Booking Dance Festival
Booking Dance Festival

Booking Dance Festival

4/5 stars
Commonly beautiful
Feature by Amanda Grimm.
Published 14 August 2010

Booking Dance promotes their Festival programme as “featuring a diverse range” of American modern dance works, and as being “designed to entertain the uninitiated (people who have never seen modern dance) as well as provide a glimpse into the current American dance scene for the professional community.” Their first programme delivers on both accounts.

The seven pieces that comprise Festival Showcase: Beautiful are supposed to be held together by a common theme of said adjective, in contrast to the upcoming ‘lyrical’, ‘athletic’ and ‘rock it!’ themed programmes. However, although they do all feature beautiful moments, Michael Mao Dance’s Weaving is primarily athletic, while Christine JowersMeditation Circa is fundamentally lyrical and Rebecca Stenn’s Drinking the Sky is flat out technically masterful, though not necessarily traditionally beautiful. Therefore, despite the restricting title, the programme does achieve diversity — both of the choreography and of the look and feel of the seven pieces.

This diversity allows the programme to appeal to a wide range of people, with different tastes and different levels of involvement in dance. I attended the performance with a friend, one of the ‘uninitiated’, and his favourite piece, Weaving, was my least favourite. Placed at the end of the programme, it is certainly a showpiece, its excitement and athleticism compounded by relentless Kobos drums. However, the dancers are slightly lax in their technique at times, and the piece lasts a bit too long, without any terribly innovative choreography to justify it.

In contrast, Stenn, in Drinking the Sky, captured my attention and held it rapt from her very first assured, masterful movement to the dimming of the lights. The impressively muscle-bound yet amazingly graceful Stenn is totally in control of her body, articulating her hands, arms, feet, legs, ribs and neck separately in sometimes round and fluid, sometimes sharp and direct motions. To me, Stenn’s performance was astounding. My ‘uninitiated’ friend, however, said that he was sure it was ‘technically’ great, but that it just didn’t appeal to him as did the last piece.

The remaining five pieces are less divisive, though still varying in quality. Mac Arthur Dance Project’s Ocelot and BodyStories/Teresa Fellion Dance’s Fault Line are quite similar in their style of modern dance, and in the fact that they both feature interesting choreography and consummate, engaging dancers. They also both deal overtly with human relationships—argument, frustration and competition mix with contentment and love. Despite their similarities, Fault Line managed to engage my friend and I (and the rest of the audience, judging by the applause) in a way that Ocelot did not. It starts modestly, but the passionate and skillful partnering between the four women steadily draws the audience in, until, by the end, they are completely absorbed by the fluctuating relationships and emotions on stage.

These two pieces are divided temporally and stylistically by Ingrid Graham/Collaboration Movement’s Trinity. Featuring Graham in a long, flowing black dress with red lining and sensual Spanish music with an intense beat, it has the potential to be a fiery crowd pleaser, but somehow feels a bit restrained and underwhelming, despite the majestic Graham’s beautiful movements. Similarly, one of the pieces danced by Christine Jowers, Meditation, seems to rely more on a gorgeous, flowing dress than on any inspired choreography. The talented Jowers lifts the piece, however, with palpable joy and a sense of lightness shining through her every movement. She brings just as much emotion, albeit a very different kind, to Isadora Duncan’s Revolutionary. Although this short piece consists of a small set of repeated movements, those movements are passionate, powerful, dramatic and despairing — thanks to both Duncan and Jowers — making this piece one of the highlights of the programme.

As Booking Dance says, Festival Showcase: Beautiful, with its “bite-sized festival format”, does provide diversity. Unfortunately, it is not only the choreography that is diverse, but also the level of quality between the seven pieces. However, the programme as a whole is of high quality and is altogether enjoyable, both for those heavily involved in dance and for the ‘uninitiated’ — though I suspect, given its focus on good pure dance, more for the former. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

Comments (5)

