14 Feb 2006
Black Choreographers Festival: Here and Now 2006
February 14, 2006
(Tap artist Chloe Arnold. Photo by Howie Epstein.)
Friday’s night’s (Feb. 10) opening program of the two-week Black Choreographers Festival: Here & Now 2006 at San Francisco’s Project Artaud was a modest, appealing affair that blended familiar artists and a couple of newcomers into a tasty, 90-minute diversion, one that deserved more of an audience than it got. But, then, this was the kind of rewarding and unspectacular program that isolates the true dance folks from the media-driven trend spotters. The festival moves to Oakland Friday.
Co-producers Kendra Kimbrough Barnes and Laura Elaine Ellis seemed to issue an informal proclamation that diversity of approach would dominate. The sequence Friday included modernism, postmodernism, aerial work, hip-hop and tap. Not only wasn’t there a dull moment; there were several that proved most illuminating.
In that category, assign Chloe Arnold, a Southern California-based tap artist whose name should be noted for future reference; seek her out if you can. Arnold was trained by Savion Glover and has collaborated with Jason Samuels Smith (who will appear next Saturday and Sunday.at the festival). With In the Spirit, a sequence of "improvography," she served notice that a woman tapper can do anything a guy can. Arnold’s colleagues were drummers Mosheh Milon Sr and Mosheh Milon Jr. First, she’s a terrific musician who can propose a distinctive rhythmic pattern and then fashion variations on that pattern in arresting ways, drawing out some phrases, altering the accents in others. The give-and-take with the drummers announced an uncommon gift at calibrating dynamics.
Arnold belongs to that new generation of tappers, who let you see how hard they work, though her intermittent smiles were welcome. She also throws herself into the dance so fiercely that one feared she would topple over occasionally. We’ve come a long way from Eleanor Powell.
The one official premiere, Susan Voyticky’s Fragile, united the choreographer with Joanna Haigood and two concentric metallic rings, suspended from the ceiling. Now, aerial work, so often encrusted with aggressive feminism, customarily leaves me indifferent. Defying gravity too frequently seems the be-all and end-all of it. But Fragile scores high because the two performers, who begin seated on the floor, back-to-back, in the lotus position, transcend the mechanics. Voyticky scales the rings, Haigood follows and the pair establish an emotional nexus in which gravity seems beyond the point. There’s a lazy sensuality as the two performers move in unison on the rings and Voyticky curls up in a ring, like an old-fashioned engraving of the moon. Of enormous help is the recorded score by Allaudin Matthieu and George Winston.
On her own, Haigood perfiormed an air mail dance by Remy Charlip which she introduced at the Exploratorium last year. In Dance in a Doorway (excerpts from Dances Around the House), the performer approached the double Dutch door frame and made it a character in her wistful monodrama. Haigood’s elongated line and seamless movement trajectories are familiar in the Bay Area, and, from Charlip’s drawings, she fashioned cogent transitions, swinging, dangling and tumbling through the set. The cobbled score of music by Nino Rota and Django Reinhardt could not have been more aptly chosen.
Robert Moses’ Doscongio, seen in earlier seasons, is one of the more outstanding solos produced here in the past decade; and, although the choreographer seems to have put on a bit of weight since the last revival, Moses’ mastery of gesture and phrasing, his unwavering structural command, remain impressive. The music is drawn from Chopin’s Sonata for cello and piano.
For what seemed the program’s obligatory hip-hop sequence, the festival enlisted Kim Sims Battiste and her Culture Shock/Oakland. These 21 youngsters, performing to a musical arrangement by DJ ACL (Adam Kipski) made up in enthusiasm what they lacked in polish and precision.
Here & Now moves Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 3 and 7 pm. to the Malonga Casquelord Center for the Arts, 1428 Alice St., Oakland. In addition to Smith and Voyticky, the performers will include Savage Dance Company, Paco Gomes, Mahea Uchiyama, Dimensions Dance Theater, Zaccho Youth Group, Stephanie Powell. African Queens. (415) 863-9834.