Reviews & Commentary
a new way to See & Review Dance 

From the Heart

Natasha Ridley, choreographer and dancer, presents the world premiere of “From the Heart” with music by Ron Zuckerman, at the the Fishlowitz Cultural Center – Poway, Ca, on August 31st, 2013.

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Gypsy Tarantella

Natasha Ridley Dance presents Gypsy Tarantella, with music by Ron Zuckerman, at the the Fishlowitz Cultural Center – Poway, Ca, on August 31st, 2013. Dancers: Maria Mendenhall, Gia-Rose Strada and Natasha Ridley.

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Reflections, choreographed by Viviana Alcazar and danced by Desiree Cuizon to music by Ron Zuckerman, was presented at the the Fishlowitz Cultural Center – Poway, Ca, on August 31st, 2013.

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La Mantovana in Dance

Ethnic dancers are featured in the La Montovana in Dance. The original, was a wildly popular Renaissance melody (late 1500s’s), that Shakespeare may have hummed and Thomas Jefferson played on his fiddle. Virtually every European country adapted the melody in popular and folk song. The melody was used by composers such as Smetana and Saint-Saens. A version became a national anthem. Here, you see and hear my new music variations, presented with Israeli and Jewish ethnic dance clips.

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Collision Course – a.k.a. Pillow Talk

Maida Withers Dance Construction Company presented Collision Course – A.K.A. Pillow Talk on Dec. 8, 2012, at the Betts Marvin Theatre in Washington, D.C. This full length dance-theater work about the fiction and reality of LUV for the digital age, may be viewed in the video at right, or directly from Vimeo with additional details on performers, etc. (see links at end of review).

Fabled Choreographer Maida Withers continues to produce cutting-edge modern dance works which combine technological advances in film, videography, photography, digital art and electronic music — with dancers, words (spoken poetry & words as visuals) and props (pillows in this case); to produce a seamless and coherent audio visual performance event.  In Collision Course dancers in simple white and black costumes with white pillows are always in the forefront of the ‘story’ being told.  In the background subtle projection of images and words enhances the foreground interplay between the four featured and supporting dancers. Excellent lighting and a minimalist electronic music score added to the mood and fabric of Collision Course.

It is interesting to view the video at left, Laser Dance, which was performed in 1985, to gain insight into the evolving artistry of choreographer Maida Withers.

Modern Dance, like painting (sans objectivity), classical music (sans melody)and other arts threw off narrative/thematic ideas in the 20th century to allow experimentation. Picasso straddled the line between abstraction and non-objectivity by always depicting something objective from life, no matter how distorted the presentation. Wither’s Collision Course follows the trend of abstractly, eloquently, expressing life.

Click for: VIMEO Collison Course details — Withers Collision Course interview — Web Site

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21st Century Dance in film

Watching film & video with a plot about dance informs us about how society views dance and how dance people view society.  From 2000 to 2012 a number of films and videos with dance plots were made, but they differ from those made in the 20th century. Clicking on the titles below brings up trailers you can view of the works. Hip Hop – Street Dance has been the largest growing area.  Many films document the struggles to become dancers, are about dance competitions, or competing to enter dance schools. Song and dance movies like the musicals of the 20th century are absent.  It is worth noting that all of these films are about people and their stories  as well as their involvement in dance.

Ballet Shoes (2007) – Three adopted sisters, with different talents.
Billy Elliot (2000) – 11 year old boy goes ballet.
Black Swan (2010) – Psychological ballet thriller.
Bunheads (2012) -  Las Vegas showgirl teaches in Paradise, CA – TV series.
Center Stage (2000) – about the students of the American Ballet Academy.
Center Stage: Turn It Up (2008) – Kate Parker auditions for the American Ballet Company.
Company, The (2003) – An inside look at the world of ballet.
Dance Academy (2010) – 15-year-old Tara makes Australia’s National Academy of  Dance.
Dancing Across Borders  (2008) – Cambodian dancer to New York
Dance Subaru! (2009) – Japanese ballerina overcomes the odds to follow her dreams
Dancing with Time (2007) – Four dancers, nearing 80, return to the stage in Leipzig.
Dracula: Pages from a Virgin’s Diary (2002) – silent movie ballet of Dracula.
First Position (2012) – Follow dancers training for the Youth America Grand Prix.
Flying Boys (2004) – South Korean film about reluctantly joining a ballet class.
Mao’s Last Dancer (2009) – Autobiography of Chinese dancer Li Cunxin.
Only When I Dance (2009) – Two Brazilian dances come to U.S.
Save the Last Dance (2000) – about studying as a professional dancer.
Tu TuMUCH (2010) – 9 young girls vie for a place Royal Winnipeg Ballet School.
Wishing Stairs (2003) – South Korean horror film about competing ballet students.

Dance with the Wind (2004) – South Korean, man who falls in love with ballroom.
Innocent Steps (2005) – trained dancer competes in order to pay for a family debt.
Mad Hot Ballroom (2005) – ballroom dance for fifth graders in the NYC schools.
Marilyn Hotchkiss’ Ballroom Dancing and Charm School (2005) – Love story
Shall We Dance? (2004) – remake of the 1996 Japanese movie.

