- The Washington Times - Friday, June 20, 2003

Capturing dance on film has come a long way since its early beginnings. Witness the more than three hours of dance on PBS this past Wednesday evening that ranged from documentaries to reasonable facsimiles of live performances.

Using the devices of film and the moving images of dance to create a different, independent art form is much less often explored.

All the more reason to hail the fledgling efforts by the dynamic modern dance group, CityDance, that recently packed the Visions Cinema/Bistro/Lounge in DuPont Circle.

This new venture is one more effort by Paul Emerson, the company’s imaginative director, to cross disciplines and find new audiences for dance.

For FilmWORKS, CityDance unveiled eight short pieces that freely used the devices of film (fade-ins, fade-outs, double exposures, montages, slow motion) in works that were clearly trying to go beyond the literal.

Inevitably, this often produced dreamlike, surrealistic images that resonated with various degrees of success.

The whole ambitious evening is one more indication of why CityDance is becoming the most talked-about modern dance company on the local scene. It has already made a mark with its repertory approach, mounting works by Washington’s most talented choreographers, its frequent use of live music, often commissioned, and its educational program. CityDance claims to have the largest outreach program of any modern dance group in the area.

The evening’s beginning was its high point: “Suitcase,” directed by the talented choreographer Vladimir Angelov, also had the most real dancing in it. Perhaps it was coincidence, but perhaps it holds a lesson for future attempts. “Suitcase” springs from a duet Mr. Angelov premiered on stage last fall, but was a fine example of using a stage piece and transforming it into something different using the resources of film.

The original took place on a bare stage with a suitcase as the main prop. This “Suitcase” began with a man walking past a row of suburban houses and entering one of them. From there it ranged from scenes in a bedroom, a kitchen, and in an amorphous place of smoke and light.

The two figures, Rasta Thomas and Tiffani Frost, were strong, exciting dancers and she especially was a vivid personality with a sensuality that bursts out of the screen. Their intimate close-ups brought a new dimension to the work.

The impact of “Suitcase” was helped immeasurably by Ralph Hoffman’s atmospheric lighting. Antonio Vivaldi’s score for “La Folia” added extra energy to the overall impression.

At the end Mr. Thomas was seen walking away from the house, dropping his suitcase, throwing down his overcoat and striding off until his figure suddenly vanished from the screen, and the scene was left with his discarded bag and coat as its final image.

Mr. Angelov was also the director and choreographer for “Deep Surface,” a remembrance of September 11. It was audacious even to tackle such a subject, and in the original stage version last fall the program notes only alluded to “something being violently destroyed.” In his new film version Mr. Angelov makes the reference specific, splicing in strong documentary footage of the events of that day with an emphasis on the human: the faces of firefighters and fleeing, ash-encrusted civilians.

Against these almost unbearable images and their stark reality, Mr. Angelov provides a counterpoint, juxtaposing strong restrained gestures performed by a group moving in taut formation. Kelly Mayfield stood out in a performance that was a marvel of controlled anguish.

Ludovic Jolivet, director of the CityDance FilmWORKS, created and performed in several of the evening’s films. Mr. Jolivet, born in Paris but working in this country for many years, is both choreographer and dancer. His principal focus, however, appears to be on what this evening was about, that is, nurturing the hybrid art form of dance films.

In his work, Mr. Jolivet had an over-reliance on the device of fade-in, fade-out. Both “Within” and “Meeting Apart” plumbed the use of appearance-disappearance for their main impact.

In his amusing solo, “Within,” Mr. Jolivet changed his persona briefly into an earnest ballerina in tutu; in “Meeting Apart” he and Melissa Greco took turns appearing and disappearing on a single park bench, often to wryly comic effect. But by the time “Salam” came around the evening seemed to be running out of invention.

Earlier in the evening Mr. Jolivet both directed and provided the score for “Awake in the Dark Side,” based on a dance by Vanessa Williamson. It featured one of the evening’s motifs — a couple flailing around on a bed to indicate various dark subtleties of human relationships — and was distinguished by the performances of Rob Chapetta and the beauteous Francesca Jandasek.

CityDance is well suited for its foray into film: the evening’s close-ups underscored what an unusually comely group of women there are in the company.

Toward the end of the evening the company’s evident delight in exploring film began to seem a substitute for genuine invention, or perhaps this viewer’s fatigue set in. At any rate “Salam,” directed by Elizabeth Gay and Mr. Jolivet; Mr. Angelov’s “Chinook,” with an admirable Connie Fink; and Mr. Emerson’s “Falling into the Sea” had the misfortune of having some of their thunder stolen by a similar approach in the earlier films.

This new venture by CityDance certainly seems to have legs. FilmWORKS will be a part of its appearances next season at the Kennedy Center. A separate evening of FilmWORKS will be an introductory evening, followed by two evenings of stage performances, when CityDance appears in Richmond, Philadelphia, New York City and St. Petersburg next year.

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