“We are going to a dance performance!” That was all I knew. See, I just moved to Miami from New York, so the details don’t mean much to me. I spend most weekends lost and wandering northeast and southwest never quite sure of where I am. In an effort get acquainted with the Miami art scene, I have vowed to go see pretty much anything. That night, last month, at Dance Now’s Open Stage was one of those nights. And am I ever glad I went.
The Dance Now! Ensemble opened the night with Forte, Lirico, Drammatico, a piee in three parts, choreographed by Diego Santerini. The first was a tense and combative tussle between two male dancers trying to find compromise. The next segment seemed to imagine how two women would address a similar situation with grace and cooperation. Lastly was a lovely duet exploring the intimate maneuvers of two people drawing closer to one another.
Next, Prince Emmanuel Adiodum Aderele’s Yoruba Rhythm took me on a journey of West African drumming and dance traditions as they are translated across the world. Through this short piece we were introduced to the base rhythms of the atabaque (conga) drum used in Brazilian Capoeira. We admired its resurgence in the grandiose sway and lumbering downbeat cadences of New Orleans Mardi Gras Second Line dances. The moans of the talking drum were replicated through the scats of American blues and the improvised wails in jazz. I look forward to seeing the fuller, fleshed out version of the piece with teams of dancers and drummers in full regalia.
In a continuing exploration of new forms, choreographer Allisen Learnard presented a fusion of Middle Eastern and African movement as translated through tap. The Next Day started out stark and angular. The dancers moved in unison, the intricacy of their time-steps ticking the seconds of arduous hours. Gradually they fell out of sync, the stresses of modern life bearing down. This symbolic death of conformity gave birth to the sultry, round, soft undulations of belly dance and jubilant cadence of African movement. The dancers literally released themselves from their restrictive social trappings, revealing the sensuality and interconnectivity we all secretly long for.
Martin Luther King Jr. once famously asserted, “If you can’t fly then run, if you can’t run then walk, if you can’t walk then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward.” In Bipedalism: Learn To Stand On Your Own After Life Knocks You Down, Dance Now! Ensemble member Megan Holsinger started at the opposite end of this spectrum. The audience followed breathlessly as the choreographer writhed on the floor, soon to crawl, eventually to walk, finally to stride, and ultimately taking off running around the stage. We all sat transfixed by this victory lap. Holsinger later confessed she herself was overwhelmed with emotion at the end of the piece, which affirms that she gave a fully spirited performance.
When two young women darted out and frantically began to rip off their dresses, it was hard not to be intrigued. So began What is Meant. The women have just escaped the Salem Witch Trials and are heading into the woods toward their new lives. It was easy to imagine how these women, one spritely, with mysterious long dark hair and the other impossibly tall with cropped hair, could spark suspicion amongst the townsfolk. The music set the dark, angsty mood, interspersed with night sounds and crickets. Even on a bare stage it was easy to imagine the dark forest the ladies whipped through, sick with fear and worry. The hope of redemption travelled with them.
The choreographer, Brigette Cormier, revealed during the Q&A how the piece has morphed. When Cormier couldn’t find the right music, she mixed it herself. She changed the wardrobe to better set the mood. The movements in the pieces were inspired to keep both dancers’ dangerously long hair out of their faces. So when Cormier’s partner Joanna showed up one day shorn, the choreographer wisely didn’t change a thing. The result was truly bewitching.
Work in Progress (W.I.P) by Dr. Constance McIntyre was a remarkable and triumphant performance, beautifully executed by an ensemble of high school students. Singer/songwriter Giel sang an original song and provided live accompaniment via acoustic guitar just upstage from the dancers. These young ladies danced with emotional maturity heightened by the live music. During the discussion afterward, it was revealed that this piece was rehearsed for only 6 hours! This only amplified my appreciation for this piece. I am looking forward to seeing what this ensemble could produce given more time.
Crystal Lewis invited the audience for an enlightening ride on her emotional roller coaster. In Transition was an exploratory voyage through the process of changing behaviors through a loop of similar phrases, as each rendition slightly changed and evolved. The methodical, surgical execution of Lewis’ movements exemplified the stubborn characteristics of her personality. With each repetition of her phrase, this rigidity gave way to softer, meandering movements that appeared more organic. After much trial and error, the dancer finally came up with the winning combination. The transition complete, the dancer to strode simply and directly towards the audience with conquering confidence.
Play and Breathe are two excerpts from Piano Pieces by Hannah Baumgarten, one half of the Dance Now! Miami directorial team. This last installment capped off the night with a languid ensemble piece and a captivating duet. These were, for me, the most fully actualized pieces.
Often in my experience, recitals and dance performances can be rigid and reserved. In conversations after previous performances, I have seldom heard an audience voice their true opinion publicly, no one wanting to come off common or uncultured. But tonight some of the best performances were in the house seats. After each piece, moderator and Artburst contributor Celeste Fraser Delgado introduced the choreographer and took questions, comments, and criticism from the audience.
I have rarely seen an audience so engaged. Throughout these pieces, I could hear the whispers and gasps, the sounds of opinions and insights being formed. The questions and comments were posed with such curiosity and emotion, the kind you ask when you are falling in love.
Dance Now! next presents Open Stage on Saturday, March 23 at the Little Haiti Cultural Center. For details, visit dancenow.org.