Editors' pick



Editorial Review

Top-Notch Dance At a Modest Price

By Lisa Traiger
Special to The Washington Post
Friday, October 2, 2009

Pulling that belt a notch tighter as the economy continues to sputter? Cutting back on the fun stuff to cover the essentials? That's no surprise to Jeff Parks, who programs music and dance for the Washington Performing Arts Society. Parks has seen what economic downturns can do to attendance at live performances, especially when it comes to dance.

"Obviously going out to any professional dance performance these days is a bit of an investment," he says. "Dance is very expensive to produce and market, and ticket prices reflect that." But WPAS and other Washington arts entities are doing their part to spur a turnaround with this weekend's VelocityDC Dance Festival, two days of low-cost, high-value dance programs at Sidney Harman Hall. Newcomers and dance aficionados alike can catch some of the region's most critically lauded companies, all for little more than the price of a movie ticket.

The mixed bill includes performances by such top companies as the Washington Ballet, returning with Edwaard Liang's otherworldly "Wunderland," and CityDance Ensemble, dancing Paul Taylor's apocalyptic "Last Look." Internationally acclaimed flamenco master Edwin Aparicio performs a fiery, percussive solo, and modern dancer and choreographer Gesel Mason stages her witty "How to Watch a Modern Dance Concert." Ronald K. Brown and Evidence blends modern and African dance with a hip-hop sensibility in "Upside Down."

VelocityDC, which is modeled after New York's highly successful -- and low-cost -- Fall for Dance Festival, is also putting its singular stamp on D.C. dance with a special performance at 10 p.m. Saturday. VelocityDC Late Night, also at Harman Hall, is designed to appeal to an edgier crowd.

"It's sort of a rock-and-roll cabaret," Parks says, "that isn't strictly limited to dance but features related disciplines like music, hip-hop, performance art and maybe a surprise or two. . . . And, as a late-night experience, it will have a little more creative freedom, a little on the edge. It's definitely 18-plus only and most definitely an after-hours experience that should be a lot of fun."

Parks also wanted the festival to take to the streets, so he invited Austrian choreographer Willi Dorner to explore the architecture and hidden spaces around the Harman's Penn Quarter neighborhood. "Bodies in Urban Spaces," a piece that Dorner re-creates in cities based on each location's architecture and streetscape, will be performed before the main show, and it's free. The audience will trail 25 movement artists clad in colorful sweat shirts as they run, jump and maneuver themselves in, on, around and under the urban landscape. To add to the playfulness, Parks says, spectators must visit VelocityDC's Facebook site or Twitter feed in order to learn where the dancers will perform.

"I want D.C.'s inhabitants to walk their own city again and to spend time and contemplate their own city again," Dorner says. "Usually when you live someplace you forget to look around at your surroundings and don't care too much about it. With the dancers, we give people time to focus, to contemplate their own environment. I use the bodies to represent and to interpret the environment and its architecture."

What You Need to Know

Friday, October 2, 2009

The main shows in the VelocityDC Dance Festival are at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday at Sidney Harman Hall (610 F St. NW); VelocityDC Late Night is at 10 p.m. Saturday. Tickets to all indoor events cost $15; buy one ticket, get one free for the Late Night event. Call 202-547-1122 or visit http://www.velocityDC.org.

The free, roaming outdoor performance, "Bodies in Urban Spaces," begins at 5:30 both nights in Penn Quarter and lasts about an hour, rain or shine.