Arts festival kicking up its heels

Dance: Three big-name national companies bring their artistry to Howard County this month.

June 17, 1999|By Jill Hudson Neal | Jill Hudson Neal,SUN STAFF

For the first time in its 12-year history, the Columbia Festival of the Arts will feature three national dance companies that will premiere works and offer master classes to area residents.

The stellar lineup is further evidence of the festival's growing regional importance as a multifaceted arts event.

With the inclusion of such well-regarded dance companies as the Dayton Contemporary Dance Company, Doug Varone and Dancers, and Joe Chvala and the Flying Foot Forum, this year's festival likely will secure Columbia's reputation as a city that embraces the arts, said Katherine Knowles, the festival's executive director.

"It establishes us as a place where dance companies can come in the United States during the summer," Knowles said. "Europe usually gets most of the big names in dance because they have an incredible tradition of summer festivals.

"This year, we were able to get these great companies because we finally had the funding that we needed to bring them to Columbia," she said.

The Columbia festival received more than $80,000 from the Mid-Atlantic Arts Foundation and the New England Foundation for the Arts National Dance Touring Program.

"These dancers are examples of companies at the top of their discipline and their genre," Knowles said. "I think people will really go wild when they see them."

Audiences who favor contemporary and modern dance will have their choice of styles during the 10-day festival.

Minneapolis-based Joe Chvala and the Flying Foot Forum's raucous and experimental moves feel like a cross between "Riverdance" and off-Broadway's foot-pounding "Stomp." They will perform their newest work "Tra" (pronounced "tray," which is Swedish for "wood"), a piece based on the music of the Nordic rock band Hedningarna.

One of the country's most celebrated African-American modern dance companies, the Dayton Contemporary Dance Company (DCDC) brings the East Coast premiere of "Children of the Passage," a commissioned concert dance that was featured in a traveling museum exhibit called "When the Spirit Moves: The Africanization of American Movement."

And Bessie Award-winning choreographer Doug Varone brings his company to Columbia for the world premiere of the third in a trilogy of dances set to the music of British composer Michael Nyman. Varone's muscular, athletic choreography is known for its split-second, gravity-defying moves.

Knowles said DCDC is unique because of the pairing of two generations of accomplished African-American choreographers.

"It's fascinating to pair an older, more established choreographer like Donald McKayle with a younger, up-and-coming one like Ron Brown," she said, referring to the collaborators on "Children of the Passage."

Set to the music of the Dirty Dozen Brass Band, the work focuses on the African-American influence on dance and movement in this country.

McKayle said taking "Children of the Passage" on tour has been a success, especially with suburban audiences.

"Every performance is greeted with standing ovations," he said. "The reaction is so immediate. It's very connected to the experience of movement. Everyone can relate to it. It's a work that meets you on a very basic level."

McKayle says he isn't worried that audience members will be turned off by the themes of slavery and suffering. "It's thought-provoking and the material has a dramatic spine to it. There are a lot of people who don't realize that we [African-Americans] didn't get [to America] through spontaneous generation," he said. "We show that in a vibrant way."

Vibrancy is key to the dance style of Joe Chvala and the Flying Foot Forum, the troupe whose cutting-edge performances meld tap, clogging, Irish step dancing and flamenco.

His nine-person company pounds out percussive rhythms using farm tools, tree branches and anything else it can get its hands on.

"People are open to this rhythm and percussion," Chvala said. "This sort of dance speaks very strongly to people. We need to feel some primal connection to the world; there's an urgent need to have that feeling."

When the Madison, Wis., native started the company in 1991, percussive dance had "never been used to tell stories. It hadn't been used in the same ways as modern dance and ballet to tell stories."

Chvala's company often performs at regional festivals and in small towns. "This appeals to everyone, even audience members who never go to the theater," he said. "I think they all get it on some level that's really strong."

Subscription packages to the full dance series are available for $64, $55 and $45 and include DCDC, Doug Varone and Dancers, and Joe Chvala and the Flying Foot Forum. Joe Chvala and the Flying Foot Forum will appear at Columbia's Jim Rouse Theatre at 7 p.m. Sunday. Doug Varone and Dancers will perform at 8 p.m. June 25 at the Smith Theatre on the campus of Howard Community College. The Dayton Contemporary Dance Company will be at the Rouse Theatre at 8 p.m. June 26. For subscriptions and ticket information, call 410-715-3089 or 410-481-6500.

DCDC will give a master class for advanced students at 10 a.m. June 27 in the Rouse Mini Theatre. Doug Varone and Dancers will give a master class for intermediate-advanced and advanced students at 10 a.m. June 26 in the Rouse Mini Theatre. Prices are $15 for each class. Joe Chvala and the Flying Foot Forum will give a free dance and drumming workshop at 10 a.m. Saturday in the Rouse Mini Theatre. Reservations for all classes: 410-715-3044.

Pub Date: 6/17/99

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