BWW Review: APAP Presenters Embody MLK Legacy Through Dance
I returned to City Center last Saturday, this time to the studios, in the midst of APAP conference season during which dance companies try to gain recognition in the eyes of the various agents, presenters and arts managers flooding the city.
I was pleasantly surprised to find my program featured four companies instead of the two I was expecting. As each company featured a director of color or diverse company members I couldn't help but draw parallels between the chosen line-up and the vision of Martin Luther King Jr., the legacy of whom was being celebrated that weekend.
First up was the Helen Simoneau Danse with two pieces: Caribou and Moonlight Parade (for two.)
Caribou featured a herd of demi-humans personifying the creature with earthy, fluidity and ample physical interconnectedness between performers that seems characteristic of Simoneau's work.
Perhaps more enticing, though, was a duet between two petite, cable-bodied women. Simoneau's style reads as movement for experimentation's sake and these dancers (sadly, unnamed in the program) delivered with fresh, dynamic energy.
Philadanco matched poignant social commentary with skillful technique and artistic ingenuity to bring us the story of the Central Park 5: five barely-teenaged boys of color who were falsely accused of rape and sentenced to the irreversible destruction of their own innocence by a deeply flawed criminal justice system (the accused, now adults, were recently proven innocent.)
At first the lifted, abstract brand of contemporary dance being showcased seemed out of place with a fiery, political Public Enemy track but as the music shifted and became more sentimental so did the dance.
The human interactions and emotions, manifested by the dancers, felt real. They implied the complex realities of the accused and their loved ones: their strength, struggle, torment and love.
Still, Movement for 5 did not feel preachy or heavy-handed: a testament to the originality, sincerity and sheer artistry of this timeless company.
Next was Ron K. Brown/EVIDENCE with two pieces that offered a far more literal interpretation of the holiday weekend.
March may have been a case of the soundtrack overpowering the rest of the performance. Featuring two women dancing to a speech by Dr. King, the dancers were certainly adept in their craft.
However, I felt the the intelligent eloquence of Dr. King was the real star of the show, especially because it is still relevant 50 years after King's death. While this may have been the intention of the choreographer, I would have liked to have seen those words be felt, transmuted, exalted by the dancers. The energy of the dance didn't quite seem to match the energy of the speech in this performance. The piece ended with an almost Gregorian rendition of "The Lord Is My Shepherd" in which the lord is referred to as "She" giving the piece a unique spiritual and/or socio-political significance.
Brown's Why You Follow was an upbeat, feel good piece of folk-fusion fun evoking a sense of pride in its West African cultural roots and admirably featuring dancers of diverse ages and body types.
The first section was an impressive display of endurance and versatility as Brown herself seamlessly fused tap, hip hop, step dance and body percussion all counterbalanced by the expert piano playing of Scott Patterson.
The interaction between Brown and her equally hardworking partner Catherine Foster portrayed a multidimensional mix of African-American culture and urban girlhood not often accessible to those without a similar background.
There was a sense of sisterhood and innocence not often seen in mainstream portrayals of African American youth.
However, the piece did not limit itself to depicting the idyllic. There were moments of tension, even competition. Eerie recordings, sometimes only whispers, were reminiscent of backbiting or perhaps inner voices of insecurity.
Several times throughout the piece the non-stop energy of the performers felt exhausting, even neurotic, as if to be symbolic of the way constant posturing to fulfill expectations can be difficult, stressful and draining for youth even if those expectations are positive.
The two dancers carried all this and yet the energy never once dropped.
The second piece featured a New Orleans-esque funeral procession which oscillated easily between pain, darkness and a jubilant, soulful celebration of life. Though only excerpts, the presentation from Black Girl: A Linguistic Play embodied the spirit and uniqueness of African traditions in a way that sacrificed neither depth nor entertainment value. Outstanding.