This evening we went out to Forest Park in Glendale, specifically to the Dry Harbor Playground on the park's northern edge of Myrtle Avenue, to see Dance Entropy, Valerie Green's Long Island City-based modern dance company perform a trio of their works, including the popular "Splash," for an audience of kids, parents, and unrelated oldsters like us. It was a terrific show, esthetically pleasing as well as fun for humans of all ages.
Once we learned to drive, the Queens park that we probably spent the most time at was Forest Park in Glendale. Our first girlfriend lived on Kings Highway and Church Avenue (the little sliver of just a couple of houses was technically East 58th Street), and we sometimes picked her up on a Saturday morning and drove through nearby Brownsville onto the curvy Interboro Parkway (now the Jackie Robinson) into Forest Park.
Later in the 1970s, we dated a guy who lived in Ridgewood and met halfway between our neighborhoods, on Pennsylvania Avenue in East New York, and again, Forest Park was just a parkway ride (albeit one with lots of blind spots - but our relationship had them too) away. And it's a beautiful setting to walk in alone or with a friend.
Anyway, we hadn't been to Forest Park in years - the nearest we've come are our trips to the The Shops of Atlas Park "lifestyle commons" a bit to the north on 80th Street by Cooper Avenue; it reminds us of the centers like Desert Ridge Marketplace and Weston Town Center near our homes in Phoenix and South Florida.
Tonight we took the L train from Lorimer Street to Myrtle/Wyckoff, which is where the Q55 bus begins its run east on Myrtle through Ridgewood and Glendale all the way to Richmond Hill. We got off by the park's entrance (and the entrance to the Jackie Robinson Parkway) and walked across to the playground, which is named Dry Harbor because that was the original colonial name for Glendale.
We spotted pretty flowers on the way.
The dance company was just being introduced when we got there. Between fifty and seventy people were in the audience, sitting on blankets or bicycles or sitting or standing on the imaginative playground equipment.
After reading obituaries yesterday of the great and legendary Merce Cunningham, we wanted to see some dance performance this evening, preferably (as usual) one for free. Valerie Green is a talented choreographer and a dancer who's received excellent press notices. For example, the Village Voice, reviewing a performance at the Cunningham Studio in February 2005, wrote:
Valerie Green channels feminine power. Two solos showcased her articulate, fearless, intelligent dancing. In Naked Heart, a collaboration with Mariko Tanabe, Green threw herself into intricacies of phrase variation. Whipping her Pre-Raphaelite hair into animalistic frenzy and driven by urgent, grinding hips, she seemed a courtesan imprisoned by the solitude of her sex, before pausing to recall serenity. The naturalism and ritualistic quality of Loss and Desire illuminated her roots as the daughter of a Serbian mother and as a member of the Erick Hawkins troupe. After performing an invocation with water, Green lumped piles of earth into the approximate form of a human body while Gypsy music crescendoed. Planting herself in the dirt and holding a stone aloft, she became both mourner and symbol of hope. A trio danced by Ashley Smith, Jessica Weiss, and Jill Causa, Echo of a Trace, captured an elemental feminine energy in what might have been Green's retelling of the Arachne myth.
Her troupe's work is, however, accessible to kids; the most impressive thing we noticed this evening was that the dancers had the kids, by and large, in rapt attention, and that held true for probably ballet-mad little princesses of five or six or the tween boys who watched attentively from their bikes outside the gates on Myrtle Avenue.
Walking around the crowd during the performance of the three pieces, we overheard a boy of maybe 10 say to his dad, "This wasn't made just for kids, was it?" He thought the movements were "weird" and "funny" but he intuited that behind the playfulness and enthusiastic energy, there was something more there, something he figured he was too young to "get."
The reason this was such a great example of arts education and arts appreciation for kids was not just that it invited audience participation in each of the three works, but that it didn't talk down to children. Even the crowd-pleasing "Splash," done using buckets of water in all of its mundane uses (from swimming to crying), wasn't - um - watered down.
We aren't Jack Anderson, Clive Barnes, Deborah Jowitt or that sourpuss lady at The New Yorker whose name we can't recall, so we share with the kids a lack of vocabulary to discuss the works critically in a sophisticated way. Obviously someone who really understands dance would "get" stuff that we or the 10yo boy can't.
The first piece, "Dandia," Valerie explained, is based on an Indian dance with sticks. Her company held these sticks with orangish ribbons and used them to varied effects during the performance. Okay, we Googled when we got home and found that, originating in northern India,
this dance form is actually the staging of a mock-fight between the Goddess and Mahishasura, the mighty demon-king, and is nicknamed "The Sword Dance". The sticks of the dance represent the sword of Durga. The women wear traditional dresses such as colorful embroidered choli, ghagra and bandhani dupattas (traditional attire) dazzling with mirror work and heavy jewellery. The Men wear special turbans and kedias, but can range from area to area.