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  • Having seen Beautiful, I find this review (while certainly informative about favoured pieces) to be lacking in it's objective regard for what is and what isn't art. This review, as submitted by Ms. Grimm, is decidedly biased towards a lighter, intimate,- more delicate portrayal of dance, for example that which was presented by Ms. Jowers or Ms. Stenn, and outright hostile towards that which is a variation upon the word beautiful- to be precise, Michael Mao's 'athletic' work. We are all inclined to enjoy what we enjoy when we enjoy it, but the duty of a reviewer first and foremost is to give objective insight into what has been displayed. Take it from me as one of the 'uninitiated', what made Beautiful 'beautiful', was it's willingness to portray all facets of the form, as if seen through the lens of a diamond. Perhaps this showcase with it's expressed mission to present the 'uninitiated' with a varied view of beautiful dancing can only be appreciated by those who are not in the 'know'- which is to say the future and untapped audiences which dance so desperately needs if it is to survive (i.e. we 'uninitiated). Kudos Booking Dance Festival; Beautiful and all of it's artists who were on display. 5 Stars

    Posted by Keith Atlow | Monday 16 August 2010 @ 12:53

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  • Thank you for taking the time to respond to the review, Keith, and I am delighted that you enjoyed the show so much. I am afraid that I have to disagree with your assessment of the critic's trade. Objectivity is not really what a reviewer ought to be seeking - it is very difficult to achieve it, and it seems to me more important that the writer is clear about their own bias, allowing exactly the sort of response you have given. Reviews within the Shimmy are designed to provoke debate, not make a definitive statement about what art is.

    While I accept your views on the quality of the show - personally, I enjoyed the athletic works as much as you - the statement "lacking in it's (sic) objective regard for what is and isn't art" to be specious.

    Posted by Gareth K Vile | Monday 16 August 2010 @ 19:39

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  • When a reviewer chooses to make use of the words and phrases: 'relentless, lax, too long, without any terribly innovative choreography'- one has to take note and wonder whether this is a personal statement or an actual review.

    When within the same review one finds praise for, 'a small set of repeated movements' or 'seems to rely more on a gorgeous, flowing dress than on any inspired choreography', one understands that this is not so much a review as it is an opinion piece.

    There is a place and a forum for opinion pieces; in most professional publications it is not in the review section.

    What you might term 'specious' on my part, I would counter as being 'glib' on yours.

    As a musician and writer, as a teacher, as a human being, and a new fan of dance on the whole, I can not believe that a reviewer would take her responsibilities to the form so lightly. At the end of the day with out the concert, the reviewer is without a job. With out support the concert cannot continue. If the reviewer cares not for a selection, perhaps there is a better way of presenting this besides usage of such damning language as 'lax'. I can say in my heart that Ms. Graham's dance (which was also not so kindly received by Ms. Grimm) was my favourite piece. That said, if I were employed as a reviewer I would leave my personal preferences behind and gracefully describe what had taken place whilst leaving open the doorway for new potential audience members to decide for themselves what to feel.

    Posted by Anonymous | Wednesday 18 August 2010 @ 00:19

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  • Thank you again for taking the time to comment, Keith. If you would like to contribute a review to the Shimmy, we would be delighted to offer you the opportunity.

    However, I strongly disagree with the distinction that you make between the supposed objectivity of a review and the personal opinion of the reviewer. I also find it hard to understand why a four star review, by your argument "threatens" the concert.

    The position of the critic within performance and the nature of objectivity is hotly contested. Over the past fifty years, the idea that objectivity is possible has been attacked. I am not comfortable with the suggestion that the reviewer has taken her role lightly. My invitation that you can review for us during the rest of the Fringe is neither glib nor specious. Please get in touch.

    Posted by Shimmy Skinny | Wednesday 18 August 2010 @ 12:38

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  • On our repeat visit to Edinburgh, I am impressed with the degree of seriousness the audience brings to our concerts and the warmth they have shown to my works. My thanks to Mr. Atlow for his defense of my work WEAVING, though I do believe the reviewer, in using the term "excitement" in regard to Weaving, has bestowed the highest praise on Weaving. "EXCITEMENT" Excitement is a good thing in a theater. Had modern dance been more exciting we would have had a wider audience everywhere in the world.
    Thank you both for your passion and for taking the time to come see us when there are so many choices.
    Incidentally, Mr. Atlow, there have been more reviews which have taken a possible spin such things as excitement and structure not only on Weaving but also on two others works my dancers have brought to the Edinburgh audience. If you would like to come back and see the other works I should be very happy to leave you complimentary tickets. Just let me know the day (Thursday through Sunday at 2 pm). Best, Michael@michaelmaodance.org

    Posted by Michael Mao | Wednesday 18 August 2010 @ 22:14

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