Performing Arts

Performing Arts

(By Stephen Baranovics)
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Monday, May 11, 2009

BOSMADANCE COMPANY'S 'ETERNAL RETURN' AT SOURCE

Sometimes the creative process is more compelling than an actual performance -- and that's the difficulty facing the new BosmaDance work that debuted Friday at the Source.

"Eternal Return" is the culmination of a two-year collaboration between local choreographer Meisha Bosma, visual artist Rosemary Feit Covey and cancer patients at Smith Farm Center for Healing and the Arts.

This is heavy stuff. Covey's artwork appears in animated projections, mostly abstractions from "Reality Confront End," commissioned by a brain tumor patient. (The exhibit is on view through June 27 at the center's U Street gallery.) To develop corresponding movement, Bosma worked with five women who were either patients or caregivers at the center.

The 70-minute work had moments of beauty, intrigue and humor, but never congealed into the holistic expression of loss the collaborators seem to want. The first act is a series of vignettes, some with narratives, some more oblique. There's a waiting-room scene, some melodramatic clawing in pain, and a remarkable section in which dancer Kate Jordan dons a plaster chest mold. The medical metaphor here is striking: Jordan is struggling to move a body that no longer feels like her own.

A few strong but disconnected scenes followed the intermission. After what appeared to be a deathbed vigil (and vicious pas de deux), the five-member company retuned for a zany waltz set to "Snip, Snip" from the musical "Shockheaded Peter." A brief, lovely ballet set to a Philip Glass string quartet followed. Each scene could have served as a final movement, though none brought closure to this worthwhile exploration of art and mortality.

-- Rebecca Ritzel

DAKSHINA/DANIEL PHOENIX SINGH DANCE COMPANY

Almost 50 years after its debut, Anna Sokolow's "Dreams" looks as fresh as ever. An intense work that reflects on the atrocities of the Holocaust, it was presented at Dance Place by Dakshina/Daniel Phoenix Singh Dance Company on Saturday.

Sokolow's choreography strikes just the right note: She manages to capture the terror and the magnitude of that event without veering into the melodramatic. The dancers, too, are sober and earnest but never over-the-top in their depictions of concentration camp prisoners.

For much of the dance, the stage is dark save for a single square of light, making the dancers constantly appear confined. The music intentionally skips on and off, abruptly leaving them to push through uncomfortable silence.

Near the end of the work, the dancers bend at the waist and nod their heads forward and back, eventually allowing those nods to grow into violent thrashes. They stretch their arms out in desperation while their mouths hang wide open as though they were screaming. These images at once call to mind the abuses the prisoners experienced and the anger and injustice they surely felt. The piece closes with the dancers huddling close together and dropping slowly to their knees. In unison, they let out a quiet, chilling whimper.

The company also presented two short Indian dances, a modern work and another piece that combined those two genres. All were finely danced, especially the traditional Indian works, but none was as impassioned and provocative as "Dreams."

-- Sarah Halzack

BACH SINFONIA'S 'KING ARTHUR' AT STRATHMORE MUSIC CENTER

Henry Purcell's five-act opera "King Arthur, or The British Worthy" has nothing to do with the Knights of the Round Table, Camelot or the quest for the Holy Grail. Instead, the composer pictures the fabled monarch surrounded by supernatural beings -- nymphs, sirens, satyrs and their ilk -- as he defends Britain against the heathen Saxon king Oswald, who is bolstered by his Nordic gods.

"Arthur," a semi-opera (only the secondary characters sing) to John Dryden's libretto adapted by Laurence Senelick, was first fully staged at London's Dorset Garden Theatre in 1691. On Saturday, Daniel Abraham directed the Bach Sinfonia (on period instruments), the Bach Sinfonia Voci and four excellent soloists in a concert version of "Arthur" at Bethesda's Strathmore concert hall. But the conductor took it at such a snappy pace with such inner energy that the score came to life even without the expensive trappings of sets, props or costumes.

Abraham also navigated his way quite skillfully through the mix of styles that Purcell transformed into his own: the overture's piquant "French" rhythms, followed by Italianate and English folk dances, wondrously tuneful airs, Lully-like descriptive instrumental pieces, and choruses foreshadowing those in Handel's oratorios.

Despite limited floor space in which to maneuver, soprano Yulia Van Doren, mezzo Barbara Hollinshead, tenor Craig Lemming and bass David Newman intensified the story line with modest but telling gestures and facial expressions. Narrator Karl Kippola lent further dramatic cogency and humor to the performance.

-- Cecelia Porter


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