Dance thrives at arts festival

Review: The movement arts are finding a receptive audience in Columbia.

June 26, 2000|By D.J. Foster | D.J. Foster,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

The Columbia Festival of the Arts has become one of the premiere showcases for dance in the Baltimore metropolitan area.

Since its modest beginnings in 1988, when the festival's featured companies were Kinetics Dance Theatre of Ellicott City and the Garth Fagan Dance Company, dance has become an integral player in the 10-day event.

The 2000 festival, which wrapped up yesterday, included performances by such renowned international artists as Marcel Marceau, companies as groundbreaking as `The Next Ice Age" and an announcement of a company in residence for future festivals - the well-respected Washington Ballet. It included an important U.S. premiere - "San Ignacio," which was performed by the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company.

The festival managed to be international in scope, without sacrificing local flavor.

Howard County artists continue to be showcased, such as Eva Anderson Dancers, an American dance troupe that has an emphasis on African-American dance forms. Marilyn Byers and the Dance Dimension performed "Motion and Make-Believe," an interactive performance with children. On the other end of the spectrum, Hua Sha Dance Company presented Chinese classical and folk dances at the lakeside.

"The Columbia Festival of the Arts brings national recognition to dance in Maryland," said Alvin Mayes, a University of Maryland dance instructor who has performed and choreographed at the festival.

And as the festival's offerings have grown, so has the audience response. Attendance is up - several performances sold out, while others were three-quarters full. Some performances were met with standing ovations, which is as unusual in the dance world as it is common in other arts forms. In addition, post-performance discussions were well-attended.

Mayes was heartened by the audience's enthusiasm.

"At the beginning, there was not a great respect from the community for dance, but now the whole community is embracing all of the movement forms: mime, ballet, ice dancing and modern dance," he said.

Katherine Knowles, the festival's executive director, said organizers' goal this year was to book performances that paid tribute to the innovations of the last century, while peeking ahead to the next one.

"Our purpose was to provide attendees as many ways as possible to enter the festival," she said. "The anchor for the festival was Marcel Marceau, the French mime artist. Then, everything fell into place."

Several pivotal works presented this year addressed the cultural heritage of the Americas, including "San Ignacio," sections from a commissioned work for the Festival 2000 Bologna, which addressed the Latin cultural influences on the Americas; and the Washington Ballet's "Juanita y Alicia." The latter ballet was choreographed in 1999 by Septime Weber, the company's artistic director, who based the work on his mother's life in Havana in the 1920s and 1930s.

Bill T. Jones

A festival highlight was the mesmerizing performance by Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company. The dancers' execution of the movements was at times breathtaking. Jones used bold strokes of movement, subtle layering of fine line and gesture, and sculptural moments of the human figure at rest, at play and in conflict to create painterly images that were both abstract and realistic.

"The Gift / No God Logic" was a quartet danced to selections from "La Forzadel Destino" by Giuseppe Verdi. The dancers were individuals in the quartet that retreated and reunited, creating new couplings and forms. Abstract movement was partnered with pensive gestures, which were interspersed in turn with dynamic bursts of movement. Jones seemed to be reminding us that the sculptural abilities of the creator and the creative are a daily interplay to be observed and communicated.

"Duet" opened with Stefanie Batten Bland's spellbinding execution of the jazzy solo choreography, which had the feeling of a great improvisation. Germaul Barnes joined her on stage for a series of beautiful leg extensions, which were coupled with body waves that were both willowy and sensual. The distance between the two dancers became a kind of dialogue; they danced in different worlds. At the close of the dance, Bland's arm extended to touch Barnes in an unfulfilled poetic moment.

The company's performance of "San Ignacio," which was composed by Domenico Zipoli, Martin Schmid and Anonymous, was seamless. The dance featured the struggle between Good and Evil, with Temptation as the seducer, and the dancers' full commitment to the movement clearly communicated their characters' motivations. At times, the audience had the impression they were witnessing this historic struggle for the first time.

Miguel Anaya embodied the role of Saint Ignacio with a rich texture and clarity. The dramatic costumes by Alberto Gelli and La Perla heightened the theatrical effect.

Washington Ballet

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