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Tania Isaac Dance Projects Debuts in Funky Glory
By Lisa Kraus
Copyright 2004 Lisa Kraus
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PHILADELPHIA -- It's
a treat to see something as robust and fresh as the debut performance
of Tania Isaac Dance Projects in "Home Is Where I Am," performed
at the Painted Bride April 15 -17. This St. Lucia-born choreographer,
veteran of Rennie Harris Puremovement and Urban Bush Women, was
joined by a superb group of dancers for a vibrant and poignant look
at the immigrants' condition of both loving and hating where they
came from and where they've moved to.
Through scenes evoking
the color and smells of island markets, the sweetness of mangos
eaten in silence, the wildness of Carnival, and the sinuous and
juicy moves of reggae and zouk, Isaac paints her homeland with lushness
and longing. Her new home -- where she bundles up against winter,
where she's eager for contact with fellow islanders, where the dancing
can look hard-edged and as speedy as the freeway -- is where she
can "live life on (her) own terms." Cues for meaning are gently
slipped in through Isaac's incisive text and Ryan Saunders's diverse
In "Home Is Where I
Am," subtitled "memories, dreams and fantasies," the narrative is
built up through a series of distinct numbers. First Shanni Collins
solos in buttery yellow, with pliant knees, articulate hips and
rippling torso. A video of immigrant life all over the globe reminds
us that this piece speaks to widely held experience. A tree canopy
seen as if from below on a slow moving boat evokes a lacy, lazy
ease. A section called "compass" is more hard-edged contemporary
movement, combined with Kenyan dancer Wanjiri Kamuyu's watchful
angled stillnesses. Next, on video, Isaac dresses for Wisconsin
winter, followed by a goofy trio of live snow bunnies kicking it
up behind a soloist making snow angels. The onstage scenes switch
landscapes and dance styles, and stretch and shrink in numbers.
A large group dances with unison whipping turns and rhythmic rocking
pelvises. There's sureness, vitality and as much ripe juiciness
in the dancing as in the mangoes eaten onstage. Isaac dances with
intelligence, not giving too much and not holding back either, not
teasing but wildly sexy. In 'Masquerade,' dreamy creatures leap,
turning in mid-air with flying red fringe trailing behind. In addition
to Isaac, Collins and Kamuyu, the terrific cast includes Zoia Cisneros,
Dawne-Marie Watson, and Kate Watson-Wallace, with appearances by
Ritajean Clark, Misia Denea and Jessica Gaines. There's a dip toward
the end as we feel saturated, wondering what further there could
be to say. Then in a final hip-hop tinged solo, Isaac seems to say
"This is it, made it just fine!"
Formally, I question
Isaac's strategy for transitioning from her distinct sections: always
with a stop, a walking out, a lull. The audience claps in between
these discrete sections too, adding to the choppy effect and lessening
the impact of an otherwise accumulating composite of dance, visual
and aural imagery.
Isaac is at a fine point
in her dancing life: full of promise, passionate, with vital things
to say about home, connection, and celebration. How unusual to come
across a young artist who while virtuosic in the best senses of
the word doesn't seem to take herself too seriously! There's plenty
of easy humor and a slightly self-deprecating quality to Isaac's
presence and that of her dancers. This makes it all the more easy
to lap up the delicious licks and images in the work. On the other
hand, everything about the production is beautifully attended to.
Fellow St. Lucia-born costume designer Jeannique Prospere's many
costumes are slightly off-kilter, fun renderings of carnival costumes,
village dress, pomo concert dancers, sirens and street gals. The
mottled backdrop set and light design by Jorge Cousineau proves
handily flexible, providing unusual projection surfaces to meld
with video imagery and in a saturated red tone evoking a dream state,
or in bluish hue, a snowy yard. The sound, a fitting song for each
section, was compiled by Rodney Whittenberg.
It's hard to say why
exactly I perceive Isaac's focus as being so outward, toward community.
Perhaps it's the knowledge of her special role as the first two-year
'Resident Bride Artist' at the Painted Bride, Philadelphia's multi-arts
showcase, which has long taken a lead in presenting alternative,
cutting edge and multi-cultural works. Perhaps it's the series of
classes in Caribbean dance forms being offered in tandem with the
performances. It could be the emphasis in the work itself on values
and relationships, or maybe it's just the clear audience response
that seems to signal that the crowded house sees her as one of their
Lisa Kraus is currently teaching Trisha Brown's "Glacial Decoy"
through Philadelphia Dance Projects.
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