B-Girl (2008) – brilliant female Breakdance story.
Battlefield America (2012) – Bad Boys are a youth hip-hop dance crew
Boogie Town (2011) – Stars Brenda Song, Katerina Graham, Marques Houston.
Dance Flick (2009) – A satirical jab at musical/dance films
Feel the Noise (2007) – rap fantasy
Honey (2003) – Tough, sexy inner city girls dance success.
Honey 2 (2011) – Stars Katerina Graham – not a sequel.
How She Move (2007/2008) – Raya, unable to follow medical career becomes step dancer
Make It Happen (2008) – from ballet to burlesque and…
Planet B-Boy (2007) – Documentary on male break dancers
Rize (2005) – dance movement from South Central LA with roots in clowning
Roll Bounce (2005) – dance on roller skates
Save the Last Dance (2000) – about studying as a professional dancer.
Save the Last Dance 2 (2006) – Sequel
Step Up (2006) – Rebellious street dancer Andie.
Step Up 2 the Streets (2008) – Sequel starring Briana Evigan.
Step Up 3-D (2010) – Stars Adam Sevani and Alyson Stoner.
Stomp the Yard (2007) – Stars Columbus Short, Meagan Good, Chris Brown and Ne-Yo.
Stomp the Yard 2: Homecoming (2010) – Sequel.
StreetDance (20120) – street-dance and ballet collide
StreetDance 2 (2012) StreetDance 3D (2010) – Stars George Sampson, Diversity and Flawless.
Take the Lead (2006) – Antonio Banderas in true story of dance teacher of problem kids
You Got Served (2004) – 3 hip hop crews compete in Detroit.
You Got Served: Beat the World (2011)

A Time for Dancing (2010) – Saga of two friends.
Assassination Tango (2002) – starring Robert Duvall, Rubén Blades and Kathy Baker.
BigJig, The (2012) – Irish Dancers compete at Belfast World Championships.
Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights (2004) – loose sequel to Dirty Dancing.
Footloose (2011) – Ren challenges dancing ban in Southern town.
Jig (2011) – Irish Dancers compete at 2010 Glascow World Championships.
King is Dancing, The (2000) – Jean-Baptiste Lully and his relationship with King Louis XIV.
Leading Ladies (2010) – Stage mother relationship with daughters.
Love N’ Dancing (2009) – Teacher and swing dance champ meet and compete.
Magic Mike (2012) – comedy about male exotic dancers.
Pina (2011) – Pina Bausch modern dance great, bio with site specific dance.
Strictly Irish Dance (2011) – Irish Dancers compete at 2011 Dublin World Championships.
Turn the Beat Around (2010) – disco in Los Angeles club.

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Nutcracker Time Again

Thanksgiving is over and Nutcracker Season begins for many dancers and dance companies.  Student dancers, from tots to teens, have been readying their dance steps and costumes for the annual Nutcracker extravaganza.  The International Academy of Dance, in Santa Cruz, California, presented, Nutcracker, Experience the Magic, on November 24-25, 2012 at the Crocker Theater of Cabrillo College.

It is magic to see young dancers, age 3 and up, joyfully participating in a lavish holiday ritual, with experienced dancers, teachers and parents, to entertain & captivate an audience. Miami City Ballet guest artists, Tricia Albertson and Didier Bramaz added sparkle to the afternoon, with their beautiful performances as the Sugar Plum Fairy and Cavalier. Artistic Director Shannon Cullem and Idance staff presented a polished and enjoyable Nutcracker.

Of special appeal to the audience were: The battle between the NutCracker Prince’s Soldier’s and the Rat Queen’s Mice; The Angels of Act 2; Mother Ginger and the Snaps escaping from under Mother’s skirts; and the bravura athleticism of the Russian dancers.

The Crocker Theater at Cabrillo College had good acoustics and a fine sound system which enhanced the Nutcracker and Tchaikovsky’s immortal music.

For more go to Nutcracker’s Galore.

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BJM at Mandeville

Les Ballet Jazz de Montréal (BJM) presented three noteworthy works, which premiered in 2012, at Mandeville Hall in San Diego, on Nov. 8, 2012.  After the program, Artistic Director, Louis Robitaille participated in commentary about BJM, and indicated that his approach to vetting new works was to look at them from the perspective of the audience and listen to his gut feelings & instincts as an audience member.  Bravo!

The BJM Company consists of an exceptionally fine group of young dancers that performed well in both virtuoso ensemble & solo work.  Dancers included: Christina Bodie, Antonios Bougiouris, Celine Cassone, Christian Denice, Kevin Deleney, Alyssa Desmarais, Youri de Wilde, Alexandra Gherehman, Alexander Hille, Morgane Le Tiec, Andie Masazza and Brett Taylor.

