Party for Pennsylvania Ballet’s Barbara Weisberger, chat by Limón Dance Company’s Carla Maxwell and American Virtuosi’s Kenneth Hamrick, Dance Place opens its season by honoring Alan M. and Sali Ann Kriegsman, DC Metro Dance Awards 2006 

by George Jackson
copyright ©2006
by George Jackson

Festivities started the new dance season, 2006-7. The thermometer still did a summer jeté on Saturday, September 9 when Pennsylvania Ballet threw a birthday party for its founder and first director, Barbara Weisberger. The event — at the Philadelphia Art Alliance, a grand old house at Rittenhouse Square — brought out many of the company’s 1960s dancers and supporters. Mme. Barbara, in a dragon-fire China silk jacket over a midnight black dress, was majestic and motherly. PB’s artistic director Roy Kaiser managed the emceeing with easy efficiency.

This year the Clarice Smith Center at the U. of Maryland’s College Park campus didn’t have a reception after the opening of its dance series but instead a post-performance discussion. Carla Maxwell (artistic director of the Limón Dance Company) and Kenneth Hamrick (the American Virtuosi orchestra’s director and conductor) stood in front of the Kay Theatre’s orchestra pit with hand-held microphones on September 14 to talk about their new collaboration. It is to last at least three years. Hamrick was very complimentary about Jose Limón’s choice of music and how the choreographer’s dances meshed with composers’ meanings and moods. No question that on this evening the dancers showed greater amplitude than in their recent performances to recorded music. Even so, some of the lifts looked awkward and some of the bodies badly matched. I was surprised to hear Maxwell say that two weeks of rehearsal had preceded this opening.

Last year, after the Limón’s appearances at Kennedy Center, there was a flurry of messages that claimed the reviewers — including me — were being too kind to the company.  That may have been true. Were we overlooking the flaws and becoming used to insufficiently inspired renditions because the dancing Limón made purposely sidesteps high polish, acute edge and the look of indestructibility?  Those characteristics are more typical of Martha Graham’s choreography, whereas Limón dancers often have to feel, probe and strive for the movements they are allotted — which is difficult to rehearse, and to repeat in repertory.  

Individuals in the current Limón lineup — particularly Roxane D’Orleans Juste, Kurt Douglas and Francisco Ruvalcaba — are very presentable. Yet in “The Moor’s Pavane” (to Purcell music) and “Missa Brevis” (Kodaly) they didn’t make powerful enough impacts. Nor, in the past, did Limón and his first casts always live up to what was intended!

Also for its Maryland program the Limón company danced Lar Lubovitch’s pleasant, balletomodern Mozart “Concerto K 622” with Colin Savage as flute soloist. Hamrick was organist as well as conductor for “Missa Brevis” with singing by the U. of Maryland Concert Choir directed by Ed Maclary. Yes, despite the dancing’s imperfections, the live music made the dancers more, well, lively.

Buffets and divertissements were offered by DC’s Dance Place for the opening of its 26th season. Nothing about the divertissements was frivolous. Some were serious, others celebratory. Philadelphia’s Tania Isaac, in her excerpt from “Standpipe”, was singularly intense as she inched forward while balancing in kneeling and squatting positions on 4 tin cans that she moved along with her as she “snailed” across the floor. The dignity with which she carried herself reflected the pride of women who carry heavy burdens in head baskets. A chorus of 4 women accompanied Isaac in this very contemporary dance tinged with venerable African traditions.

The lovely Gesel Mason transformed herself into someone ill, unkempt and awkward for Donald McKayle’s “Saturday’s Child”: a powerful performance. McKayle had originally danced the solo himself at age 18 in 1948. Counterpoint between Helanius J. Wilkins’ stance and movement and that of Hunter Carter caught the disruption caused in individual bodies and minds and in the body politic by AIDS, the race issue and the generation gulf. This duet, “Crap Shoot: Assumptions vs. Truth”, is part of Wilkins’s “Cold Case”. All the foregoing pieces, the program’s first three, used spoken text to enrich the dancing, not to replace movement with words.

Two dances shared very private moments with viewers. Andrea and Daniel Burkholder made her precision and confidence as an aerialist and his spontaneity and confidence as an improviser into a gentle yet not overly sentimental dance about newly weds. This duet, “How We”, also featured a swing. In “Solo (Excerpt)”,  Nejla Y. Yatkin — pacing, extending her body and tearing apart a letter while Bach resounded from a cello — was a woman one had to wonder about.

Group energy built compellingly yet with subtlety in percussive dancing by Step Afrika! However, Coyaba Dance Theater’s drumming and frantic action had a clobbering effect indoors.

The Kriegsmans — he the writer on dance who thinks in depth and sees the grand perspective, and she the administrator (formerly of the National Endowment for the Arts’ Dance Panel, the Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival, etc.) who never lost the true fan’s twinkle in her eye — looked ever so simply human when Dance Place’s director, Carla Perlo, asked them to rise. Perlo stated the reasons why she, her co-director Deborah Riley and their institution were honoring this couple. The reasons made sense. Beyond these it was apparent that there was love — shared by many in the audience cramming Dance Place that night and in particular by dance historian Suzanne Carbonneau who told us about the accomplishments of Sali Ann and Mike (as Alan M. is familiarly called). Dance Place had a great night on this September 16, but things didn’t end then and there.

Two nights later, on September 18 in Kennedy Center’s Terrace Theater, the Metro DC Dance Awards were handed out, and one of the most prestigious prizes — the Alan M. Kriegsman Award — was given to Ms. Perlo for her founding and long-time running of Dance Place, the Washington area’s most constant presenter of dance, an activity adjoined to dance classes and outreach, particularly youth programs in needy neighborhoods.  There were 15 other awards: Outstanding Youth Performance to Joy of Motion’s Youth Ensemble directed by Helen Hayes; Excellence In Stage Design to Joyce Ellen Weinstein for “Cold Case”; Excellence in Lighting Design to Enoch Chan for “Mermaids and Other Tales of Truth”; Most Emerging Performance to Culture Shock DC; Excellence in Costume Design to Laurel Victoria Gray of the Silk Road troupe; Most Emerging Choreographer to Vincent E. Thomas; the Pola Nirenska Achievement Award to CityDance’s Paul Gordon Emerson for his vision and actualization of dance repertory; the Pola Nirenska Award for Lifetime Achievement to the Vienna-born and trained Hedi Pope whose teaching and company directing have enriched the Washington area since the 1940s; Outstanding New Work also to V.E. Thomas for his “Grandmother Project”; Outstanding Group Performance to Daniel Burkholder’s The Playground group for “together/apart”; Excellence in Sound Design or Original Composition to Sven Abow for “Cold Case”; Outstanding in Dance Education to Yvonne Edwards; Outstanding Overall Production: Small Venue to Nejla Y. Yatkin’s “De/Reconstructing Mata Hari” and Large Venue to Maida Withers’ Dance Construction Company for ”Thresholds Crossed”;  Outstanding Individual Performance to Nejla Yatkin again for “Mata Hari”. Scattered throughout the presentations were performances. These were by such past award winners as Belafon West African Dance Ensemble, Naoko Maeshiba and Tatsuya Aoyagi, The Washington School of Ballet, Ed Tyler’s dancers and the Step Afrika! company. The post-awards party at the 600 Restaurant in Watergate lasted past midnight.    

Photos (from top):
Limón Dance Company in "Missa Brevis." Photo by Scott Groler.
Nejla Y. Yatkin. Photo by Lois Greenfield.

Volume 4, No. 34
September 25, 2006

copyright ©2006 George Jackson



©2006 DanceView