Pasadena Dance Festival 2011 with Mark Morris Dance Group

Pasadena Dance Festival Concert

Pasadena Civic Auditorium

Friday 18, 2011

Reviewed by Steven Woodruff

The Pasadena Dance Festival, now in its 4th year, continues to offer lots of opportunity for young dancers to study with many exceptional teachers and to present choreography in student and emerging choreographer showcases at the Pasadena Civic Auditorium. It has also reached out this season to those afflicted with Parkinson’s Disease  through  donations and awareness workshops involving dancers. Pasadena’s Lineage Dance has been the driving force behind the festival since its inception and deserves much credit along with local arts organizations for establishing the festival as part of the yearly cultural life of the city. What the festival has not yet been able to do is present a truly satisfying and professional evening in the theater which doesn’t suffer from poor production and technical values as well as slight contributions from choreographers, who much of the time are plumbing only superficial or amateurish realms with their concert work. The dancing also at times feels so under powered that you might rather wish to see a performance by a participating company like The Maple Youth Ballet, moved from the matinee slot to the evening performance. In the end, much of the work turned out to be a terrific disappointment.

Such was the case on the technical side for the Friday evening concert as well, which was marred by consistently bad sound engineering, unimaginative production design, a long list of erring lighting cues and an overall shabby sense of presentation. Making a festival production work takes a lot of curatorial savvy; it’s not enough to present a string of pieces which have no aesthetic arc or theme. Both of the acts on the program suffered from a lack of connection in their individual works and thwarted any sense of a journey taken. The audience on hand was small but enthusiastic.

Lineage  Dance  presented two  works on the program both of which were over whelmed by live on stage music which proved more interesting than the choreography and performances. Love Will Come Back, written by Erica Gimpel (vocal and piano) and accompanied by cellist Ryan Cross was danced by Lineage Artistic Director Hillary Thomas and Teya Wolvington. It felt miscast as a duo and seemed to ignore the presence of the musicians. Thomas’ Time Lapse, excerpted from a larger work, borrowed heavily from Pilobolus with its body sculptures and counter balancing movements. It suffered from an inability to engage dancers who remained motionless and stuck to the floor while a trio of women climbed and contorted with little effect. An on stage ensemble of four percussionists wailed ferociously but seemed hardly attached to the movement.

In contrast, Bradon McDonald (now retired from The Mark Morris Dance Group) in Three Preludes (music by Gershwin with choreography by Mark Morris) made the most of his on stage accomplice, pianist Nino Sanikidze by acknowledging her in his witty exits and entrances. They indeed felt like a duo, one dancing and one playing. The Gershwin Preludes were premiered at the New York Roosevelt Hotel in 1926. Imagine a Gershwin song with movement instead of lyrics and you begin to get a sense of the choreography with which Morris has surrounded these pieces. McDonald has a fluidity and a sense of mime perfect for these miniatures. The movement adopts natural gestures but uses them eccentrically with a healthy dose of comedy and self- consciousness. The dancer, costumed by Mizrahi in something like a tuxedo meets jumpsuit  affair accessorized with white gloves, seems out on an  interpretive dance spree a la Astaire. It made me feel like heading to a very classy piano bar for a Manhattan.

Two pieces which missed by a mile with flat, static movement and then almost no movement at all were Benita Bikes’s DanceArt  Company in Dances in White  and Titus Fotso in Spirit Dancer. Bike’s work for three female dancers alternated music from the French Baroque with Debussy Piano Etudes. The movement, designed around a kind of high concept musical chairs, was devoid of any observable connection to the changing musical landscapes.  Spirit Dancer, which promised much but delivered little, looked as if made up as an afterthought. Both Fotso and the two drummers bolted from the stage at the conclusion of the piece as if they were in hurry to get to the evening’s next gig. Also flat in appeal was the excerpted duo Against the Times from the Latin fusion company Contra-Tiempo. It seemed marooned uncomfortably and out of context in the midst of the other Act I pieces. It could have made much more sense on the program had it been paired with Spirit Dancer as a mini excursion into the world of street dance and rumba via its African antecedents.

Exploring social themes were Paradigm Dance Theater (Beth Hirschhaut-Iguchi) with Living in Private and Nancy Evans Dance Theatre (Nancy Evans Doede) with Tethered. In Living in Private (music by Kenji Bunch played by the Ahn Trio) the relationships among the four dancers are purposefully vague. The choreography placed the ensemble in revealing and expressive poses but made a less forceful point concerning their relationships or intentions. In Tethered, the three couples mostly move in partnership throughout to Arvo Pärt’s remake of the Mozart Adagio from the piano sonata in F major. The music moves between two distinct worlds, one modern and one full of 18th century mannerism though there seemed little in the choreography that united or separated those fractured states. Both ensembles were cast with attractive dancers but bland lighting design.

Contemporary ballet ensemble Luminario Ballet of Los Angeles teamed up with choreographer Josie Walsh for Luminate, which enlarges a previously choreographed duo to original music by Paul Rivera Jr.  The cast has been augmented to include three couples and additional music by the duo, Gypsy Soul. Walsh works in a style that combines classical elements (usually en pointe) with gestures that emphasize freely swinging limbs, hyper partnering and floor work. Luminate is centered on the notion of personal risk and its relationship to the quest for emotional fulfillment. The central duo was forcefully danced by A.J. Abrams and Season Winquest, who conveyed a sense of urgency in their partnering and individual expression.

Closing the program was Interference, choreographed by Alicia Okouchi-Guy and performed by Chapman University Dance. The all-male cast in a Joe Goode styled ensemble riffed on interrupted movement and created the illusion of a much larger cast. Industrial music by Jonny Greenwood and severe lighting created a suitably combative context for the hard driving ensemble that  included Christopher Carvalho, Joe Chantry, Derek Nemechek and Daniel Ortiz. It was easy to like these guys for their extroversion and athletic movement. It was the one piece on the evening’s program in which dancers could finally cut loose and fly. It turned out to be something of a lifeline for an evening which frequently foundered in shallow waters.

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