Ruric Amari. Photo courtesy of Samovar Dance Company
Ashes in the Storm
Samovar Dance Company
Review by Kathi E. B. Ellis
Entire contents copyright © 2015 Kathi E. B. Ellis. All rights reserved.
Saturday evening’s program, Ashes in the Storm, was the second of two programs Samovar Dance Company has offered this fall. This one was promoted as a fusion of many forms of Eastern dance traditions with more contemporary dance forms in an exploration of the four elements of earth, air, wind, and fire.
The company was down one dancer (injured earlier in the day) and that was unfortunate as at least three solos or duets was cut from the program as a result of the injury, and several dances were performed with one less dancer, which impacted the overall stage pictures for those pieces. It also meant that the themes of the evening were unbalanced as not all elements, and their interactions, were represented.
Nonetheless, the show did go on and the company is to be applauded for that decision. It would have been helpful, however, if the spokesperson at the beginning of the evening had announced which dances would be cut from the program so the audience did not have to guess or scramble through their playbills.
Ruric Amari, the founder and main dancer of the company, is clearly the most experienced dancer of the troupe. “Illumination,” which she both choreographed and danced, was the highlight of the evening. Amari’s command of the full stage was assured. Her use of the two veils as both part of the intricate choreography and extensions of her body was mesmerizing, as she and the colored fabric swirled through the air and space. Later in the program Amari also danced “The Tides in the Moonlight” as a solo (injured dancer Nicolette Boese was also listed for this piece) rather than a duet. Again, her assurance on stage mitigated anything missed owing to the absence of Boese. This blend of ballet with touches of ballet danced to a modern, upbeat interpretation of Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata provided an interesting take on moonlight – usually considered ‘cool’ or ‘serene’ – as the hotness of the beat and moves transformed a typically tranquil conceit.
This piece also leads to an observation about costuming. For “Moonlight” Amari was in a deep violet costume, appropriately moonlight-like, and for “Rhythm in the Air” an off-white costume. The promotional images on Samovar’s website show various dancers in stunning costumes for each element, and they are in colors which embody our ideas about the elements. This was not carried into every piece of the evening, and it added to the confusion of which piece was being danced when, given the absence of one dancer. At the beginning of the evening “Oceana” was in shades of blue and green, but it would have been more cohesive for the overall theme of the evening if color and element had been more consistently complementary.
One familiar piece of contemporary music was the use of Israel Kamakawiwo’ole’s “Somewhere Over the Rainbow”, in a charming piece titled “Dreams of Water and Air” in which the Hula form suggested the dreams of the girls and gestural mime embodied sections of the lyrics of the song.
The first half of the evening ended with “Wind” choreographed by Boese, danced as a solo by Katie Kasari in Boese’s absence. While it worked as a solo, I suspect that the floor patterns are intended to be much more complex with two dancers’ bodies traveling through the space. Bringer’s French Canadiennes sounded like a live recording at a concert as the Clifton audience could hear both voices and applauding on the soundtrack. This was distracting – in part because the small audience did not join in. Kasari, nonetheless, danced with confidence, clearly enjoying playing with the forms of both Irish and belly dancing, a unique fusion indeed.
The two full-company pieces “The Elements Collide” and “Water Consumes Us” begin to suggest the strengths of this dance company. There is a range of experience in the company, and when the dancers with more training are integrated with those whose training is of merely a few years, the collective abilities shine through in the ensemble work. “The Elements Collide” was costumed in brilliant colors, and as the dancers manipulated the fan veils in sophisticated patterns together with complex floor patterns the Clifton stage exploded with energy and color. “Water Consumes Us” did, as the program note suggests, bring the company together in ‘one last show of unity and strength’ demonstrating that even with one dancer short the company can make a performance engaging.
Rounding out the company of dancers are Ravisha Benny, Erica LaViolette, Theresa Huynh, and Michelle Gross. Their bios demonstrate that it is their passion and intrigue that has drawn them to dance forms that are frequently unfamiliar to American audiences; even those who consider themselves dance fans. Amari teaches a wide range of dance including Bharatanatyam (traditional Indian), Egyptian, and Hawaiian; and she and Boese choreograph both within those forms and across these and other forms for an intriguing blend of world dance traditions.
Louisville has a small, dedicated core of dance aficionados and it is to be hoped that these dance enthusiasts find their way to Samovar Dance Company when they announce their 2016 season. The Kentucky Center has recently recommitted to modern dance programming, there are two modern dance companies offering one or two concerts a year, Flamenco Louisville, the Louisville Ballet of course, and Dreamland occasionally programs dance artists. Louisville dance fans should add Samovar to their list of dance options in the coming months; it’s been many seasons since Louisville audiences have been able to attend such a wide range of dance genres as are available to us at this time.
Ashes in the Storm
October 24, 2015
Samovar Dance Company
At The Clifton Center
2117 Payne Street
Louisville, KY 40206
Kathi E.B. Ellis is a member of the Lincoln Center and Chicago Directors’ Labs and an associate member of the Stage Directors & Choreographers Society. She has attended the LaMama Directing Symposium in Umbria, Italy, and is featured in Southern Artisty, an online registry of outstanding Southern Artists. Her directing work has been recognized with nominations for the South Florida Theatre Carbonell Award. Locally, Kathi is a member of Looking for Lilith Theatre Company, a founding principal of StageLab theatre training studio, and is part of ShoeString Productions an informal producing collective. She has written book reviews and articles for Southern Theatre, the quarterly publication of the Southeastern Theatre Conference, and was a contributing writer for JCPS’ textbook for the 11th grade Arts and Humanities survey course and for YouthArts Tapestry, a Kentucky Arts Council publication.