BWW Review: DAMIAN WOETZEL'S DEMO: NOW Defies Expectation
A vague curiosity spread through the audience in the John F. Kennedy Center Terrace Theatre as the house lights dimmed for the March 30th premier of Damian Woetzel's Demo: Now. The playbill gives little away about the seven-part performance except for its exceptional coterie of talent and its inclusion in DIRECT CURRENT -- the Kennedy Center's two-week celebration of contemporary culture.
Woetzel, a principal dancer with the New York City Ballet for two decades and current president of the Juilliard School, introduced his 80 minute interdisciplinary compilation with a message: "Everything you see here tonight has an element of something new."
The mystery of this "something new" carries the audience through a slow start made remarkable by vocal harmonies from composer Caroline Shaw -- the youngest recipient of the Pulitzer Prize for Music -- and the Juilliard String Quartet. Shaw sings a haunting harmony over poet Sarah Kay's insightful "A Bird Made of Birds," and the result keeps you humming hours later.
The introduction gives way to the propulsive "TurnAround," a tap dance choreographed and performed by Caleb Teicher atop three modular floorboards, and set to a cleverly composed medley of J.S. Bach, Joe Garland, Louis Prima, George Gershwin and John Adams. Teicher and pianists Kurt Crowley and Joel Wenhardt are so creatively cohesive you'd never know the piece was finished 24 hours earlier.
Teicher is a standout talent as he leaps deftly from floorboard to floorboard; his taps transformed into a third instrument harmonizing with the dueling pianos. Teicher performs with his entire body, including his face, and his magnetism grasps the audience. There's no doubt "TurnAround" will be the thing you remember from Demo: Now.
Any dancer following Teicher is at a disadvantage, including Dance Heginbotham's Vincent Lozano and Macy Sullivan in "Old Fashioned." Simple, and at times quite coy, there's an element of Paul Taylor and Christopher Wheeldon hidden in Dance Heginbotham artistic director John Heginbotham's whimsical piece.
That whimsy withers under the gravitas of Patricia Delgado in "Solitude." A former Miami City Ballet principal, Delgado's delicate port de bras and crisp turns shine even as Jamar Roberts' choreography stretches the classical ballet mold near to breaking. Shaw is a welcome return to the stage to explain how the repetition in a ballet class inspired her violin interpolation.
Just as a lull threatens, "Poppy" snaps the energy back into the room. Haloed in warm light, featured performer Maile Okamura dares to make a tendu combination interesting as she performs alongside a nostalgic, heartrending spoken word from Kay and a moody, whirling violin from Shaw and the Juilliard String Quartet's Areta Zhulla.
Demo: Now ends as it began -- with something new. "Token" is a preview of a work in progress from Heginbotham featuring Teicher, Delgado, Dance Heginbotham and the Juilliard String Quartet. When in chorus line across the stage, the costuming comprised of mismatched dancewear is distracting. But what the ensemble loses in aesthetics, it regains in performance. Delgado, strong en pointe, is a perfect match when paired with Teicher, and together they give Demo: Now the high stakes it needed.
As the night concludes, it is an obvious homage to Woetzel's boundary-busting creativity and unique eye for talent.
DIRECT CURRENT, the Kennedy Center's two-week celebration of contemporary culture, returns for a second season. Training its focus on new works, interdisciplinary creations in which artistic worlds collide, and innovative responses to topical concerns, the 2019 spring immersion showcases some of the most provocative, original, and pioneering voices in the arts today. DIRECT CURRENT takes place on March 24-April 7 at the Kennedy Center and beyond, extending throughout the District of Columbia through collaborations with a number of alternative venues, to expand the growing audience for contemporary culture in the nation's capital.