Tuesday, October 3, 2023

Dance Review: A Noontime Lunch Break Roars with a Bang, Downtown Dance Festival

The Downtown Dance Festival roars in the weekend with a bang for a noontime lunch crowd on Friday, August 21.   Featuring five hot dance companies, Jamal Jackson Dance Company, isadoraNOW, C3 Tap Co-operative, Stefanie Nelson Dance Group, and Naomi Goldberg Haas/Dances for a Variable Population, this free event at Chase Plaza is part of a week-long festival with performances from a wide range of dance companies, all bringing something unique and unusual to the outdoor stage under the sun.

The African rhythm and beats of Jamal Jackson Dance Company (JJDC) begins the afternoon with a triumphant start. With their traditional African garments, the three women and two men in the piece perform borrowing from their extensive knowledge and their pro-styled execution of the African dance vocabulary; the use of the back and their flexed hands are apparent throughout the performance.  The company is highly-energetic and fiercely-dynamic the entire performance, their legs and arms constantly moving without a moment to catch their breaths!  Although the dance comes across as traditional African, there are times when I catch myself thinking that these dancers are using movement that resembles the Hip-Hop vocabulary as well.  The seamlessness in which they transition from traditional African dance to contemporary movement is well-skilled and very well-practiced.  JJDC is truly able to capture the mission of the company, to show the connection between African culture and American culture.

isadoraNow -Raleigh Veach, Photography by Leslie ScottisadoraNOW presents a four-part performance with anti-war connotations.  The pieces are all choreographed by Isadora Duncan, and it is amazing to think that she choreographed this piece in 1921, and, it is still highly relevant to the issues of today!  The first section, Polonaise began as a solo with Elyssa Dru Rosenberg who performs militaristic gestures, stamping her feet and pointing at the crowd. Rosenberg’s grand gestures are accompanied by a white fabric, draped over her shoulder and used as a cape. Four women enter and surround Rosenberg who act as her body guards. Gypsy, performed by Raleigh Veach takes a Spanish interpretation of the piece, with her red seductive scarf and dramatic gestures. Revolutionary, another solo performed by Elyssa Dru Rosenberg really captures the essence of this anti-war piece with her passionate ‘screams’ and the anguish she portrays as she hits the floor in defiance.

The final section is the most memorable for me. Each dancer enters the stage in pairs, with one of them holding a red flag.  The dancers move forward as if they are in battle until the one carrying the flag is “shot down;” the other dancer must take the flag from her and continue on with the battle.  Each dancer is eventually shot down and lying on the ground.  The ending appears as if the dancers are rising to heaven in a Martha Graham style, where the dancers are initiating from their abdomens.

C3 Tap Co-operative features four talented dancers who each bring a unique quality. The four women begin the dance to traditional jazz music. While I watch the performance, I am immediately drawn to the connection amongst these women.   I can really feel their strong bond with each other in the way they move and interact.   The opening section is followed by a duet to My Favorite Things, danced by Brandy Blaha and Courtney Runft.  The dancers perform the same moves but each interprets them in a different way.  My favorite section of C3 is the solo performed by Arleigh Rothenberg to the song Love Song by Sara Bareiles.  With the song so contemporary, her tap combinations lend the dance itself to be something I have never seen before.  I enjoy Rothenberg’s wonderful use of music and the sheer joy she exhibits throughout the piece.   The company ends their program with the four dancers back together again performing to classic tap music.

Real Friends, Real Pros, Real Dancers.  Only on iDANZ!Performing Venn Duet, by Stefanie Nelson/Stefanie Nelson Dance Group, is Julian Barnett and Ofelia Loret de Mola.  The duet is a push-and-pull of emotions between the two characters as lovers, with the dancers constantly intertwining their legs, leaning and pushing within their interaction.  Most noteworthy is Nelson’s use of music.  Reminiscent of "out-of-the-blue" mood changes and emotions that come with any serious relationship, the music too experiences several "mood’ changes where the dancers suddenly switch into completely different movement phrases or style.  In Venn Duet, Barnett and Loret de Mola are excellent complements to each other. They lift each other with equal ease; they give nice counter intensity as each always tries to get in front of the other.  With Loret de Mola moving around the stage excitedly as a way of communicating her frustrations to her partner, the piece ends very powerful.

Naomi Goldberg Haas/Dances for a Variable Population closes out the Downtown Dance Festival’s Friday performance.  Haas’s vision is to make dances with diverse communities and professional dancers in the same setting.  Her goal is to bring dance back to the people and to show that anyone has the ability to dance no matter how old you are or what you look like.  For this performance, the dancers perform Excerpts from Fanfare which begins as a sort of jousting game during medieval times. The variable ages and abilities of the dancers is what really sticks out for me.  It is incredible to watch highly trained dancers performing with dancers who have had little to no training and with dancers who are much older.  A beautiful moment is when the dancers perform various duets between women of varied ages.  The eldest woman of the group leans and falls onto the shoulders and backs of three dancers who carry her back and forth with respectfulness and care.  So telling through their movement of their reverence for her… This is such a powerful moment.

The uniting factor among the five companies that I watched on Friday is that each company is accessible to a wide range of people.  Either through the music choices or the theme of the dances, it is apparent that everyone in the audience, from the kids on a camp field trip to the business men on their lunch breaks, that they all are having a blast watching the performance.

iDANZ Critix Corner
Official Dance Review by
Amanda Keller
Performance:  Downtown Dance Festival, NYC
Choreographers: Jamal Jackson Dance Company,  isadoraNOW,  C3 Tap Co-operative, Stefanie Nelson Dance Group, Naomi Goldberg Haas/Dances For a Variable Population
Performance Date:  August 21, 2009 12-2pm

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