Saturday, July 17, 2010

Saturday Night in Long Island City: "Dance of Light," cheoreography by Vernard J. Gilmore & Abdur-Rahim Jackson at Queensbridge Park

Tonight we were lucky enough to be at beautiful Queensbridge Park for a splendid performance of fourteen innovative works in "Dance of Light," cheoreography by Vernard J. Gilmore and Abdur-Rahim Jackson.

We started out late, and getting from Williamsburg to Queensbridge Park usually involves multiple trips via trains and buses, but thanks to the MTA weekend track work on the G train, we got a direct route from our corner to the Queensbridge Projects door. One quick bus, and we were there in twenty minutes.

"Dance of Light" by the two choreographers, both of them acclaimed performers, debuted over the winter at the Ailey Citigroup Theatre.

"Dance of Light" was scheduled for 8 p.m., but a big crowd had already gathered by 7 p.m.

For the first hour, we watched an amazing, exuberant dance teacher, Calvin Wylie, do a workshop with kids from the audience.

It was terrifically entertaining to see what he could do with the kids in such a short time: essentially have them do a little show. Their talents and enthusiasm level varied greatly, of course, but Calvin spotlighted the extraordinary dancers among them and encouraged some of the less, uh, energetic. It was a heartening experience.

The cheoreographers took the stage before "Dance of Light" to read a statement about their work:

The Dance of Light project was created to rejuvenate the Artist and the Dance. We believe dance is not just steps but a way of being. We want to inspire passion through form and technique allowing the Dancer and the Choreographer to grow continuously. By creating with the artists we are able to push past all boundaries allowing everyone to be an important entity. The Approach, in return allows the world to see it's Light. We truly believe that the beauty of simplicity is the complexity it attracts.

Vernard J. Gilmore, a member of the Alvin Ailey company since 1997, began dancing at Curie Performing and Creative Arts High School in Chicago and later studied at the Joseph Holmes Chicago Dance Theatre. He attended Barat College as a dance scholarship recipient and received first place in the all-city NAACP ACT-SO Competition in Dance in 1993. He studied as a fellowship student at The Ailey School and was a member of Ailey II. Mr. Gilmore is an active choreographer for the Ailey Dancers Resource Fund, and has choreographed for Fire Island Dance Festival 2008 and Jazz Foundation of America Gala 2010. He continues to teach workshops and master classes around the world. Mr. Gilmore joined the Company in 1997.

Abdur-Rahim Jackson, also a member of the Alvin Ailey company, is a graduate of Philadedlphia's Franklin Learning Center High School and received his B.F.A. from The Juilliard School. He received scholarships from Freedom Theatre, Philadanco, Dance Theatre of Harlem, Boston Ballet and The Ailey School. Mr. Jackson received a Marion D. Cuyjet Award and was featured in the 2003 PBS “American Masters” documentary Juilliard. He danced with Ailey II in 2000 and joined the Company in 2001.

Full disclosure: For the past four years we've taught young dancers in the B.F.A. program at Fordham College at Lincoln Center's partnership with the Ailey School. They rush off from our very early morning English class to their demanding dance classes; we admire not only their talent but their incredible discipline, which we find makes them very diligent writing students. Some of them (mostly not our own students) were dancing tonight.

But that experience teaching writing and literature, and seeing them and the Ailey company and other dance companies over the years, hasn't really given us the ability to write an intelligent critique of a performance; we simply don't have the background or the vocabulary, even though we've seen some of these performers previously at Ailey. We are totally untutored enthusiasts, probably like a lot of the people, though clearly not all, at Queensbridge Park.

And our pathetic cell phone pics only diminish the experience of dance that we and the rest of the audience encountered tonight (especially since we gave up our seat to an elderly Chinese lady; the increasing darkness made our usual blurry pics even worse).

So we'll just limit ourselves to saying how much we enjoyed the fourteen pieces by Jackson and Gilmore in "Dance of Light." Our particular favorite was "Down Wit It," a two-man dance by Gilmore that was both explicitly homoerotic and seemed a devastating metaphor for HIV infection. Yusaku Komori and Christopher Hernandez were excellent here.

All the works were impressive in their variety.

One of the longer pieces, "sHoRt cUtS tAkE lOnGeR" by Abdur-Rahim Jackson, also really impressed us. It was danced by Kirven J. Boyd, Antonio Douthit, Olivia Bowman-Jackson, Megan Jakel (later giving an electric performance in Jackson's "tHe dIfFeReNcE iS bEiNg dIfFeReNt"), and Akua Noni Parker, who did a fascinating solo piece, Jackson's "rOsE vAsE aNd tHe dUsT oN tHe tAbLe." (This choreographer favors titles with alternating upper and lower case letters mimicking movement.)

We also liked the final all-male work by Vernard J. Gilmore, "Communaute d'Hommes," which featured Josh Johnson, Matthew Chiu, Doug Baum, Yusaku Komori, Slim Melo, Joshua King and Christopher Hernandez. (I was far too dark to get anything at that point; below are Hernandez and Komori in "Down Wit It.")

An all-female counterpart (again, not the dance below; we took pics of this beautiful work but they're horribly fuzzy) by Gilmore was "Woman's Work," danced with precision and intelligence by Sarita Allen (amazing), Lakey Evans-Peña, Sophia Brion Meisels, the brilliant Demetia Hopkins (okay, we're prejudiced), Khilea Douglass, Aimee Cox (also a renowned scholar), and Aqura Lacey.

This was a great experience in dance theater by two talented choreographers and some really wonderful performers, a real treat on a warm summer night with the 59th Street Bridge and a crescent moon as a romantic backdrop.

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