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Flash Review 1, 4-27: Break Dancing
Back to the Future at Henry Street

By Tom Patrick
Copyright 2004 Tom Patrick

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NEW YORK -- The way Daniel Catanach -- the director of the Breaking Lines festival and the dance program at the Henry Street Settlement's Abrons Arts Center -- tells it, it was Carolyn Dorfman who first uttered the festival's name, saying in effect "We need to break through the lines that divide us." Well, there couldn't be a truer thing than that.... The world could stand a big dose of recognizing common ground, no?

With this heartfelt introduction, the first Breaking Lines Dance festival commenced. On this inaugural evening, we were also there to honor the members of that evergreen trio, Paradigm: Carmen de Lavallade, Gus Solomons jr, and Dudley Williams. In addition to a performance of Solomons's "A Thin Frost," there were six other treats ahead.

The flamenco artist Nelida Tirado got things off to a rollicking start. Flanked by three excellent musicians, she rose slowly from her chair with arms unfolding like wings, a sheath of black silk hugging her hourglass figure. From there she was possessed, breathing, for a time, a different kind of air...at once hyper-aware and un-self-conscious. The temperature in the room went way up!

Alwin Nikolais -- that groundbreaker! -- premiered his "Noumenon" at this very theater over fifty years ago (January 26, 1953) and it still has the impact of tomorrow's creation. Performed here by Nikolais company alums Alberto Del Saz and James Murphy, it's about as abstract as a body can get. Enveloped in Nik's saturated lights, custom -- and still fresh-sounding -- soundscape and those shiny Lycra bags looking like molten metal, these two pulled off a marvel of blind synchronization, and their taffy-like shapes were utter Futurism. I think it's extremely fresh-looking, and appealing in many senses, and certainly must work for any audience or culture. Cynically, I have to daydream: As in, perhaps, the case of the beautiful -- and extinct-- aircraft Concorde: With what are we succeeding the daring of Yesterday? Only politics? Dances about ourselves?

Next came the evening's honorees, PARADIGM. "A Thin Frost" is ingenious in its accumulations and releases of tension, both physical and emotional, as these three luminaries of dance hold the audience spellbound on a trio of chairs and the worlds contained therein. The design is rather simple (the genius part, in my humble opinion), and as the restless three coursed around through a barebones and naturalistic dance vocabulary they evoked a legion of poignant, funny, and above-all human moments. Accompanied only by their sighs, growls, and laughter, Ms. de Lavallade and Mssrs. Solomons jr and Williams had us riveted in the spontaneity of it all, participating as ensemble before breaking off for soliloquies, touching or droll, and then folding deftly into tightly-synchronized movement passages. Their acuity as interpreters, unquestionably, makes this work -- presented in this intimate setting without a shred of doubt -- applicable to the human in each and all of us. Breaking Lines indeed!

Urban Ballet Theater performed the work of our host, Mr. Catanach, next. "El Hambre" (that's "the hunger") was an edgy balletic piece for Chloe Reynolds and Robert Brown as star-crossed would-be lovers, separated by station perhaps, who have a difficult time reconciling things romantically. But they do share that hunger and its attached ambiguities, and danced marvelously, that's for sure. It would be great to see this work on a larger stage, so that their chasing and fleeing would get the room to stretch and test that desperation's tug.

Guest artists Ashley Bouder and Amar Ramasar of New York City Ballet next performed the Russian Dance from Peter Martins's staging of Petipa/Ivanov/Balanchine's "Swan Lake." The dancers and the dance had that blend of virtuosity and ease that are the hallmarks of Martins's movement and the NYCB's dancing. While the choreography itself looked a little larger-than-life taken out of the context of the ballet's scene, it glows as an offering, a gift from another culture at that Prince's court, and the dancers' performances couldn't have been more gracious and engaging. The both of them delighted me with their incredible fluency, their attentiveness to each other.

More heavy hitters ahead! Misty Copeland, a laser beam from American Ballet Theatre, gave us a sparkling turn in Kitri's variation from the Grand Pas de Deux (that classic showpiece) of Petipa's "Don Quixote." Wow, she gleamed; what presence, such legs, and a great daring and fire...the lucky groom, Basilio! It was a real treat to see -- and to finally put a name to this fine dancer whom I've enjoyed very much in prior ABT seasons.

The closing work on the program, de Lavallade's "Sweet Bitter Love," starred two amazing dancers -- Linda Celeste Sims and Glenn Sims, of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater -- and is, in and of itself, worthy of more time and skill than are available to me here. But here goes. "Sweet Bitter Love" brought 'Breaking Lines'-the-festival into its sharpest and most immediate focus through the universality of its situation: the clear ecstasy of a couple's approach and return to one another colliding with the pains and memories that form perilous gulfs. That see-saw is so familiar to anyone who loves, but Ms. de Lavallade doesn't trade in cliches.... These were real passions coupled to real modern dance, all thrillingly authentic and ravishingly danced by Ms. Celeste Sims and Mr. Sims. Whether pulling off the tough 'ography with ease or inhabiting a touch, he seemed to dance on amazing hydraulics, and she seemed lit from within. It was beautifully intimate and intense, and seemed to send us forth into the warm night to break through those lines closest to us first. I really loved seeing the Horton-based choreography. The late Jimmie Truitte was my modern teacher at college and a friend, and commented frequently how he loved knowing and dancing with Carmen. How proud he'd be this night! Rest easy, Big Guy, the kids are very all right....

...And the theater in Henry Street Settlement's Abrons Arts Center is a small beautiful jewel-box, an intimate, circular and pretty place. Adjacent to this is the Culpepper Gallery, where as a treat you can view some wonderful and historic Tom Caravaglia photographs of the Nikolais Dance Theater taken right there on the site, the Harry De Jur playhouse. Astonishing.

Reluctantly, I must include my only boos for the evening (at least the short version.... I can't quote my notes here verbatim). It was a very very very bad move to put someone on a microphone who mis-reads and butchers the name of Ms. de Lavallade, one of the honorees and performers, AS he is introducing her choreography. Sheesh!!

Don't miss the remaining performances of the Breaking Lines, which feature Carolyn Dorfman Dance Company, Darrah Carr Dance, a collection of "New Voices," and Kun-Yang Lin/Dancers. The festival runs through May 2; check www.Theatermania.com for schedule, information and tickets, or call 212-598-0400, ext.222.


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