumes composed by Cathy Wright resulted in the most cohesive work on the program. "Wombman," set to music by Matthew S. Smith, featured performers Nina Ebbighausen, Kristen Ostebee, Christine Maginnis, Sharon Picasso, and Jennifer Mack. The particular combination of costumes and music suggested a mating of Weimar-era decadence with "A Clockwork Orange." In a cast of strong performers, Maginnis shows she still has it going on after a career spanning parts of three decades. Wright's work has been presented by dance companies in Utah, where she earned a BFA degree in modern dance from the University of Utah, and by the Momentum Series of the Walker Art Center and Southern Theater.

Marciano Silva dos Santos
, a native of Brazil, provided some of the evening's most complex and interesting movement in "3'0'1," a work for three men and two women, with music by Moana Maru. A solo by dos Santos, a member of both TU Dance and Stuart Pimsler Dance Theater, opened the piece, followed by a quartet of Brian Evans, Cade Holmseth, and Kari Mosel – of the Pimsler company – and Jenny Pennaz. The quartet started from positions on the floor with organic and cliched movement, and progressed to a satisfying finish.

The "most complete" performer on the Ritz stage was Christian Adeti, a native of Accra, Ghana. As a drum and dance instructor and performer, Adeti serves as artistic director of the Titambe West African Dance Ensemble of Minnesota, and has taught at Carleton College in Minnesota, North High School in Minneapolis, and Zenon Dance School. "Ganbolt Dance" drew its inspiration from the mining communities of South Africa where "the men sing and play as they look for gold." Adeti's body served literally as his instrument for drumming, vocalization, and percussion. He was accompanied by performers Autumn Compton and Whitney McClusky.

Julie Warder provided "Jammin," the last-but-not-least program closer. Again, it would have been nice to know something more about this artist than just her name. Working with music by Christian McBride, Warder led her dancers through an abstract drama with the right touch of athletic precision: neither too much nor too little. The performers included Brian Evans, Debra McGee, Cade Holmseth, Kency Roberson, and Aneka McMullen.

Housekeeping details: Throughout the evening, the lighting design did not distract, but would have benefited from a brighter illumination of the performers. The house manager needed to start the show at the advertised 7pm, rather than at 7:10pm. Those quibbles aside, the folks at Ballet of the Dolls and the Ritz Theater should be encouraged to renew Renovate for a third year in 2010.

Italicized text revised/extended 3/19/09, 5:34 AM.

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