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 Jowers’ Meditation 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.
BOOKING DANCE FESTIVAL,VENUE150 @ EICC, AUG 8-22, VARIOUS TIMES, £10http://www.edfringe.com/