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Dancers Responding to AIDS

Dance From the Heart

by Cecly Placenti

March 21, 2011 -- Cedar Lake Theatre, New York City, NY

In the spirit of compassion, united humanity, and all that it means to be human, the
worlds of ballet, tap, and contemporary dance came together in a spectacular night of
artistry and passion to raise money and awareness for an important organization. For two
nights each year a cast as diverse as the audience who supports its cause from the other
side of the footlights, comes together in Dance From the Heart, Dancers Responding
to AIDS. DRA, founded in 1991 by Denise Roberts Hurlin and Hernando Cortez, is a
program of Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS, the nation’s leading industry-based,
nonprofit AIDS fundraising and grant making organization. Dance From the Heart is a
beautiful effort to raise money for critically needed services for people with AIDS and
other serious illnesses, and it is proof that art can change lives.

On this particular night in late March, audiences were treated to a tapas-like selection of
treats rarely seen on the same stage. Each piece presented was a tiny, stunning jewel in
a dazzling mosaic. The evening opened with a piece by Ballet X, a Philadelphia based
contemporary company. Dancer Colby Damon, a technical maverick, seemed to be
controlled by musician Rosie Langabeer and her accordion. Where Pierrot clown meets
classical ballet, “Imagination of the Proliferation” is a reincarnation of “The Red Shoes,”
with Damon being forced to dance on and on, his sinewy spine charmed like a snake by
the circus-like strains of the accordion. While obviously firmly rooted in the classical
ballet tradition, Ballet X brings a contemporary twist to the art form, infusing it with a
new athleticism and emotion.

Dance Theatre of Harlem presented an excerpt of “New Bach,” and although this was
definitely classical ballet, it had a decidedly sexy twist. In short black skirts, leotards
and bare legs, the women executed delicious hip rolls to the tips of their pointe shoes,
walking in sultry steps across the stage.

In a kaleidoscope of ever changing genres, Brian Brooks took the stage next, replacing
Bach with the electronic, hypnotic sounds of LCD Soundsystem, and the classical idiom
with a movement signature all his own. Never before have I seen such dynamic changes
in movement! And not just from one move to the next, but in so many subtle shifts of
weight, effort and dynamic- all in one movement! He was a completely compelling,
fascinating mover. Sinewy to static, soft to suddenly arresting, Brooks wafted like smoke,
oozed like water, somehow remaining distinct and clear in each moment. Brilliant.

In a last minute program change, American Ballet Theatre’s Lord of the Dance, Marcelo
Gomes, performed a solo from Twyla Tharp’s “Heart Duet.” Seeing this stunning dancer,
with his commanding yet never arrogant stage presence, in such an intimate theatre, was
pure delight. When the lights came up and he walked onto the stage, casually but with
astounding, nonchalant power, the very air in the room changed, became more electric.

As a sigh somehow escaped my lips entirely without command from my brain, the man
next to me, also experiencing the same inner revolt, exclaimed “The King!” And for a
few short minutes, in an athletic, cool, sexy contemporary solo, he showed us exactly
why he is a king who commands the language of dance with gentle grace.

Following his solo was a male duet performed by Tony Neidenbach and Philip Montana
of the Liz Gerring Dance Company. Choreographed with more natural, abstract
movements, “She Dreams in Code” was a cool mountain lake, a pleasing wash of
water. Intensely physical and intricate without being brashly athletic, the duet seemed
conversational, the two men complimenting each other in perfect harmony.

In a program that tore out of the gate and hit the ground running, never to slow
down or allow its audience complacency, Kyle Abraham presented a solo that defies
classification. In “Live! The Realest MC,” Abraham is an intense, consumed performer.
In flashes of contemporary dance, hip-hop and African, he step up to a microphone as if
to speak with his mouth, and then speaks with his body instead. He yells, cracks jokes,
demands, charms- all without ever saying a word. To quote Doris Humphrey, “There
are times when the simple dignity of movement can fulfill the function of a volume of
words.” And Mr. Abraham certainly proved that to be true.

Another special treat was seeing Ashley Bouder and Amar Ramasar, principal dancers
with the New York City Ballet, up close in this black box theatre. Performing an excerpt
of Avi Scher’s “Utopia,” Bouder and Ramasar were playful, engaged and dynamic,
allowing us a more personal connection with high quality ballet and classical dancers of
the highest caliber.

Rounding out the evening was Mark Stuart Dance Theatre’s sexy, hot “Torque,”
expressing physical and emotional rawness through an explosive, bold blend of dance
styles. Gallim Dance’s “Bread and Circus” was true to its name; in puppet-like costumes,
performers Caroline Fermin, Francesca Romo and DanWalczak performed a highly
charged, physically demanding and quirky piece where bursts of stunning technique
exploded out of marionette-type movements. Dontee Kiehn’s “Alon Basela” was a
swooping modern journey from ship-wreck to salvation.

None of these companies or performers is to be missed.

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