The Live Arts Dance Festival, which took place over the past two weekends in downtown Charlottesville, presented a rather thorough view of what’s working in the local dance scene—and what is not. The good news: There are performers out there who can command the audience’s attention. In addition, some choreographers are making dance moves that literally get people whooping and hollering and stomping their feet in time with the music. Other good news: Curiosity abounds. Dances are being combined with film; all manner of music is being tried out. Moreover—and the value of this should not be underestimated—some local dance-makers have a healthy sense of humor about themselves and what they do.
New directions: Members of inFlux (pictured) stayed grounded during the second weekend of the Live Arts Dance Festival.
For the second weekend of LADF, I went to the Friday night show. At times I felt I was IN the Friday night show as the group sitting next to me got loud and physical whenever the winning dancers of Good Foot Dance (two women and one man) took the stage. The traditional percussive dance group made a big tap-happy, slap-busy show, facing square to the audience and beaming, opening with an unaccompanied piece that was probably my favorite dance among the 12 performed by the total four groups that night. They did another four pieces, including the closer, set to the fiddling of Rodney Miller and Airdance. Good Foot performs in a style that’s part Celtic, part step-ball-change, part square dance and, it was clear, the audience gets a kick out of their performance.
Leading UpRooted Dance, Keira Hart-Mendoza has some good ideas. Her duet, “Trace Memories,” performed with Jessie Laurita-Spanglet, incorporated a lovely wriggling motif that made me think of Botticelli’s “Venus.” And there was a pretty gesture of wrapping the inside of the forearm that left an impression. I don’t know why the piece, set to music by Erik Satie and an electronic variation of same, ended when it did. But I can still see some of the moves.
In addition, Hart-Mendoza showed real theatrical ambition with “Short Stories of Entertainment,” a four-parter in which she played the master of ceremonies as she led a quartet of lovelies (including the witty Aaron Wine) through entertainment scenarios that variously exploited attractive, supple women, ending with “America’s Next Top Hot Dancing Ladies.” As might be expected, that segment called for the audience to vote by phone for the winner. It was an overly long piece, but one infused with a recognizable idea, and one that encouraged the performers to project into the crowd.
Seasoned theatergoers might be surprised at the suggestion that projecting into the audience was noteworthy in the dance show, but that was the case, indeed. Next time out, it would be great to see the dancers of R Squared, in particular, reaching into and past the audience with their eyes and faces—to convey their energy forward and out. That maybe will be made easier by a shift in choreographic focus, should it come. On Friday night, there seemed to be something very interesting happening upstage, or at least that is what I had to conclude as minutes ticked by and dancers kept their faces to the rear and their rears to the audience. We are not yet at the point where the backs of most local dancers are as expressive as their fronts can be. Katharine Birdsall of Zen Monkey Project is about the only one in town I can think of who can say something with all aspects of her body.
Rose Pasquarello Beauchamp made “Honey Sweet Pomegranate Seeds” for her group InFlux Dance. She put six dancers on stage and incorporated layers of film as the backdrop, using costumes and music and scattered plastic flowers to move the scene from a pastoral Tinkerbell fantasy to some kind of scream-inducing, hidden assault. I applaud her ambition, especially her effort at group choreography. We have far too little of that in Charlottesville—choreographers attempting to direct a moving mass across the stage.
There’s one other thing we have way too little of, dear local dancers: Leaping! Jumping! Elevation! We know you love gravity. We know it because an awful lot of you spend time sprawled on the floor, much to the chagrin of your friends sitting in the back of the house. No doubt, one of modern dance’s important breaks from ballet came with a decision to direct weight and energy downward. But ultimately, dance without air is really just artistic wrestling. There are many upward steps that local dancers can take, as the Live Arts Dance Festival made clear, and one of those, if you’re asking me, should be literal.