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CityDance Ensemble

'UnRavel,' 'Bubbles,' 'I Can Hear You. Can You See Me?,' 'Little Rhapsodies,' 'Harmonica Breakdown,' 'Salam,' 'Born to Run (Part One)'

by Carmel Morgan

September 7, 2007 -- Lansburgh Theatre, Washington, DC

This year’s CityDance Ensemble season opener got off to a running start courtesy of “The Boss,” Bruce Springsteen. Titled “Born to Run,” the show featured a variety of modern dance pieces, including the Springsteen-inspired “Born to Run (Part One).”

The program began with “UnRavel,” a 1995 work choreographed by the late Eric Hampton to the music of Maurice Ravel. The dancers, one male and three females, wore shades of red and gold. Their arms swept up and opened high above their heads then gracefully fell down. This beautiful movement, like tulips awakening, occurred repeatedly. The choreography was lovely, but the work didn’t seem to build properly and the dancers seemed oddly emotionless. They were at their best when dancing in unison.

The second piece, “Bubbles,” a funky duet, was choreographed by Juilliard graduates Kyra Jean Green and Idan Sharabi and was danced by Ms. Green and Jerome Johnson. Clad in black shorts and tops the two made sharp spider-like shapes to the strange sounds of “Under BOAC” by Autechre. To a racket of ricochet noises, the couple shook and twisted. Unlike bubbles, the choreography didn’t quite “pop.”

Next was the premiere of “I Can Hear You. Can You See Me?,” a multi-disciplinary collaborative piece involvinginter alia, soundscapes created from recordings in Rock Creek Park and motion capture tracking. The program notes explain that the dance floor was divided so that every movement generated a sound in relation to the stage location, in effect turning the dancers into composers. The piece was haunting and intense. Two dancers moved about in smoky shafts of light. Kyra Jean Green and Bruno Augusto rolled over one another, sat on one another, and participated in a mysterious exchange of games that covered the entire stage. The dancers were driven and they kept the interest of the audience as they moved throughout their surreal environment.

“Little Rhapsodies,” a work by Lar Lubovitch to Robert Schumann’s Symphonic Etudes, was the last piece before intermission. It was performed by senior artistic advisor Rasta Thomas. The lovely footwork and lively arms of Mr. Thomas echoed the gorgeous piano notes. Dancing primarily on alternating diagonals, he soared like a tormented butterfly. The internal focus made the work extremely personal and heartfelt.

After intermission, the program continued with “Harmonica Breakdown,” a work by Jane Dudley created in 1938. It was restaged for the company by Sheron Wray, and it was a pure delight, proving that modern dance from yesteryear can still be affecting. I could feel the hardships of the South in the toe-tapping harmonica rhythms and determined walk of dancer Delphina Parenti. It was as if she was born to dance this piece.

The following piece was “Eclipse,” choreographed by Doug Varone. The music, “Weather 3” by Michael Gordon, was essentially a series of almost unbearable sirens. The work opened with three figures standing next to each other on a dark stage. A small light on the floor shone? behind them. The work was dark in more ways than one. The dancers appeared desperate, and there was a palpable tension among the performers. They grasped hands then let go as they walked around one another. Unfortunately, although the work was gripping, it was also difficult to watch because of the blaring sirens.

“Salam” was the next-to-last piece of the evening. Choreographed by Ludovic Joliet and danced by Bruno Augusto, Alicia Canterna and Jerome Johnson, it brought a welcome respite from the sirens beforehand. The star of the piece was Mr. Johnson along with two chairs, which seemed to represent a past relationship. There was a strong sense of the passage of time and of lament as Mr. Johnson crawled, carried the chairs and leaned them against one another. The sculpted moments and slow, deliberate pace were much appreciated.

Finally, there was “Born to Run (Part One).” This first part of “Born to Run,” a feel-good rock-themed dance suite, brought to mind “Movin’ Out,” the musical marriage of Twyla Tharp and Billy Joel. The new piece, choreographed by artistic director Paul Gordon Emerson, was very theatrical. A couple playfully fought over cigarettes. A trio of women in brightly colored dresses danced chaotically with three men in dress shirts and suits. The work is obviously unfinished and it is hard to tell where it’s heading. The placement of this short, incomplete work at the end of the program was a bit baffling. It would have served better as the opening work.

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