By Walter Rutledge
Bobby Vinton’s end of summer ode Sealed With A Kiss begins with the line “So we have to say goodbye to the summer”; but we would be remiss to leave the season without acknowledging the Fire Island Dance Festival. The Dancers Responding To AIDS annual fundraiser is one Fire Island’s most anticipated dance events. This year did not disappoint, the event showcased 10 stellar emerging, established and renowned choreographers and a gaggle of outstanding performers. This 10-course dance buffet, hosted by Tony Award winning actress Cady Huffman, offered a diverse menu with something for every dance palette ranging from neo-classical ballet to West African inspired dance.
Peridance Contemporary Dance Company opened the performance with Dia-Mono-Logues choreographed by company artistic director Igal Perry. The work’s prevalent theme was inspired by Perry’s own experiences as a 1970’s Israeli immigrant. The ensemble work for eight dancers captured Perry’s sojourn from community to separation to rediscovery in this well crafted abstract narrative.
Wisely using a restricted movement vocabulary Perry was able to construct multiple conversations performed simultaneously by three groups of dancers. This provided a strong dancing counterpoint that slipped into focused and well-directed canons; culminating in spirited unison. The work ended with a crescendo of music and movement climaxing with the dancers lying spent on the stage; one solo performer moved slowly exiting stage left.
Miami City Ballet presented two programs Justin Peck’s Chutes and Ladders (performed by Jeanette Delegado and Kleber Rebello) for the two Saturday July 15 performances, and My One Any Only variation from George Balanchine’s Who Cares (Delegado) on Sunday, July 16. Choreographed in 1970 Who Cares is one of Balanchine’s “Americana” ballets; which joins Stars and Stripes and Western Symphony as a salute to his adopted homeland. Delegado danced with the appropriate amount of verve; displaying effortless technique and an unencumbered port de bra (signature Balanchine). The perky, and upbeat work remains a visual delight.
Pontus Lidberg Dance presented A Different Passion performed by Barton Cowperthwaite and the choreographer. Lidberg’s use of weight and momentum in the partnering and effortless floor work established an aura of honesty and emotional completeness between the dancers. To his credit this love letter cleverly introduced strong sculptural imagery without slipping into predictable posse’.
Keon Thoulouis performed New Conversations: Oshosi Is Here with reserved nobility, embodying choreographer Ronald K. Brown’s mix of explosive power and assured coolness. An excerpt from Brown and Evidence: A Dance Company’s latest work, the solo showcased Brown’s trademark seamless melding West African and Eurocentric contemporary dance styles and choreographic cannons. The Auturo O’Farrill Afro-Cubian score, featuring West African drum laced jazz, complemented Brown’s movement and choreographic intent.
Clad in red and blue sleeveless coveralls choreographers and performers Rashaun Mitchell + Silas Riener’s Desire Liar opened with Mitchell initiating sporadic upper body movement juxeposed by Riener’s stillness. The ensuing tete-a-tete quickly established a dialog the dancers easily communicated beyond the footlights. The work evolved into a courting ritual with primal undertones. Mitchell and Silas did not mimic or borrow from any one ethnicity; instead the duo defined their own indigeneity. By combining strong sculptural elements, grounded rhythmic contemporary inspired movement, and the simple and subtle balance of symmetric and asymmetrical imagery Rashaun Mitchell + Silas Riener’s created a work with a visually pleasing Calder-que lightness.
How Come U Don’t Call Me Anymore choreographed by Al Blackstone with Billy Griffin and featuring James Whiteside combined two favorite themes sex and murder. This fun fantasy (a cross between Looking for Mr. Goodbar and American Pyscho) was actual a duet with an ensemble of five male dancers, in this case suitors.
Throughout the work James Whiteside encountered his hunky object of desire in what is best described as a mix of ambivalence and lust. Between encounters Whiteside systematic and violently incapacitates the ensemble with black widow veracity. The dance gave a new meaning to Prince’s falsetto manifesto.
Acosta Danza presented Nosotros; an impassioned duet choreographed by Beatriz Garcia and Raul Reinoso. Clad in provocative beige lace jumper and suspendered shorts respectively dancers Mario Sergio and Reinoso explored emotions of love and loss. The most overtly erotic work on the program combined a pleasing blend of strength and fragility cleverly avoided predictable clichés creating a sense of anticipation.
Dancer Michael Blake opened Lorin Latarro’s For Those Before with an expansive and welcoming arms open greeting, setting the tone for this inviting and holistic work. Dancers of varied ethnicities, body types, disciplines and ages co-existed onstage making a subtle yet thunderously profound statement. Latarro’s strong use of imagery cleverly explored taboo relationships with pathos, grace and good choreographic form.
Caleb Teicher & Company combined swing and jazz dance, partnering and a welcomed dash of 30’s/40’s movie musical razzle-dazzle to create a delightful homage to jazz legend Ella Fitzgerald. With Fred and Ginger high-energy precision, and clean crisp partnering Names playfully disarmed the audience. The shared lead/follow responsibilities avoided roleplaying; and coincidently this was the only duet that ended with the couple still together. Who knew the two nerds from the Big Bang Theory had the right relationship formula.
Tatakai by choreographer Manuel Vignoulle for Makers Dance Company closed the program with a testosterone charged ensemble work for seven men. This dance narrative inspired by the Samurai battle of Sekigahara transported us to Japan’s tumultuous Sengoku era (1467- 1603). Vignoulle’s decision to create a “storytelling ballet” set very high artistic goals.
Ballet staples peppered the work. A la seconde turns pulling into multiple pirouettes en dehors, flurries of pristine batterie, and lots of boundless jetes exploding in mid air extracted well deserve applause. Unfortunately these elements also undercut Vignoulle’s choreographic intent.
His strong architectural design and imagery, Eric Winterling’s striking costumes, and an incredible cast (courtesy American Ballet Theatre) could not compensate for the under explored character develop. In excerpts and smaller works characters having to be quickly established then slowly revealed. This essential component allows the dance narrative to build empathy, camaraderie, and even distain for the characters; thus bonding performer and spectator. Fortunately developing this element is well within the scope of this talented emerging choreographer.
The present political rhetoric’s foul stench has not cast a cloud over basic human decency. This is an attempt by small minds (and small hands) to erase the hard fought gains toward a more inclusive and tolerant global society. Artists must continue to use their craft as a weapon to combat injustice. We must remain a voice for the silent, vulnerable and underserved.
For 23 years the Fire Island Dance Festival has championed inclusiveness, and healing through the arts. The Fire Island Dance Festival provides assistance with great artistry, compassion, and the occasional pirouette. Your support for Dancers Responding To AIDS is welcome year round. If you would like to make a donation and find out more about the services offered visit dradance.org.
Photos By: 1. Yuris Norido 2, 5, 9, 10, 11, 12. Daniel Roberts 3, 4, 6, 7, 8. Whitney Browne