BWW Review: VelocityDC Dance Festival Showcases the Variety of DC Dance Scene
VelocityDC Dance Festival is true to its name. It showcases over 20 DC-based dance companies and individual artists over four days. Blink and you will miss it. This festival, started in 2009, is presented in partnership with Dance Metro DC, the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities, Shakespeare Theatre Company, and Washington Performing Arts, and is aimed at showcasing the diversity and vitality of the DC dance scene. Each ticket to the performance is only $18, reducing the barrier to entry for a new dance patron. Friday's show featured 10 individual pieces and a site-specific dance before the main performance, plus a free dance class to finish off the night. Juggling 11 separate pieces in one evening, VelocityDC managed to drop a few balls.
Interstitials throughout the evening from the National Hand Dancing Association exhibited VelocityDC's focus on the district's dance DNA. Hand dancing, a derivative of swing, is native to the capital and is grounded, rather than focusing, in acrobatics or aerial tricks like lindy hop and jitterbug. There was also a politically focused work by Annielille Gavino-Kollman of Malayaworks Dance Theater, a company that uses contemporary dance to explore social issues. La Migra, Let's Run told Gavino-Kollman's journey as an immigrant trying to assimilate in society. Another dancer, Yamini Saripalli, did not attempt to assimilate into the predominantly western sphere, instead performing a kuchipudi, a southern Indian style of dance, piece. Saripalli's percussive movements were quite interesting, but she had trouble filling the stage as a solo performer. Perhaps creative lighting could have been employed to "shrink" the stage.
Gavin Stewart and Vanessa Owen, members of the DC-based Company E, danced one of the most stunning works of the night, a contemporary pas de deux to a Gavin Bryers arrangement called Dendrovictus. Stewart and Owen lithely twisted around each other and passionately commanded the stage. The evening featured two other contemporary performances: an emotional pas de trois danced by two men with a folding chair, choreographed by Mat Elder; and a futuristic group work by Christopher Morgan and Artists. Elder's work was charged with emotion and Morgan's showed off the precision of his company through unison corps work, as well as multiple cannons. Before the performance began Sarah Beth Oppenheim /Heart Stück Bernie performed a site-specific work outside Sidney Harman Hall, playing with the abundance of glass in the architecture. Unfortunately, the piece was too long and involved a break as the dancers reassembled inside the theater in the upstairs lobby which proved to be distracting to the audience.
The three ballet pieces were a mixed bag. The best was an excerpt from Juanita y Alicia by the Washington Ballet Studio Company, the Washington Ballet's junior company. This work was inspired by choreographer Septime Webre's photos of his mother's family growing up in pre-Castro Havana. The Studio Company may be the junior company, but they danced with remarkable maturity and precision and were lovely to watch. Ballet ADI, from the remnants of the recently closed school at the American Dance Institute, performed "Fiery Red" from Blank Canvas. The first several minutes of stretching and posing detracted from the rest of the entertaining work. Terra Firma Dance Theatre, a contemporary ballet company, was a disappointment. Their dancers did not have the skill level for their choreography and frequently looked uncomfortable with non-classical movements. The effect was amateurish. Additionally, this piece was first in the program and did not start the evening off in the best manor.
SOLE Defined proved to be a crowd pleaser. Through their mixture of step and tap, they brought the house down before intermission. SOLE's style was enthralling, not only auditorily but also visually. The dancers mixed percussion with dynamic movements, turning and jumping around the stage, all the while mixing rhythms and counter rhythms.
Friday's performance proved the adage that more is not always more. The eleven works fought for the audience's attention, and several good performances were lost in the shuffle. It is clear that Washington DC is filled with interesting dancers and dance makers. However, the festival organizers would better served to lengthen the festival beyond four days, while limiting the number of pieces per evening to four or six so that each could be showcased individually instead of competing with each other. If the festival organizers want to attract patrons with little to no knowledge of dance, then they should not create an overwhelming environment.
Photo Credit: Dean Alexander