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BWW Review: DEMO: NOW 2O20 at Kennedy Center

BWW Review: DEMO: NOW 2O20 at Kennedy Center
Lil Buck and Lauren Lovette with Kate Davis and Brooklyn Rider in A Story part of Kennedy Center's DEMO series. Photo by Mena Brunette.

It was a misty, later rainy night, but that didn't dampen the enthusiasm of the audience at Kennedy Center's Eisenhower Theater watching DEMO: Now 2020. They greeted the musicians and dancers, directed and curated by Damian Woetzel, with standing ovations and loud, prolonged applause.

I had long been an admirer of Mr. Woetzel during his 20-year career as a principal dancer of New York City Ballet (he is now president of The Juilliard School.) My children grew up on the NYCB video of The Nutcracker, featuring him as the elegant Cavalier.

Since then he has been an independent director, choreographer, and producer, and his innovative spirit is evident here -in the twice-a-year DEMO programs he initiated.

The dancers he has assembled in this installment - Jon Boogz, Robbie Fairchild, Lil Buck, Lauren Lovette, Roman Mejia, Dario Natarelli, and Melissa Toogood - are spectacular, whether performing in balletic, modern, flamenco, or tap style. In the tap sequences, their feet seem to move apart from their bodies.

Their resumes are impressive and diverse: Fairchild is a Tony Award® nominated Broadway star (An American in Paris) and former New York City Ballet principal dancer; Lovette is a current New York City Ballet principal dancer, and Roman Mejia, is described as a "modern dance dynamo."

Boogz is a movement artist and choreographer. Buck began "jookin' - a street dance - at 13 and has collaborated with artists as diverse as cellist Yo-Yo Ma, Madona, and Spike Lee. Mejoa is a member of New York City Ballet's corps de ballet. Jatarelli teaches tap dance at the Broadway Dance Center, has appeared at Radio City and on off-Broadway, while Toogood is an emerging tap dancer.

The music is less pleasing. It's not that the musicians - a string quartet named Brooklyn Rider, with pianist/vocalist Kate Davis, and heartfelt guitarist Alberta Khoury aren't adept at what they do. It's really a matter of musical taste.

If you like contemporary composers like John Cage and Steve Reich, you're OK. If you prefer the piece by Luigi Boccherini, set to a Fandango choreographed by Alexei Ratmansky you're likely to be less pleased.

There's an element of social consciousness in DEMO- such as the I Have a Dream piece, with a recording of Martin Luther Kin, Jr.'s iconic speech. His words have the moving effect they always do, and Natarelli - who choreographed and performed the piece, is an arresting performer. But the danced piece seems less in sync with spoken message.

There are performances, apparently, when Woetzel spends time on stage - narrating and explaining. That was not the case last night. He did, however, move one of the dancers with an umbrella, and the fans laughed audibly.

I'm guessing these DEMO sessions are meant to be like rehearsals. Only, the pieces come across as more finished and accomplished than that term would suggest. There aren't the pauses and discussion of rehearsals. But that's all right. As said, the dancing is quite remarkable, and the accompanists are talented. It's also good to know that accomplished dancers - whose careers have a relatively short shelf life - find meaningful dance-related second lives.

In the next few months, Kennedy Center will announce the dance programs for next season, including DEMO. There are two such programs a year, and this is the fifth season of the presentations.

There are shows in which Woetzel spends more time on stage, narrating and explaining; last night he moved one of the dancers on stage for a minute, eliciting laughter from his enthusiastic fans.

Previous shows in this series have featured Broadway and NYCB star Tiler Peck, iconic dancer and actress Carmen de Lavallade, singer/ songwriter Kate Davis, Tony®-winning actor Bill Irwin, tap dance revolutionary Michelle Dorrance, and a special DEMO commission choreographed by Bessie Award winner Pam Tanowitz set to a composition by Pulitzer Prize winner Caroline Shaw.

If you like your dance diverse and exquisite, maybe give next year's DEMOs a try.

Running Time: 90 minutes with no intermission.

DEMO: Now 2020 was a one night only engagement in the Eisenhower Theater at the Kennedy Center on March 2, 2020.

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From This Author Barbara Trainin Blank