Friday, October 18, 2013

Life is Like Dancing

Nothing like poetry and dance to cleanse the soul.

Not that I know that my soul's in particularly bad shape, but it never hurts to pay it forward.

That and on my walk this morning, I'd overheard a VCU student on the phone saying she was on the way to the li-berry.

Truly, I worry for our linguistic future sometimes. Poetry helps assuage those fears.

Chop Suey was hosting poet and Library of Virginia literary award finalist Luann Keener-Mikenas reading from her books "Color Documentary" and "Homeland," the nominated one.

"Elephants" provided the evocative phrase, "Deep in your many-corridored memory," but "The Indigo Bunting," took the prize for my favorite line.

These days we look through the nothing that is not there to the everything that is.

Kind of a life philosophy, I thought.

Literary soul thus fed, a friend and I traversed the river for some cultural feeding of the highest order.

Dogtown Dance Theater was hosting the 15th annual Yes! National Dance Invitational, an evening of some of the country's best dance troupes.

Before the show started, we were advised to silence all cell phones and devices and to stow any small children under the stairwell.

I love a director with a sense of humor and the right attitude about rug rats.

As the lights came up and the back curtain began to open, I was struck again by what a superior dance performance space this theater is.

With a front row seat and a towering ceiling, it was easy to feel one with the dancers without any coordination required.

Gin Dance company out of northern Virginia led off with "The Core," precisely executed by the raven-haired Shu-Chen Cuff at center, surrounded by four dancers with much lighter tresses complementing her hair and eastern dance movements.

Melissa Chisena choreographed and danced a piece called "Breathe," mesmerizingly set to a woman (what else?) breathing into a microphone while nearby a man played a jug for percussion.

Her every movement was matched by syncopated breath work that became the music of the piece. It was a truly unique piece.

S/OAP Lab's piece, "Praedari," began with the sound of thunder and was compelling to watch because one dancer portrayed the predator and the other the prey.

Very aware of each other, but maintaining their distance for most of the piece, it was hard not to empathize with the one being stalked.

Okay, and hard not to admire the lithe, chiseled body of the predator.

Richmond's own K Dance did "The Dog" by David Mamet, a piece that began with Kaye Weinstein Gary singing "How Much is that Doggy in the Window?" to a stuffed dog before sliding off the pedestal to dance and move to the sounds of a dog barking and whimpering in between lines of Mamet's monologue.

"Rebound" got its title from the first two members of Houston Met Dance company who were tethered to each other, necessitating that they move in tandem, much like prisoners shackled together.

Two more couples soon joined them and instead of tethers, each wore a large black belt that his or her partner could use to lift and/or direct the other to a dramatic piece of music featuring piano and drums. It was an elegant ebb and flow of movement.

During intermission, we were kept amused by a raffle for a bottle of wine.

The woman at the end of our row was asked to pull out the winning name and, as luck would have it, pulled the name of her companion sitting right next to her.

What are the chances?

The second half of the program began with stellar local actress Molly Hood beginning a scene from Marsha Norman's short play "140."

Directed by the inimitable Billy Christopher Maupin, the theater/dance piece was a thought-provoking meditation on infidelity.

Weaving dialog at the front of the stage with a Greek chorus of dancers at the back of the stage moving silently, the scene revolved around characters discovering their lover was unfaithful but wanting to keep the lover anyway.

It heart-breakingly ended with each begging of the person they wronged, "Undo this."

If only the world worked that way.

Last, but certainly not least, was one of Dance Magazine's "25 to Watch" troupes, BodyTraffic from Los Angeles.

Using the great American songbook- "Sunny Side of the Street," "All of Me," "Someone to Watch Over Me"- the wildly exuberant "o2Joy" was the killer closer the show deserved.

Taking inspiration from old musicals and with a definite nod to Gene Kelly, the five young dancers used jazz hands, lip synching, and tight choreography to express what absolutely felt like an ode to joy.

Come to think of it, the joy of watching so many talented dancers from all over the country all night long was yet another example of how lucky culture lovers are to be in Richmond.

Best of all, the performance repeats tomorrow afternoon and evening, meaning dance and theater lovers can savor a variety of dance, much the way many of us sampled a variety of music last weekend at the Folk Fest.

Sure, it'll feed your soul if that's what you need, but if your soul's fine, it'll also delight your senses.

Who'd have thought that Dogtown was the place to look through the nothing that is not there to the everything that is?

Anyone who saw tonight's performance, that's who.


  1. Always enjoy reading your blog and it motivates me to find more artistic venues and opportunities in my area. I'm just surprised at the number of events you are able to attend. I could never keep up. Maybe it's the TV and cellphone sapping me. (or that pesky job I seem to feel obligated to keeping)

  2. You're right, not having a phone or TV definitely frees up a whole lot of time to go out and find interesting things to do.

    And, yes, being a freelancer does give me more time than a 9-5 job would, although it also makes me a lot poorer than most people would consider acceptable.

    As for keeping up, I'm sure you know that activity begets energy. It's a delightful and never-ending cycle.

  3. It was thrilling to read your blog...the weekend was magical for me and all the other performers...I am so glad the magic was spread throughout the theatre into the audience.

  4. Richmond is lucky to have you making this show happen every year!