Dayton Contemporary Dance at the Joyce
There is no arguing with the contention that Duke Ellington's music is one of the jazz world's eternal blessings; his scores have inspired and enhanced many ballet and contemporary dance creations. Kevin Ward, who became artistic director of Dayton Contemporary Dance Company after the untimely death of its founder, Jeraldyne Blunden, has, in his "Sets and Chasers" offered an exuberant work that not only serves as a tribute to Ellington, but also illustrates the vast scope of the Ohio company's performers.
During the group's return engagement at The Joyce Theater (Oct. 10-15), we managed to catch the matinee of Oct. 14, when sparkling dancers Monnette Michiyo Bariel, Julius Brewster, Aoi Funakoshi, Ricardo J. Garcia Cruz, and G.D. Harris led the company in segments that included popular dances from the 1940s, including reminiscences of the Lindy Hop right up to dances of our own era, with a bit of bravura ballet added unobtrusively. To say that "Sets and Chasers" is a rollicking delight would seem an understatement. This one is a real blazer.
Warren Spears' "black" is set at a high school dance in a Detroit neighborhood during the summer of 1968. We are advised that "The unrest, violence, and frustrations of the outside invade the energy and emotions within."
Far from the innocence of youngsters out to enjoy a dance, the atmosphere, under the circumstances, turns rough and rowdy. Three girls attempt to attract three men, who sit around alternating between indifference and sullenness as they watch the girls grinding through gyrations that are not exactly fitting for a high school social. The girls almost seem to turn themselves inside out in attempts to attract the boys and receive signs of admiration.
Suddenly the boys turn violent. They grab one of the girls and knock her about, and the scene turns into one vast battle, with the girls receiving the worse of it. The violence and unrest from outside has indeed invaded and infected the school.
Vital performances by Monnette Michiyo Bariel, Julius Brewster, Ricardo J. Garcia Cruz, Greer A. Reed, David Reuille, and Sheri "Sparkle" Williams managed to turn "black" into an unforgettable experience. Tiny Ms. Williams, a tremendously dynamic dancer, is considered a company star, and justifiably.
A short excerpt from Kevin Ward's "Job's Kitchen" was dedicated to Myrlie Evers and the memory of Medgar Evers. Although the work illustrates the loss experienced by the spouses of martyrs killed during the Civil Rights Movement, the excerpt can't possibly cover the vast tragedies that took place. A viewing of the entire work would seem essential before any evaluation could be made. However, the utter sensitivity and emotional drive displayed by DeShona Pepper and G.D. Harris were heartrending.
A joint venture by choreographers Donald McKayle and Ronald K. Brown, "Children of the Passage," a work in five sections, could almost be conceived as a partial history of a people. The Dirty Dozen Brass Band accompanied the piece.
Commencing with "Dark Mansion" where the mood is festive, the participants seem to be emulating, mocking, and dressing similarly to those who had absorbed and degraded them, and caused them to forget their heritage.
"Indulgent Spirit" sees the dancers, led by a voodoo priest, flaring and stretching their seemingly elasticized bodies beyond belief. One of the girls collapses and dies, although initially we felt that she may have fallen into a trance. She is then given a New Orleans type funeral, with a brass band accompanying the mourners through the streets, as was the custom.
The true spirit and genuine heritage emerge in "Yesterday's Whispers" and "Shout." Both sections are most demanding, calling for the utmost stamina. But nothing fazed the splendid dancers of Dayton Contemporary Dance Company. Greer A. Reed, David Reuille, and Sheri "Sparkle" Williams were the lead performers in the combustible conclusion.
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Nikolaj Hübbe Guests with Cortez & Co.
New York City Ballet principal dancer, Nikolaj Hübbe, performs as part of Cortez & Co.'s fifth annual New York season. Mr. Hübbe will dance Cortez's lyrical solo, "A Moment More" (1997), set to music by Philip Glass. The company, headed by artistic director Hernando Cortez, marks its season with two premieres: "EarthBeat," and "Like Being Awake Sleeping and Hearing Seeing."
Venue: Danspace Project at St. Mark's Church, NYC, Nov. 2-5. All performances begin promptly at 8:30 pm. General admission tickets $15. Benefit evenings Nov. 2 and 4, patron and benefactor tickets are available at $35 for preferred seating and $50 for premium seating. For reservations call (212) 674-8194. The church is located at 131 E. 10 St. at Second Ave.
Anna Sokolow's Players' Project
Legendary choreographer Anna Sokolow (1910-2000) will be remembered with a gala fundraising reception and concert by Players' Project, under the direction of longtime co-directors Jim May and Lorry May, on Nov. 8 at a 7 pm reception and 8:30 performance at Theater of the Riverside Church, Claremont Ave. at W. 121 St., NYC.
Three later works of Anna Sokolow will be performed: "Kurt Weill," "September Sonnet," and "From the Diaries of Franz Kafka," using text by Kafka. Jim May will represent the Kafka figure, surrounded by a company of 12 performers in this dramatic work.
Anna Sokolow's career spanned six decades and exerted a profound influence on the course of modern dance throughout the world. She began her career with Martha Graham and Louis Horst and formed her own group in 1937.
In addition to choreographing for her own Players' Project, Sokolow's works are in the repertoires of countless companies, including BatDor and Inbal companies of Israel, The Joffrey Ballet, The Netherlands Dance Theatre, Ballet Rambert, The Berlin Ballet, The José Limón Company, and other companies around the world.
She taught at many colleges, universities, and major acting studios, and was a longtime faculty member of the Juilliard School in both the dance and drama divisions.
Donation: $100, $75 for concert only. Reservations: (212) 870-6784.