- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 28, 2002

This is an exciting time for local dance, which often takes a back seat to news from the high-powered Kennedy Center. In addition to the splendid surprise announcement last Monday that Liz Lerman, founder, director and choreographer of the Washington-based Dance Exchange, had won one of this year's prestigious $500,000 MacArthur Fellowships (known familiarly as the genius awards), the Washington dance scene is looking especially bright and dynamic.

Recent and upcoming performances by local groups are showing dance reaching high levels of imagination and fine craftsmanship.

CityDance Ensemble, which has become a dominant company here in six short years, mounted an impressive program last week at the Kennedy Center's Terrace Theatre. The dancers in the company are among the finest in the city. They are joined this year by Rasta Thomas, the peripatetic dancer who has performed with the Kirov Ballet, appearing as guest artist with CityDance.

Director Paul Gordon Emerson has developed CityDance into a strong repertoire company, acquiring work from some of Washington's most talented choreographers. Modern dance companies often limit themselves to the work of a single choreographer; Mr. Emerson is building an impressive, wide-ranging repertoire from some of the finest creative voices in the city.

Vladimir Angelov, who has created work for the San Francisco and Kirov ballets, staged two premieres. His clever musical wit, and skill at using bravura movement imaginatively, made "Suitcase" a deserved crowd pleaser, buoyed by Mr. Thomas' brilliant dancing and joined by Julia Smith. Mr. Angelov's other premiere, "Deep Surface," was less focused.

The choreographer's third work, "Chinook," showed another facet of Mr. Angelov's talent, in a solo study of subtle, nuanced body rhythms given a hushed performance by Connie Fink.

Mr. Thomas also appeared in "Fractures," a tantalizing exploration of human relationships, in which he was joined by Miss Smith and Melissa Greco. "Fractures" was choreographed by Dana Tai Soon Burgess, whose own company is appearing next week at the Lincoln Theater.

Mr. Burgess has created a work of emotional depth. It was a tribute to his direction and Mr. Thomas' responsiveness that the dancer's sometimes over-the-top exuberance was here funneled into a mature and compelling interpretation.

The program got off to a stunning start with Kris O'Shee's "Choral Stance," a bold group work for 10 women, projecting some of the stark simplicity of Cycladic figures or chain dancers in a Greek frieze. In what was the most impressive group performance of the evening, the women moved with a vigor and precision that was exhilarating.

Mr. Emerson's "Falling Into the Sea" provided a lyrical note, and Adrian Bolton's "Caravan" ended the evening with a touch of Oriental kitsch.

CityDance Ensemble has so much going for it now especially its nucleus of excellent dancers. It has made a valiant effort to commission live scores, at times successful, at others not. Some of the finest work on its recent program was supported with vivid music by the likes of Antonio Vivaldi, Arvo Part and the Bulgarian Women's Choir. It's a development that bears repeating.

The next big project coming up for CityDance is a performance in December in St. Petersburg, Russia, at the Maly Theater, where the Diaghilev ballet "Petroushka" took place. Most of its recent program will be repeated there, and Russian audiences, who have only recently seen the development of a strong modern dance movement in their own country, should find it intriguing.

The Washington Ballet is also having an active fall, with three performances earlier this month presented by the Kennedy Center's Prelude Festival at the Terrace Theater. The dancers looked razor sharp in Trey McIntyre's "Blue Until June," and showed their affinity for modern dance movement in Nacho Duato's ballet, "Na Floresta."

The company opened the program with George Balanchine's "Allegro Brillante," and here the company's performance was tentative and flurried. Balanchine technique is demanding, it cannot be faked, and it requires more rehearsals by top-level Balanchine repetiteurs than the company has given it.

In the past the company's Balanchine works have been a mixed bag: "Concerto Barocco" was barely adequate, but its performance of "The Four Temperaments" last season was excellent.

Another Balanchine work is scheduled for the company's performance at the Eisenhower Theater Wednesday through Sunday (Oct. 2-6) when the stirring "Serenade" to Tchaikovsky's lush score opens the program.

Also on its program next week is director Septime Webre's striking, imaginative staging of Carl Orff's "Carmina Burana." Mr. Webre matches the flamboyance of Mr. Orff's score, sung by the Cathedral Choral Society, ranged on three tiers towering against the back of the stage. The costumes are startling and original, and the dancing has the high energy thrust for which Mr. Webre and his company are known.

To order tickets call 202/467-4600.

The other major Washington-based dance event next week is the 10th anniversary celebration of Mr. Burgess' own troupe, Dana Tai Soon Burgess & Company, at the Lincoln Theater on Oct. 5 at 8 p.m. The company is making its first appearance there as part of the theater's artist-in-residence program.

Mr. Burgess, who lives in the area, says he is especially pleased to be performing at the historic, recently renovated theater, and to be part of the neighborhood's cultural renaissance.

The company's program will feature "Mandala," originally commissioned by and performed at the Kennedy Center; the premiere of Mr. Burgess' work, "Leaving Pusan," about the emotional journey immigrants face; the fragile relationships in his "Fractures"; and what he calls a "spicy" dance, "Cour de Coeur." As usual, lighting, costume design and original music will be an important part of the evening.

Tickets are available at 202/328-6000 or 202/432-7328.

The Kennedy Center may still be the biggest game in town, but there is heartening evidence that it is assuming a greater and welcome role in supporting Washington's burgeoning dance scene.

Earlier this month, the center's Dance Commissioning Project presented Helanius Wilkins and his Edgeworks Dance Theater, Nejla Yalkin and NY2 Dance, and Tino Bastidas and Susan Reynolds on consecutive evenings at the Millennium Stage.

As welcome as this support is for young and emerging artists, the resourceful Kennedy Center should try to find ways to support some of the accomplished artists now at a point in their careers where they deserve more than a makeshift stage, minimum lighting facilities and the lack of an enclosed space where an attentive audience can experience a serious artistic expression.

Facilities are at a premium in the Kennedy Center for its many major projects, that much is clear, but the need in the dance world for the center's occasional sponsorship of worthy, proven local dance groups would be a major shot in the arm to Washington dance. The Terrace Theatre, not to mention the Eisenhower Theatre, are virtually beyond the financial resources of any Washington group (with the exception of the Washington Ballet).

The sponsorship of an appearance there would be a priceless gift to the accomplished, sometimes unsung, artists in our midst.

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