Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Wednesday Afternoon at One New York Plaza: Battery Dance Company presents the 29th Annual Downtown Dance Festival

At noon today we got to One New York Plaza at Whitehall Street between Broad and Water downtown for the fifth day of Battery Dance Company's 29th Annual Downtown Dance Festival. For about ninety minutes we got to enjoy the artistic excellence of premier dancers, with our favorite of some terrific performances coming from Battery Dance Company itself.

We were spurred to go by the article in the New York Times by our favorite dance critic, Alistair Macaulay. (Above is the excellent work of Times photographer Chester Higgins Jr. of Bafana Matea, rear, and Robin Cantrell of Battery Dance Company. The rest of the pics are our little cell phone jobs.)

Macaulay wrote,
Some of the most focused dancing came from the six performers of the Battery Dance Company itself. Mr. Hollander presented two pieces, each to a score donated by the composer: Lukas Foss and Meredith Monk. The Monk work, “Voice Hearers” (2009), is the more substantial, a mainly pure-dance work of shifting geometries and formal interest, undercut by a drama about characters hearing real or imagined accusatory voices. (“Nobody likes you, and you’ll be alone for the rest of your life.”)

We don't have the critical vocabulary to talk intelligently about dance and we're total ignoramuses, so we can't really say much more than "Voice Hearers" blew us away. It was the final dance of today's presentation, and the best ending possible. Wow.

Jonathan Hollander, the Battery Dance Company's artistic director, said, "How many of you think New York is the dance capital of the world?" After hands in the growing crowd on the plaza - it doubled in ten minutes, then doubled again - he said, "I do, too," and said you can see five or six dance events every day of the year here. (But they're not all free like this one!) As Macaulay wrote, Jonathan Hollander has tireless good humor and cheerfully recycles the information when he comes up between the different company performances. He's also a brilliant choreographer, based on what we saw from his company.

The first troupe we saw was Lane & Co (above are Joshua Tuason, Lara Mummert and Joy Voelker from the company) whose artistic director is Lane Gifford. There's an old Peanuts cartoon we remember from our childhood, recycled in the 1969 film A Boy Named Charlie Brown that shows the characters lying on the grass and staring up at the sky:
Lucy: Aren't the clouds beautiful? They look like big balls of cotton. I could just lie here all day and watch them drift by. If you use your imagination, you can see lots of things in the cloud's formations. What do you think you see, Linus?
Linus: Well, those clouds up there look to me look like the map of the British Honduras on the Caribbean. [points up] That cloud up there looks a little like the profile of Thomas Eakins, the famous painter and sculptor. And that group of clouds over there... [points] me the impression of the Stoning of Stephen. I can see the Apostle Paul standing there to one side.
Lucy: Uh huh. That's very good. What do you see in the clouds, Charlie Brown?
Charlie Brown: Well... I was going to say I saw a duckie and a horsie, but I changed my mind.

That would be our comments next to a dance critic's, or really, anyone who attends dance events regularly. Macauley wrote,
The graceful objectivity of Joshua Tuason’s dancing made a particularly fine impression in two pieces by Lane Gifford, performed by Lane & Co.: “Off White” (a trio suggesting one woman’s jealousy of, and separation from, another male-female relationship) and the dance sextet “Bi-Coastal.”

We did at least get what "Off White" was about, and we liked both works.

The other Land & Co dancers were Mistral Hay, Sean Gannon, Dave Scarantino. "Bi-Coastal" had music by J.S. Bach, Chopin, Daniel Figgis and Phil Kline; we really liked its sense of narrative. (Okay, okay, we got that comment from our little friend shown above.)

The next dancer was the brilliant Blakely White-McGuire, who's currently a principal dancer with the Martha Graham Dance Company, and the piece she choreographed and performed in, "Woman," was stunning. We have no idea how she could do what she did.

Or as an intelligent person (Macaulay again) wrote,
The two female performers of Blakeley White-McGuire’s “Woman,” Jacqueline Elder and Ms. White-McGuire, moved together through a range of dance moods — adagio with mutual partnering, separate floorwork, traveling with jumps — with elegant control throughout.
Actually, it helps someone like us to read about what we already saw and liked. The next company we saw was Dušan Týnek Dance Theatre. This Czech choreographer is a bit of an anomaly nowadays: he makes dances, formal ones, set to Baroque music that burst with leaps, turns and lifts. (That was Gia Kourlas, writing in the Times two years ago.)

Kourlas also wrote about the three-part (Annunciation, Trinity, Resurrection) "Fleur-de-lis":
[Set] to violin sonatas by Heinrich von Biber, Mr. Tynek strives on the surface for a quality of air and light. But as fond as he is of sending his dancers gliding through space — fast — Mr. Tynek is also engrossed with the possibilities of weight. Much of his plush movement is based on opposition, or the tension created when dancers draw energy from the floor and pull away from it.

What made the work great to watch for us was the interesting partnering between two dancers, who included, in addition to the choreographer, Alexandra Berger, Ann Chiaverini, Elisa Osborne, Satoshi Takao (sigh), and Aaron Walter.

Next, Classical Contemporary Ballet Theatre did this amazing work, "Lush Mechanique," with choreography by their artistic director James R. Atkinson.

Macaulay wrote that Atkinson's work is "striking in the ways he tips ballet beyond convention." We love Jami Sieber's music, so this was a real treat for us.

The excellent performers were Chie Mukai, Jill Schulster, Yuka Omori, Mona Afable, Nikki Hefko, Gierre Godley, Lester Badenoch and Chris Fishburne.

About five minutes after we sat down, we gave up our seat to an elderly Indian woman with a cane, but we enjoyed being cross-legged on the ground, as did about fifty to seventy other people once the seats were gone. It was lunchtime in the Financial District and some people were enjoying the beautiful day, dance, and eating their lunch at the same time.

As we said, the Battery Dance Company simply astounded us. We really were impressed by "Squint," with Carmen Nicole and Oliver Tobin, but then we saw "Voice Hearers." As we said before, Wow. The brilliant dancers were Robin Cantrell, Bafana Matea, Carmen Nicole, Sean Scantlebury, and Mayuna Shimizu.

Here they are taking their bow. The guy on the left is bringing up a bouquet that would surprise Mayuna Shimizu; this was her last time with Battery Dance Company.

Jonathan Hollander came on and thanked the audience and also had us give it up for all those who work offstage to keep the Downtown Dance Festival going after all these years. Then brave and very talented audience members got up to volunteer and go onstage for "Everybody Dance Now!" in which the choreographer and dancers put regular people through some improvisations leading to the kind of movements in "Voice Hearers."

It was a great afternoon of dance. The only thing we didn't like seeing onstage was in "Voice Hearers" when the round mirror briefly showed the reflection of a really ugly guy in a maroon Brooklyn College T-shirt. Thanks to Battery Dance Company!

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