Harry, choreographed by Barak Marshall, the half-program finale, was an intense & invigorating storytelling work about Harry’s struggles with conflict and human relationships. Set to a music score combining jazz, folksong, pop songs and opera, Harry alternates group sequences, trios and duets in a dazzling display of dance.  Non-dance elements and props are effectively used to provide repetition, variation and unity to Harry.  The recurrent use of: a stretcher, vocals by dancers, assorted pots & pans, balloons, smoke, a flag, etc., enhanced the immediacy and effectiveness of the dance. Overall, Harry provided the audience with a provocative, searing, hauntingly memorable, dance experience.  There are those dance aficionados that believe storytelling is passé, and purists that believe it should be verboten to use non-dance elements in dance.  Cinematography, the great collaborative art of the 20th century has changed all of the arts.  The 4 hour ballet of the 1800s has has been pared to 90 minutes. Three minute songs and TV commercials have changed audience expectations and attention span. Art, to be meaningful, must speak to non-specialist people.

Zero on In, Choreographed by Cayetano Soto, is a dance duet that Cayetano says, “In zero seconds you have to get in and on with your energy and power.” The focus spotlights two admirable dancers, Céline Cassone & Kevin Delaney.  Zero on In has exceptional choreography and dancing. The work exhibits a wide range of emotion, inventiveness, athletic dexterity & subtlety. The Philip Glass music accompanying Zero on in, seriously detracted from the work.  Zero on in required music with the subtlety of Debussy’s La Mer and power of Prokofiev. The Glass music was well composed, might work in another dance work, but consisted of continuous rhythmic repetition, very limited emotional range and went on as one unrelieved section.

Night Box, Choreographed by Wen Wei Wang, was inspired by urban life unfolding at night; evoking the city through sounds, rhythms, music and an incessant blinking of lights; combining contemporary ballet with street dance in alternating sequences for group, trio, duet and solo.  Great concept!! Night Box has inspired choreography, world class dancing, and a good mix of high-voltage music.  The opening night club scene is excellently enhanced by projections which capture the mood without overpowering the dance. The second scene, a lovely duet with group accompaniment, is a smooth transition from scene one. Wen Wei Wang courageously ended Night Box with a sensitive love duet. Night Box is studded with fine moments and ideas.  Between scene two and the finale, the sections have variety & power, but Night Box would be even better if more unifying elements were incorporated.

BJM, Les Ballet Jazz de Montréal, earned the received, hearty, standing ovation, at the end of the evening, highlighting the insightful leadership of Artistic Director, Louis Robitaille, the splendid Company of dancers & support personnel, and showcasing three choreographers of substance.

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PGK at Spreckel’s Theater

The PGK Project, in presenting San Diego Dances on Broadway, continued the company emphasis on staging dance in unusual venues, in order to bring contemporary dance to new audiences.

The venerable, marble walled and floored, Grand Lobby of the historic Spreckel’s Theater, became dance performance space on October 26 & 27, 2012, for 7 vibrant new works, offered by the PGK Project and guest artists (choreographers & dancers).

Of Special Note: The program finale premiere, Breakdown, choreographed by PGK Artistic Director, Peter Kalivas, was a turbo-charged, audience pleasing romp, excellently performed by the PGK Project company. Guest choreographer Khamla Somphanh‘s innovative and masterful choreography shined in the Jessica Rabanza-Flores’ dynamic solo (One then Four) and Piper Dye’s beautiful & soulful solo performance (Light Within).

Evocative premieres of Beyond Yes and Seeking Shelter, were presented by guest choreographers Viviana Alcazar and Heather Dale Wentworth,  Artistic Director of Opus Mixtus.

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Bullying depicted in Dance

Choreographer Michael Mizerany’s dance work Bully is premiered in the Malashock Raw3 dance series, October 18-28, 2012, at the Malashock Dance Studio in San Diego.  Bullying, a most serious subject, not often treated in dance, is a problem experienced by a number of school age children.  Discussions & audience feedback with writers/teachers about bullying are included at some performances.

The image at the right by Raymond Elstad, features dancers Nicholas Strasburg (the Bully) and Andrew Holmes (the Bullied).  Click on the image to see more RAW3 photos. There is extensive material on Bullying available, and a new feature length movie Bully (trailer below).

Bully, the dance work, is unabashedly bold and undeniably risky, in it’s wry and relentless examination of raw intimidation, physical coercion and emotional manipulation. Choreographer Mizerany says, “My new work, Bully, is a very personal story, in fact, it is autobiographical. It is not only about the act of bullying, but how we react to being bullied. How it pulls us apart from the people we love. And how, sometimes, in an effort to hide who we really are, we become bullies ourselves.”

Mizerany’s graphically & impressively tells a painful personal story with strong, iconic choreography. Nicholas Strasburg’s fine performance as the Bully exhibits power and menace. Andrew Holmes’ jarring performance as the Bullied is athletic and gut wrenching, with falls that make one wonder how he avoids physical damage.  Four excellent dancers act as a foil to the two protagonists; Blythe Barton, Kiona Daelyn, Courtney Meadows, and Brittany Taylor.

Bully, a dance work beautifully realized, with a great concept, deserves a better music score than the Kredit tracks.  Perhaps a mix of works like the Bartok String Quartets would have enhanced & supported Bully .

RAW3 also premiered Splinter by choreographer Regina Klenjowski, and previously reviewed Uneasy Surrender by choreographer  John Malashock.

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