- The Washington Times - Monday, April 27, 2009

Dance Is the Answer is the catchy title of a concerted effort from a wide-ranging field covering everything from ballet to hip-hop to belly dancing to broadcast the delights of this liveliest of art forms.

The 10-day Dance Is the Answer festival got off to a smashing start Thursday evening at its opening program in the soaring CityDance studios at the Strathmore Arts Center.

It will continue through the weekend with performances concluding May 3.

More than 70 artists, companies and venues are participating in the festival. Most events, such as classes, performances and attending rehearsals, are free and are scattered all over the Washington area. The events include a Happenings at the Harman program, lessons in belly dancing, classes for children, teenagers and adults in ballet, modern dance, tap, hip-hop, salsa, Latin ballroom, Mexican folk dance, Broadway jazz, Indian dance, Gypsy dance, and flamenco.

The opening event on Thursday included a nod to the wide-ranging world of local dance from the multinational corps of dancers in companies like the Washington Ballet and CityDance and also from the global outreach of several Washington companies. Examples of this global outreach are CityDance’s departure Saturday for a three-week tour of the Middle East, to be followed later by a swing in South America; the Dakshina/Daniel Phoenix Singh Dance Company will perform in India, and Step Afrika will dance in Madagascar.

Most exciting Thursday was the dancing itself. A solo, and a group dance by a world-famous choreographer showed a level of brilliant local dancing that was a revelation.

The solo was danced by Andile Ndlovu, a young man from South Africa now a first-year member of the Washington Ballet’s junior Studio Company. Slim and sinewy, he moved like quicksilver, movements rippling across his body: It was a mesmerizing performance.

I was impressed, but wondered how his highly individual style would fit into what was essentially a traditional, albeit adventurous ballet company. Then I learned Mr. Ndlovu would be appearing in the brilliant classical choreography of the “Corsaire Pas de Deux” with the Studio Company at the Washington Ballet’s in-house program to begin Thursday through May 3. Talk about versatility!

An even bigger surprise on the opening day of Dance Is the Answer was the performance by CityDance of Paul Taylor’s harrowing “Last Look.” Mr. Taylor has the widest range of any living choreographer; he ranges from the serene and sublimely beautiful to the grim and malevolent. “Last Look” is at the most depraved end of the spectrum, a society filled with self-loathing, shaken with doubts, rudderless and despairing.

This gripping works demands from the dancers a physical daring at a high level, and the discipline to create chaos onstage without major accidents. Self-loathing shows in the shameful way they hold themselves, crumpling to the floor and crawling over lifeless bodies.

The CityDance performers rose to the challenge, dancing at a new level of eloquence and bold risk-taking. They were immeasurably helped by the presence of Michael Trusnovec, one of the great dancers on the stage today, who came here from the Taylor company to replace a missing dancer in a major role.

It was a blazing start to a week that offers an imaginative look at dance in Washington and beyond.

For all-inclusive details of what this week holds in dance go to www.danceistheanswer.org.

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