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Dance Review: The Whiz is Wicked, Fun, and Fierce!

May 25, 2010 by  
Filed under Uncategorized

nicholas lechter dance/The Whiz: Emerald City, photography by Steven Schreiber A hip new version of The Whiz: Emerald City is whizzing about New York City, courtesy of nicholas leichter dance.  With an amazing recent run at Joe’s Pub, this production is provocative and unique, blending new music and fresh moves. Without a solid yellow brick road to follow, the numbers flow easily from one to the next, performers streaming in and out of the audience.   The show is diverse in its array of dances and musical numbers, delighting the palate along with the yummy menu selections at Joe’s Pub.

Nicholas Leichter’s choreography is funky, making people want to clap and dance in their seats. Co-directing with Nicholas Leichter is Monstah Black, the score creator known as a “Messiah of the Funk.”  Brian McCormick as producing director contributes interesting titles for the dance numbers like Papi, incorporating popular slang to reference the poppy fields and other elements of the classic Wizard of Oz/The Wiz tale.

Nicholas Leichter’s choreography is suitably even more multi-dimensional than the traditional Wizard of Oz story, incorporating technique with raw bumping and grinding.

Only the FIERCE Dancers Apply!  Become a Member of iDANZ.To me, the overall movement blends contemporary dance with Afro-Cuban and other island influences.  The dancing flows so naturally out of the dancers that it seems improvised except that order exists through formations and patterns.

Following the sexually charged Lick Shots number to a song by none other than Missy Elliot is He’s the Wizza, a long duet featuring Stephanie Liapis and Nicholas Leichter.  Here Nicholas Leichter shows off Stephanie Liapis’ skills as a dancer, ending the section dramatically to create nice set up for Soon as I get Home.

Dawn Robinson is brilliant in Soon As I Get Home celebrating the fabulousness of being a big black woman.  She conveys a sideways evolution of Diana Ross as if investigating what Diana Ross would be like when she’s chillin at home, being constantly fanned by an admiring man servant.

A highlight of the performance is an intense dance between two men, Wendell Cooper and Nicholas Leichter.  Each male interrogates the other with fierce dance moves and martial arts-infused partnering work.  Work!

Entering in very grand style, vocalizing from the audience, Yozmit makes a special appearance from the sky, like an outer-worldly creature.  Each movement is sharp and meticulously executed as Yozmit sings her heart out, compelling and captivating.

nicholas lechter dance/The Whiz: Emerald City, photography by Steven Schreiber In order to gain a better understanding behind the creation of this fascinating show, I interviewed dancer Wendell Cooper.  In an expression of mutual respect and admiration, Wendell Cooper created a movement phrase tribute to Nicholas Leichter, who in turn assimilated the phrase into the Juicy Fruit section.  Wendell describes the challenges he faced trying to make a solo in the style of Nicholas Leichter who he says “tries to expand outside of the ego-driven art of the dance world.”

Wendell Cooper describes how “in this solo I wanted to expand [Nicholas Leichter’s] style that is particular to him rather than in an individual style.  If I was to create something in his style how would I do that?  [By] getting into his brain: learning his rhythm and style and his vocabulary. So I borrowed a little from his rep: combination of hip-hop and jazz, definitely the chaos-there’s a moment -it’s crazy- we have to throw our legs over our body and pitch and fall.  I tried to marry the chaos with rhythm and detail I feel like it has to be daring to be interesting for the public to watch, like this feeling of- they might not make it!  It’s a mix: house, technique, break-dancing jazz, capoeria, vogue, contemporary, moderness-that’s why I’m drawn to his work because he takes all these elements and blends them into a language.  I am trying to learn to do that in my work as well.”

As I continue my discussion with Wendell about how we talk about and define dance.  We both agreed, Nicholas Leichter has a unique style and his work is tricky to dissect because it’s fragmented.  I’ll try to dissect it for you: fouettés into popping followed by gooey modern dance, then African and Jazz-all of these fragments are fused into a sequence.  Nicholas Leichter’s many influences have been absorbed into a his own vocabulary to create poetry with dance. Though difficult to define in terms of genre, the work of Nicholas Leichter parallels the contemporary trends seen in media in which various elements are reworked together, derived from our modern world where distinct cultures and traditions exist side by side.  Honoring the specific cultural roots of very stylized dance forms, Nicholas Leichter shapes his own language, spoken with African steps transitioning to an almost traditional ballet sequence flowing into floor-work.  All elements come together within same conceptual framework.

As artists, Nicholas Leichter and Monstah Black have unique processes of working, a system that seems to involve deconstructing and restructuring the construct, exploring the point of each scene, and taking into account the underlying social and political messages. In this production of The Whiz one will experience the story in an entirely new way, as the creators took accumulated content and applied our contemporary situation.

In the hands of Nicholas Leichter and Monstah Black, this production is not a remake but instead something re-imagined, sourced and rooted in the cultural history and development of the tale.

This re-creation of The Whiz has been developing with various sections previously appearing in shows through DanceNOW and Joe’s Pub.  This latest version is still missing some of the larger dance numbers which will be added for the full production at Abron’s Art Center around June 17, 2010.  Be sure to check out “The Whiz: Obamaland” at Abrons Arts Center to see more story and more dancing!

CLICK HERE & CONNECT with the Members of the iDANZ Critix Corner! iDANZ Critix Corner
Official Dance Review by Lea McGowan
Performance: DanceNOW [NYC] presents Dancemopolitan- nicholas leichter dance The Whiz: Emerald City
Choreography: Nicholas Leichter with additional choreography by Wendell Cooper
Venue: Joe’s Pub Manhattan, New York City
Performance Date: Friday March 19, 2010

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