Dance D.C. Festival

Hopefully, this past weekend's first Dance D.C. Festival began a new Washington tradition. If the celebratory spirit of Saturday night's Family Folk Celebration resembles the rest of the events, the festival is a keeper.

The festival ended yesterday, but the free family folk performance will be repeated Saturday.

By focusing on folk dance, the evening at Dance Place became as much about community as art. Many of the performers included the audience in their presentations. Children seated on mats at the stage's edge clamored to join the South African gumboot dance and African American step dance of Lesole Maine and Brian Williams of Step Afrika. Carla Perlo's Carla and Company brought audience members into a circle for their intergenerational variation on an Israeli folk dance, performed to Burning Bush's "Rad Halaila."

D.C. newcomers Ciocarlie, Ciocarlie appeared most comfortable in the upbeat third section of their "Romanian Suite." In the two earlier slower sections the dancers seemed apprehensive.

Washington's local dance scene amply represents the African diaspora. Ashe Moyubba Folkloric Ensemble performed Afro-Cuban dances, the dancers using fine technique to manipulate their torsos as though they had no bones. A sensual son, "El Manisero," displayed the breadth of the company's repertory.

The relaxed Oscar Rousseaux supported three hip-swaying women in sexy, virtuosic partnerings.

Both Ashe and Coyaba Dance Theater play music as well as they dance. Coyaba's drummers kept a pounding beat for the high-stepping prances of the adult and teen dancers in "Kassa," a harvest dance from Guinea.

-- Clare Croft

Tehreema Mitha

Dance Company

Tehreema Mitha hates the word fusion, especially when it describes her distinctive combination of classical Indian dance and contemporary modern dance. And she's right to eschew a label that suggests synthesis, for the Bethesda-based choreographer and director of the Tehreema Mitha Dance Company doesn't blend forms, she layers them, mixing and matching classical poses and motifs from bharata natyam, the South Indian sacred temple dance, with ideas and movements from contemporary modern dance.

Saturday at Joy of Motion's Jack Guidone Theatre, Mitha presented a half-dozen solos, duets and group pieces that divulged her approach to the classical Indian style she was born to -- her mother, Indu Mitha, was her teacher for much of her career -- and the Western contemporary style she is beginning to assimilate.

"Dukhi Hoon," a traditional bharata natyam pure dance solo, featured Mitha eloquently parsing out highly codified sequences of hand gestures -- the hasta mudras integral to the form -- while simultaneously tattooing out assertive foot rhythms to a traditional raag (an Indian musical measure). She also showcased her company in a classical ensemble "Baad-e-Sbah," set to a 19-beat rhythm in which the dancers interacted, and even, in a nod to westernization, lifted one another.

Mitha's most daring experimental works, while not completely satisfying, sought to layer movement motifs of the two forms she favors. "Regular 925," following its semi-comic foreword as a bumbling pair of stagehands set up office furniture, assayed new mudras suggesting telephone conversations and note-taking while touching on the lives of two working parents. "In the Fabric of Being" more compellingly drew from an Indian belief that good and evil share the same body and spirit. The couples -- one brazenly assertive, the other sensuously gentle -- and two angels -- one black clad and demonic, the second rising from the audience as a vision in white -- suggested the possibility of choice. Here the mythic theme and uninhibited use of bharata natyam indicate that Mitha can skillfully traverse nuances of modern and classical styles.

-- Lisa Traiger

Tehreema Mitha Dance Company performs its experimental "Regular 925."