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Flash Review, 10-2: Just FAB
DanceNow goes to a Bowery Block Party

By Maura Nguyen Donohue
Copyright 2009 Maura Nguyen Donohue

NEW YORK -- This past Saturday DanceNow [NYC] continued its 15th anniversary season by taking it to the streets.  In its new partnership with downtown organizations Fourth Arts Block (FAB) and Duo Multicultural Arts Center (DMAC), it presented artists during a free, indoor/outdoor celebration of grass roots and getting down.  FAB has been leading the development of the East 4th Street Cultural District, centered around East 4th between Bowery and 2nd Avenue. The only official cultural district in Manhattan, it is only one block long, yet encompasses 12 theaters, 8 dance/rehearsal studios, three film editing suites, and a large screening room including New York Theater Workshop, La Mama Theater, DMAC, the NY Neo-Futurists, and the Rod Rogers Dance School and Company. DanceNow's partnership with FAB seemed obvious and organic when set amidst cackling pedestrians, wailing sirens, and Bowery traffic, showing how to bring it to the people with a scope and breadth that few other dance programs are able to imagine and pull off.

I caught only a small part of the six-hour event, but it was enough to see that DanceNow's visionary bravado and generosity is paying off in these times of fear and fiscal caution.  The outdoor works were daring and well received and the gratis evening DMAC programs were "sold"-out. The formula works well: Cast a wide aesthetic and stylistic net, keep a close watch on quality control, and find as many ways to reach as varied an audience as you can.  The result is a goldmine of artistic ventures and audience development.

Darrah Carr (who has written for the Dance Insider) offered her special brew of contemporary dance and Irish step dancing.  Three women seated on bright, lime green cubes and three men standing behind the dancers set up a strong rhythmic play of clapping, stomping and beating on the cubes.  As the work progressed, Carr's dancers maintained the requisite deep connection to their own self- created cadence while showcasing the straight torso carriage, crossed legs, high feet, and skipping "threes" of traditional Irish step dance.  The dance sprang lightly and brightly against an overcast sky and left me wishing the hot chocolate vendor down the block had a sister Guinness stand.

In between DanceNow artists there were other bits of stand-up, music and other dance troupes, but since I was also on domestic duty, I used these breaks to wander through the flea-market area on the Northern sidewalk, help a first-grader get her face painted, pick up a free silk-screened on the spot tee-shirt and catch up with various art lovers watching Frederico Restrepo's group wander with large bird puppets in front of La Mama's Annex Theater. The FAB Block Party brings a fantastic array of arts organizations together in a way that kicks the mass-market pants off all of those standard-issue street fairs that take over the city during the summer.  This is a neighborhood  that is holding onto its roots and keeping the arts alive against the onslaught of generic and gentry.

Back on the dance stage, Tze Chun's work revealed the prescription for a proper, serious modern work performed on a noisy outdoor stage, with the right blend of athletic and playful movement matched with confidently executed floorwork and partnering.  Dancers rolled over shoulders and entwined their bodies in that way I know must captivate the average civilian.  Being surrounded by dancers so often, I'm sometimes only reminded of my immunity to The Dancer's otherworldliness in this kind of crush of random pedestrians, strollers and admirers.  Tze Chun's cast handles the gawking appreciation with razor-sharp focus, slipping their legs in fast switches and glowing like visiting demi-gods.

Clean and formal clears out for Andrea Miller's luscious Gallim Dance Co. . The women in this dance bring forth the dangerous qualities of the supernatural sexy that is a group of live dancing bodies on a Lower East Side street on a Saturday afternoon in late September. They are equally as appealing as Chen's dIvas but more brazen and powerfully disheveled.  The dancing is full-out physical and the performances are searing.  Watching this while still buzzing from a Gaga workshop at Hunter College with a visiting Batsheva dancer, I can see how Miller, a former dancer with Ohad Naharian's GaGa-infused company, has tapped into her pleasure and milks it for all of its richness and delight.  I find myself reeling from a volcanic flash Miller's dancers offer but the phone rings and I'm sucked down and hit the ground running, off to aid in a different meltdown recovery.

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