Dancing Into The Spotlight

More Troupes Kick Up The Excitement At Festival

July 17, 2009|By Mary Carole McCauley | Mary Carole McCauley,mary.mccauley@baltsun.com

Artscape is raising the barre this year, by scheduling more dance performances than ever before in the 28-year history of Baltimore's free summer celebration of the arts.

"A lot of people say that there isn't an audience for dance in Baltimore, but based on our experience, that certainly isn't true," says Bill Gilmore, executive director of the Baltimore Office of Promotion & the Arts, which runs the festival.

"In the three years since we started featuring dance at the Lyric Opera House, every performance has been at capacity. When we open the doors before each show, people just stream in. They come out of nowhere."

The free three-day event will feature eight performances by two troupes with national and international reputations: Dayton Contemporary Dance Company and Acrobats of China. Last year, there were just four performances by nationally known companies.

"When our organization started running Artscape in 2001, we knew we wanted to upgrade the offerings in some of the disciplines," Gilmore says.

"At the time, we didn't have any national dance troupes performing. It was all local. Four or five years ago, we started bringing in out-of-town companies. We wanted to expose everyone, including the local dance community, to different troupes."

Dayton Contemporary Dance, which uses movement rooted in the African-American experience, has drawn plaudits nationwide during its four decades of existence. For Artscape, 11 dancers will perform Children of the Passage, a ballet set to the music of the Dirty Dozen Brass Band. According to the company's Web site, the ballet "follows a party of decadent lost souls who are haunted and later rescued by spirits that reconnect them to their ancient and ancestral character."

Gilmore caught a performance of the company six years ago, while attending a festival in Seattle.

"It was just magical," Gilmore says. "They're incredibly creative, the theater was packed, and the audience was enthralled. Artscape didn't have anything like them, and it only took us five years to make the arrangements to bring them here."

The festival's other featured dance company, Acrobats of China, has a jampacked touring schedule and a widespread reputation for its thrilling tumbling and stunts.

The show will include Chinese poles (the acrobats perform daring feats while dangling from tall, narrow steel poles), hand-balancing (the performers strike poses while supporting their body weight on just a few fingers) and chair-stacking (the acrobats balance precariously on chairs piled nearly to the ceiling).

"They're incredibly acrobatic and colorful and lively," Gilmore says. "Their act is high-energy, pure family entertainment."

But the excitement won't be provided exclusively by the visitors. Gilmore is equally enthusiastic about the seven local troupes that have been booked for the festival. These groups will provide a wide array of dance styles, from Japanese-infused ballet to Irish dance, from flamenco to tap.

"All three days will be chockablock with great dance," he says, adding that audiences at Artscape often are composed of first-time attendees.

"We've found that when you take away the obstacle of an admission price," he says, "people are eager to try something new."

Today's Artscape highlights

* 2 p.m.: For the People Entertainment on the Festival Stage: Find out how this local hip-hop group beat out the likes of ellen cherry, Jinxxx, Thrushes and Wordsmith to win this year's Sound Off! competition.

* 5:45 p.m.: Baltimore Concert Opera - "The Life & Music of Maria Callas" at the Corpus Christi Church: Since Baltimore's "fat lady" went belly-up recently, you might have been having a difficult time getting your opera needs fulfilled. That's why you'll want to stop by Corpus Christi Church, 110 W. Lafayette Ave., for this tribute to opera diva Maria Callas, performed by soprano Francesca Mondanaro with pianist James Harp.

* 6:30 p.m.: Poetry for the People Baltimore at Theatre Project: This performance at Theatre Project, 45 W. Preston St., manages a loose association with Baltimore's yearlong Nevermore celebration by exploring mental health in honor of Edgar Allan Poe. Do not be afraid of the poetry in the name; the multicultural, multimedia performance connects poetry with other art forms for a departure from your standard slams.

* 7 p.m.: Lo Moda at the University of Baltimore: Released through Creative Capitalism, the "This is not a label" record label, the brainy experimental rock of Lo Moda provides moody tunes to move to. Granted, this set at the University of Baltimore Student Center Theater, 21 W. Mount Royal Ave., won't be an all-out dance fest, but the band's sound does infect, and encourages somber, shoe-gazing sways among fans.

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