The dancers whirl and move their feet and arms in a choreographed manner to the tune of the music with lots of drum beats. The dhol is used as well as complimentary percussion instruments such as the dholak, tabla and others. The true dance gets extremely complicated and energetic. The Raas is associated with bhang also known as marijuana whereas the dance of Punjab, Bhangra is associated with alcohol, and both of these dances are associated with the time of harvest.
We also found an article in the Tribune during Valerie's trip to India. We like the Indian English in this report from Chandigarh (where one of our closest friends goes often to visit her relatives):
No exaggeration. There are two kinds of people in this world—ones that can dance and others who just exist! For the ‘so-called’ mere bodily movements are a universal language, way of life, in short, parallel existence!
On Wednesday another testimony to the fact, called Valerie Green, came calling. The New York based artist possesses all the credentials to be ‘one-stop-shop’ for modern dances.
Says Valerie, “I have been dancing since I was three and been into it for over three decades now.” Here to conduct a workshop on Contemporary Modern Dance Techniques brought by the Chandigarh Institute of Performing Arts, she’s looking forward to her two weeks stay in India.
Not just teach, she’s here to learn as well and will be receiving training on various folk dance forms; Bhangra, ghoomar, dandia. She says, “I’ve always been dancing, became interested in teaching and do choreography as well. In America they say, I wear many hats.”
What’s her dance like? Says Valerie, “It’s very organic, free flowing and the basis of movements initiates from the pelvis.” Organic? She adds, “It’s done barefoot. Something like ballet is not organic. Also, you make it from nothing.” So one can create a dance about war, struggle etc.
“Like there’s this one dance on waters and abstract on twilight and other using colourful music different costumes.” Spelling it to T; ‘Erick Hawkins based modern dance techniques’, is how she has named her technique. Graduate in dance from the university of Wisconsin-Madison, Valerie formed her own Dance Company in 1998 and has a studio.
Is it from genes? She says, “My mom did folk dance in Serbia, former Yugoslavia.” When the subject meanders on dance can the music be far behind? She says, “I use Balkan music, Indian gypsy music, French music.” Before winding up, a pearl of wisdom, straight from the expert, “It’s better to understand one particular form because that creates a solid foundation.”
Anyway, the kids got involved at the end of "Dandia" as they were given their own thin little sticks (chopsticks?) for them to dance with.
The next piece, "Chiquita Chiquita," was our favorite of three excellent works. It used wonderful props such as colorful straw hats, blankets, little plastic windmills, in imaginative ways.
The Dance Entropy website calls "Chiquita Chiquita" "[a] humorously, absurd performance manipulating and transforming a multiplicity of props used in unexpected ways. This colorful work, full of surprises is accompanied by the retro-exotica lounge music."
The sprightly music was as finely tuned to the story of the dance as the performers' movements and gestures. The 18-minute work is playful and bold, entertaining for kids - who later were showcased as they came up (very enthusiastically, with ooh, ooh arms raised to participate) to discuss the various expected and unexpected ways the props were employed - but you didn't have to be a kid to appreciate both the cleverness and the complexity of the physical double entendres.
The last piece, "Splash," was pure magic. Since it was performed a couple of months ago at Harry's at Water Taxi Beach in Long Island City, presumably it works for adults, even inebriated ones, that it's not a kids' dance.
Originally created for a drained outdoor pool (McCarren?) with 14 dancers in brightly colored buckets filled with water, "Splash" worked really well in the outdoor setting of the playground; we liked seeing the foot and car traffic on Mytrle Avenue in the background.
This dance is a structured improvisation to an exciting collage of music about water by such artists as Sound Gallery, Parliament, Led Zeppelin, Bilja Krstic, Doobie Brothers, Rusted Roots, Streams, Esquivel. Louis Prima, Las Toalistas, and Dakota Station.
We especially loved "Cry Me a River" and "Up a Lazy River" and how the dancers used them in the 11-minute performance.
Afterwards, the kids, joined by some adults, came to the little buckets for their own movements, guided and not by the Dance Entropy company, whose members include Amy Tennant Adams, Andrea Brown, Sarah Hartley, Erin Hunter Jennings, Joanie Johnson, Kristin Licata, Jen Painter and Ashlea Palafox.
The kids and parents and the rest of us in the audience applauded the dancers and their interactive selves.
It really was a wonderful event, and if you can get a chance to see Valerie Green/Dance Entropy, you'll be as lucky as we were.
We left the playground and Forest Park in a good mood, which wasn't spoiled even when a crazy young man came up to us while we were waiting for the Myrtle Avenue bus back to the subway to Williamsburg and said, "You know, you remind me of Mel Gibson."
He proceeded to talk our ears off with psychotic nonsense during the Q55 ride, but we were filled with good feelings from the performance so we didn't quite mind learning his opinions of Halle Barry's various hairstyles or why Terence Howard was a better choice for a role than Don Cheadle.
At least we couldn't have made a better choice of an event for the early evening.