VelocityDC Dance Festival gives audience samples of virtuosity


Jared Nelson and Elizabeth Gaither in the Washington Ballet's production of "oui non." (Carol Pratt/Carol Pratt)
October 11, 2013

The VelocityDC Dance Festival feels something like the artistic equivalent of speed dating. The Thursday night program at Sidney Harman Hall packed performances from 11 companies into a roughly two-hour concert that featured everything from ballet to Russian folk dance to aerial dance.

With the more interesting works, you’re left wondering when you might see them again. With less successful ones, you’re relieved to know they’ll last only a few more minutes.

Urban Artistry, a hip-hop troupe, left the audience wanting more after “Warriors of Light.” The dancers alternated between sections of entrancing virtuosity — think high-flying roundhouse kicks and how-did-he-do-that headstands — and sections of quiet simplicity, consisting of slow bounces or spare, sharp gestures.

Those movement contrasts, set to a highly hypnotic beat, made for a deeply engaging performance. It wasn’t the kind of piece that made you want to get up and dance yourself. Instead, it dared you to enter the dark psychological realms that each character inhabited.

Artists from the National Hand Dance Association performed brief numbers in front of the curtain between acts while set pieces were rearranged. One couple danced to Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines,” and the heat between them was so authentic and their movement so organic that it nearly succeeded in erasing from memory the awkward, now infamous Miley Cyrus performance to the same song. The male dancer, in particular, somehow managed to exude both a dapper lightness reminiscent of Fred Astaire and a modern swagger like Ne-Yo’s.

The Washington Ballet Studio Company was utterly charming in “Oui/Non,” a work by artistic director Septime Webre set to French cabaret songs. The ensemble’s youthful energy was on-pitch for the fleeting romances that played out in each tune. Fernanda Oliveira was enticing yet playful with her suitors in the “Symphatique” section, while Esmiani Jani was both dazzling and heartbreaking in “Ne me quitte pas.” She had all the melancholic longing of an unrequited lover and cut a textbook-perfect penche arabesque that snapped into position with just the right amount of force.

Lest members of the audience temporarily forget they were inside the Beltway, they were reminded in Vincent Thomas’s solo, “Come Change,” in which he called out a series of one-word questions to the audience.

“Employed?” he shouted.

Hearty applause.

“Furloughed?”

More modest but still ample applause.

“Democrat?”

Booming claps and cheers.

“Republican?”

Well, that one just drew laughter.

While many works on the program were tightly knit, others never quite managed to find their footing. In particular, Rebollar Dance’s “GoodHurt,” a postmodern duet most memorable for its torrent of lifts and its frantic episodes of running in place. Choreographer Erica Rebollar set the work to a cacophonous barrage of electronic beats that seemed to smother the dancing rather than support it. In fact, the piece’s best moments were its last few minutes, which were danced in silence. When all you could hear was the dancers’ breath, it helped tightened the focus on their shaking hands and, ultimately, on a strangely chilly final embrace.

AirBorne! DC’s aerial performance of “Heartstrings” also didn’t cohere. Ann Behrends’s choreography was intended to be about the joy an individual can find from within, but the dancing didn’t feel particularly jubilant. Part of the problem may have been that the dance was performed under a black light, so all the audience could see were figures clad in glowing long-sleeved shirts and trousers. With the dancers’ faces invisible to the crowd, it was up to their bodies to portray expansive, electric verve. And with legs that didn’t quite straighten and unison movement that didn’t quite arrive on time, they seemed to be struggling through the choreography instead of enjoying it.

VelocityDC Dance Festival

Continues Saturday. Tickets are $18. Sidney Harman Hall, 610 F St. NW,
202-547-1122.

Sarah Halzack is The Washington Post's national retail reporter. She has previously covered the local job market and the business of talent and hiring. She has also served as a Web producer for business and economics news.
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