Photo courtesy Louisville Dance Series.
Louisville Dance Series
Review by Kathi E.B. Ellis
Entire contents copyright © 2018 Kathi E.B. Ellis. All rights reserved.
This performance marked the second year several Louisville-area dance companies gathered together for a performance of varied dance styles. This year the companies were Flamenco Louisville, Kasari Dance, Keen Dance Theatre, Moving Collective, Suspend Performing Arts and Vandiver Ford Dance Company. In addition several choreographers showcased pieces they had created for groups of dancers that were not attributed to particular companies.
The most positive aspect of this program is that there are six companies in Louisville that bring diverse genre and cultural perspectives on dance. Some of the companies work with artists from beyond Louisville, adding a level of logistics that makes creation that much more challenging. Nonetheless, the afternoon presented a wide range of proficiency and interest to its audience in the Bomhard Theatre, Kentucky Center for the Arts.
By far the most professional dance company in the program was Flamenco Louisville. They presented a level of technical assurance and artistic flair, supported by live music that brought a verve and energy to the afternoon. Their three pieces reflected the traditional (Sevillanas) and explored how contemporary choreographers and performers can work within the traditional form. Ensemble member Paula Collins choreographed an elegant Solea, and the five dancers were credited with choreographing their individual solos in the Bulerias – each clearly demonstrating their unique strengths as Flamenco dancers. Likewise, cantadora Shannon Fitzgerald and guitarist Paul T. Carney are credited with adapting traditional melodies.
Cellist Ben Sollee, in support of Bend from Vandiver Ford Company, provided the other live music. It was an unexpected treat to experience his work in this program. Josh Ford and Lauren Vandiver Ford were two of the more accomplished dancers of the afternoon, but the choreography fell into the same trap of several pieces: when there is text (sung or spoken) is the movement literal, metaphorical or abstract? This piece’s response to this choice was muddled. The company’s first piece on the program was Beat Rush, with an ensemble of five women and one man, Lucas Cassetto, whose impressive elevation and elegant line repeatedly drew the eye, regardless of the work of the other dancers.
There were several other pieces in which text was included. And dance companies are to be applauded that they are experimenting with what “accompaniment” and collaboration can be – examples have been seen by Louisville audiences this spring from the Urban Bush Women and the Louisville Ballet. But not all are completely successful. The most successful on Saturday was Keen Dance Theatre’s ensemble movement in Sanctified, in which the abstracted movement was clearly inspired by the hymn melody and lyrics.
Much less successful was Moving Collective’s Mary, Mary, Mary which started to a voice-over of dubious histories of Mary Tudor, Mary Queen of Scots, and Mary, Mother of Jesus – and a male voice at that – in apparent oblivion to the irony of stating that this piece was honoring strong women, but not in their voice. Choreographers Theresa Bautista and Ina Conoley Paladino lurched between derivative gesture and almost-metaphorical movement for each of the Marys. The color palette for the dancers was odd; blue is often associated with the Virgin Mary, and yet she was in a grey skirt while the other two, royal, women were in blue rather than a more royal (and liturgically possible) red or purple.
Her-ricane, choreographed by Jasmine Snellen confused me. One of the music tracks was the traditional white Appalachian ballad “Black is the Color of my True Love’s Hair” sung by Nina Simone. Dancers Snellen and Stephen Caldwell may or may not have native backgrounds, but the appearance of a war bonnet on Caldwell was at the least awkward and at the most offensive. At a time when our country is trying to figure out cultural appropriation this piece did not feel provocative and raw, per the program notes, but oblivious to the nuances of negotiating shared heritages.
Suspend’s two offerings bridged the intermission – a logistically smart choice in terms of bringing in the frame from which the silks and a box was suspended. And, in theory, including this genre of performance art in a dance program was a good one. World Without Ground was the more intriguing of the two pieces. While I was less enamored of the work on the sofa, the work on the silks was interesting. The same two performers returned with Man Works from Sun to Sun in the suspended box was of much less interest. Anne Broock Miller choreographed both pieces, in collaboration with her dance partner Amberly M. Simpson for the second work. These two dancers also co-created and danced my inch is your mile earlier in the program.
The final piece WALLS, from Kasari Dance company with choreographer Katie Kasari, was arguably the most sophisticated modern dance piece of the afternoon, but ultimately it was too long to sustain the metaphor of being “confined only by the walls you build yourself.” And the use of actual lightweight bricks became an obstacle as it took too much time both to set up and to strike prior to the curtain call. This piece at times seemed to be equally informed by Viewpoints and Jenga, neither with particular effectiveness.
It is significant that Louisville can sustain so many dance ensembles and is fertile ground for individual choreographers. It’s to be hoped that as these companies continue to perform and to present joint performances that all of the companies and performers will continue to enhance their technique and aesthetic, bringing an eclectic range of dance to Louisville audiences.
Full disclosure: Kathi E.B. Ellis has worked with Diana DiNicola and Paul T. Carney of Flamenco Louisville in a variety of theatrical productions.
March 11, 2018
Louisville Dance Series
The Kentucky Center, Bomhard Theater
501 West Main St.
Kathi E.B. Ellis is an associate member of the Stage Directors and Choreographers Society and a member of Lincoln Center and DirectorsLabChicago. She has attended the La MaMa 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 South Florida theatre’s Carbonell Award. Locally, Kathi is a member of Looking for Lilith Theatre Company, a founding principal of StageLab theatre training studio, and 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.