Tuesday, June 14, 2005

International Dance Festival (2003)

Dance unites people from all over the world and from all walks of life – rich, poor, young and old, black, white, and all shades in between. This was evident at the 2nd Annual International Dance Festival, July 22nd – August 10th, at The Duke Theatre on 42nd Street.

The Hip Hop Showcase featured Rhapsody: The Company, in a new show entitled “Ripped”, with special guest choreographer Brian Friedman. During the prelude to the show, the audience comprised familiar current and aspiring dancers and choreographers. The mood was charged, expectant, and electric in the intimate 199-seat theatre. The first installment Frozen, paid homage to the movie Flashdance and Jennifer Beals, with music by Madonna. A Day in the Life told the story of homoerotic love gone awry as white noise from televisions zigzagged in the background and flags waved while urban street kids enacted their triumphs and tribulations for all to watch. Trophy Girls was a stylized and sophisticated video shoot without the choppy editing and close-up on one star. This piece brought to mind Vanity 6/Apollonia and Sheila E, as go-go girls gyrated and groped to music by Jene sampled with Annie Lenox’s Sweet Dreams. This was a smooth ensemble.

Brooklyn vs. Queens was a ghetto fabulous romp that stirred the audience into a high-energy fervor, clapping hands and cheering as the dancers strutted and cavorted to an explosive soundtrack. A standout in this set was the gender-bending solo by a male dancer who blurred the lines between masculinity and femininity to the song Whateva Bitch. He set fire to Paris with his performance. Demolition of Joy switched gears to a softer, balletic and modern style. Three shadow dancers behind shears suspended from the ceiling set the stage for this appealing journey. This was the audience’s first opportunity to see the choreographer, Rhapsody. The dancing, music, and imagery worked in concert to create a solid performance. Colour was reminiscent of a thematic ballet with dancers poised in colored fabric bags, breaking free of their cocoon, waves of white fabric criss-crossing the stage. The male flag twirlers were stationary ribbons of color to round out the inspired choreography.

The Puppet Master addressed the interdependence of people in society illustrated by a masked puppeteer wearing a top hat atop stilts as three dancers “on strings” were subjected to his maniacal whims. A mystical and voodoo-esque subtext was woven into the choreography and staging. Devil dealt with the misconceptions of domestic violence. Sophisticated Lady transported the audience to a high school unisex gym class with kids from the block costumed in a sports motif. My Life was a soulful and reflective solo performance by Rhapsody to music by Mary J. Blige.

The MPAC Showcase opened with En L’Air Aerial Dance with an ethereal and light performance. The suspended ring dancer defied gravity, while the rope dancer brought to mind the professionalism and quality of a trained circus performer. Their performances were based on ballet and modern dance techniques, which was pleasing to the eye. Synthesis Too, Apprentice Company of Synthesis Dance Project, performed futuristic and sparse pieces. A Dream Called Happiness was the brainchild of Sheila Barker and Europe Harmon that pulled together eleven performers between the ages of thirteen and nineteen in a ten-day workshop that focused on dance, singing, and acting. The goal of the workshop was to give Broadway hopefuls a taste of the New York audition circuit. The vaudevillian opening emphasized their slapstick and chorus line uniformity with original songs, music and choreography. The future Broadway stars showed their ease reenacting life lessons as they went on mock auditions, dealing with rejections and ultimate success.

Shea Sullivan’s company opened the Eclectic Showcase with a polished jazz number, They’re Playing Our Song that seemed effortless. Synthesis Too continued with Slanguage, a performance featuring a classically trained ballet dancer and a hard-edged Funk/Tap dancer rival. Synergistic Energy eXchange performed a Fosse-inspired Jazz/Funk/Broadway number. Shea Sullivan’s company rounded out the first half of the showcase with a lively tap ensemble that left the audience exhausted and wanting an encore.

Magbana Dance and Drum challenged conventions and expectations as a predominantly Caucasian company immersed in West African drum and dance. In the piece From Kuku to Konkoba, the rhythms stirred memories of natives and intrigued the uninitiated as feet tapped, hands clapped and shoulders swayed to the beats. Matthew Dean was the standout performer who dared the audience to get involved with his interactive drumming.

Juxtapower, a South African dance troupe was an ideal follow-up to Magbana. Izigqi Zezizwe was the scene-stealing signature performance that made audience members sit back in their seats and take notice. Costumed in a prehistoric caveman motif, the symmetry and lines of the dancers’ bodies would motivate most to head to the nearest gym. The razor-sharp kicks to either side of the male dancers’ heads were awe-inspiring. Wondering how they were able to balance themselves, not fall backward, and keep time to the music might have crossed many minds in the audience. Sduzduzo Ka-Mbili and his brother Solomon Bafana Matea, by the end of their performance had new female fans and envious men who would no longer put off getting back into shape. It was an overall powerful performance – funky, hip, and traditional; with original music by Sduzduzo, Tomas, and Lucky Dube.

When the audience thought it couldn’t possibly be dazzled further, two top-notch tap dancers from Shea Sullivan’s company took the stage for extended solos and duet performances. Jared Grimes and DeWitt were extraordinary dancers, who played off each other in call-and-response method in their complementary style of dancing.

To round out the Eclectic Showcase, Magbana Dance and Drum returned to perform Ode to The Baga, an invigorating and spirited performance wherein the female dancers doubled as drummers as they alternately stepped forward to dance while the remaining company drummed and kept the audience on the edge of their seats.

People came to The International Dance Festival for any number of reasons – to support family or friends, to be exposed to different styles of dance, or to be reminded of dreams they once pursued yet abandoned for other interests. Audience members walked away with a new or renewed appreciation for dance and the Arts – job well done to the producer, choreographers, and dancers.


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