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'Three Dancers - The Essence of Dance'

Presented by Meera Wolfe, Jonathan G. Willen, and Mason/Rhynes Production

by Carmel Morgan

November 12, 2007 -- The Atlas Performing Arts Center, Washington, DC

What if three of DC’s best female soloists gathered together for a single show?  Thanks to the vision of co-producer Meera Wolfe, the audience was wowed three times over in one night.  The November 12, 2007 show at the Atlas Performing Arts Center in DC, appropriately called “Three Dancers – The Essence of Dance,” was so successful that people at the reception afterwards were giddily buzzing about who the next three dancers might be. 

I’m not sure if the magic can be repeated.  The three dancers – Gesel Mason, Tehreema Mitha, and Nejla Y. Yatkin – are as impressive as they come.  Their backgrounds are diverse.  Mason is an African-American modern dancer.  Mitha was born in Pakistan and trained in South East Asia’s classical school of Bharatanatyam.  Yatkin, born in Germany with a Turkish-Egyptian background, has her own highly theatrical style of dance.  They are each fearless and strikingly beautiful, perfect solo artists.

Mason was the first woman to take the stage.  She performed two pieces.  First came “No Less Black,” a powerful commentary.  She began the work kneeling with her back to the audience and only later turned her head to us.  Soulful music and poetry rippled over the spare lines her body created.  Is she black enough, she wondered.  Does she have to be angry to be black?  At the end, her hand touched the back of her neck and she pulled her head again toward the audience with a knowing glance.  It was as sacred a dance as any of the others on the evening’s program.         

Mason’s second piece was “desire,” a world premiere.  Like in “No Less Black,” she started the work with her back to the audience.  She was clothed in a floor-length steel gray skirt.  As she walked forward, we noticed that she wore a blindfold.  Masked, she was vulnerable.  Much of the movement was on her knees, rolling and crawling.  She eventually removed the blindfold, aggressively gathered her skirt, and opened her eyes.  She held our gaze, but not for long.  At one point, she flew as she jumped backwards.  It was as if she was possessed, or given an electric shock.  She ultimately retied the blindfold.  Her hands then finally rested, locked on her lap, waiting for something or someone we could not see.    

Tehreema Mitha next performed another world premiere, titled “In the Spirit of Things.”   As explained in a voiceover, it concerned the power of belief to shape what we see.  There was a small, artful pile of rocks in an upstage corner and some accompanying smoke indicative of worship billowing in from the wings.  Her palms and feet were painted bright red, and her dancing was as intense as the imagined flames.  Mitha became the musical beats, moving like she was truly channeling the divine. 

Mitha’s second piece, “WA’I, a dance of bereavement,” was intense as well.  She wore bells around her ankles and an expression of suffering on her face.  Various stages of grief came to life, particularly anger, sadness, and denial.  Mitha was mesmerizing to watch as she moved in a low, cat-like prowl.  Her bent legs powerfully whipped around, tracing her emotional journey.  One could not help but be moved by her performance. 

The last solo artist of the evening was Nejla Y. Yatkin.  Yatkin is an imposing figure.  She looks eight feet tall on the stage, like some sort of immense goddess statue.  Her work, “For People with Wings,” began with a dramatic entrance typical of Yatkin’s dances.  Tiny black feathers delicately blew across the stage. Yatkin followed, completely enveloped in a tumbleweed of black tulle and flowing dark tresses.  She was absolutely absorbing in this haunting piece. 

Yatkin’s piece was disorienting at first.  The audience was unable to see her face until it appeared upside down.  On her back with her head arched, her arms moved above her like a pair of legs bicycling.  When she later stepped out of her skirt, the work became more sensual, putting the audience in the place of a voyeur.  Yatkin’s performance was unapologetically self-indulgent.  “For People with Wings” may be a vanity dance of sorts, but it presents a kind of self-worship that is operatic in scope and is impossible not to get swept up in.                   

To close the program, these remarkably talented individuals joined for an improvised trio performed to the first movement of Alexander Zemlinsky’s String Quartet No. 2, Opus 15.  Dance critic George Jackson explained that Zemlinsky’s piece was inspired by a real-life tragic love triangle.  The women stood side-by-side in silhouette to begin the improvisation.  The majority of the work was framed by yet another series of solos that brought together elements from the entire show.  The dancers responded to one another in a profoundly touching way; perhaps due to their obvious shared passion for dance, they seemed far more alike than different.  It was wonderful watching these three incredible dancers, each so at home in her own skin, together on the same stage.  This love triangle was triumphant.            

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