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Echo Park Contemporary Ballet

'On the Outside, Looking In'

by Carmel Morgan

November 17, 2007 -- Down Dog Yoga Studio, Washington, DC

Echo Park Contemporary Ballet made its debut at a Georgetown yoga studio on Saturday, November 17, 2007.  Given the unusual venue, the premiere performance was intimate to say the least: the cheerful yellow-walled room was filled to capacity making the dancers only an arm’s length away, or what some think of as being within “sweating distance.”  Unfortunately, for a variety of reasons, this informal environment proved less than ideal.

The studio, packed with friends and family, quickly overheated.  This resulted in the sound system shutting down, disrupting the first two pieces on the program.  An impromptu intermission was required to address the sound problems.  Later in the program, one of the dancers suddenly exited the stage area, barely minutes after he’d begun dancing.  Artistic director Cedric Tillman explained to the befuddled audience that the yoga studio’s flooring had been replaced the day before.  The surface was too slippery, so the dancer had gone to wet his feet.  The small space also limited the dancers’ range.  Grand jetés were near impossible, and when they were attempted, the performers nearly leapt into people’s laps. The aforementioned glitches made it difficult to concentrate on the art.  The Echo Park dancers persevered as best they could.  Presumably there will be better opportunities for them to shine in the future.

The show opened with “Can You Move,” a high energy quintet that commenced with the proclamation: “Start your engines.”  Due to technical difficulties, the engines had to be started twice.  The dancers, including Tillman, aggressively pounded and pounced across the floor.  The women (Shallom Johnson, Shylo Martinez, and Kelly Mayfield) – in red short shorts and sex kitten smiles – added to the heat of the room.

Oscar Hawkins’ “Strange Fruit,” performed to the provocative Billie Holiday tune of the same name, was a rare treat.  Hawkins’ choreography in this solo work is stunning.  He is all arms, legs, and torso, and he danced nearly naked.  In a freak-show type move, Hawkins held one leg to his ear and bent in half while maintaining his balance.  Astounded by his flexibility, the audience howled appreciatively.   

The evening’s last piece was “Ego-Trip,” danced by Rasta Thomas.  It began with the words, “I am an ego trip.  If only you could be like me.”  Thomas is a joy to watch.  “Ego Trip” featured fast footwork, strong vertical lines, flying tour jetés, some salsa-like hip action, and even a toe-touch jump.  Thomas and Tillman pulled out all the stops.       

Tillman has a knack for choosing movement that shows off his dancers’ strengths.  There was an abundance of gymnastic event moves throughout the evening – 90 degree angle kicks and pitches, and rapid turns and spins that are less ballet and more cirque de soleil. With “contemporary ballet” in the company’s name such diversions are perhaps expected.      

Tillman mentioned that he put the program together in less than one month, and the production seemed not quite ready for public consumption.  But there is a wealth of talent among the dancers and some promise in the choreography.  Echo Park Contemporary Ballet adds a new dimension to the DC dance world and will hopefully grow into a distinctive local dance company. 

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