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Dance Performance Group

'Gathering Light'

by Carmel Morgan

December 8, 2012 -- Josephine Butler Parks Center, Washington, DC

On December 8, 2012, choreographer Nancy Havlik’s Dance Performance Group (“DPG”), along with the Arts for the Aging Quicksilver Senior Dance Company, in “Gathering Light,” infused the Josephine Butler Parks Center, a mansion at the foot of Meridian Hill Park in Washington, DC, with music and dance that indeed did light up the majestic space magnificently. The dancers in “Gathering Light” weren’t all traditionally trained dancers, and many were well above the age that one is used to seeing dancing on stage. All the better, in this case.

The performance began with a crowd gathered in the grand building’s lobby. In the first section of “Gathering Light,” titled “Ascent,” six dancers (Amanda Blythe, Page Gaphery, Ken Manheimer, Annetta Dexter Sawyer, Angela Schopke, and Justin Wyss-Gallifent), who might have been mistaken for audience members were it not for their bare feet, slowly and wordlessly began to move to live music. Musical director Daniel Barbiero on double bass stood playing his instrument atop the first landing of a set of wide stairs. Bodies crumpled and slid and somehow effortlessly snaked up the staircase, not feet first, not walking, but rolling, backward, upside down, any way but in a “normal” manner. It was gloriously beautiful to behold. The audience was then asked to follow the dancers up those same stairs, but sadly, not a single person chose to tackle the stairs tumbling upward as the dancers had done.

Upstairs, the audience was greeted by more musicians (particularly captivating was pianist Nguyen Khoi Nguyen), and more dancers, inside and outside of several rooms. The crowd wandered as the dancers and musicians created a lively atmosphere and set the mood for discovery. Viewing this portion of the dance was like stepping through an art gallery, except that with each turn of the head, everything changed. A group of small children in one room, adorably attired in party wear, jumped and giggled and chased each other. They were conscious of being watched on occasion, but mostly, they unselfconsciously had fun. Who doesn’t enjoy seeing children freely galloping about? The children later made an appearance in “Flying Colors,” in which they ran full speed with rectangles of brightly colored tissue paper flying above their heads, but their less choreographed play held more interest.

In “Flicker Forward,” the Quicksilver Senior Dance Company (Jaya Adiga, Sachiko Chang, Ruby Chapman, Nancy Harris, Dorothy Levy, Jenean McKay, and Betty Shuford), with flameless LED tea light candles in their palms, moved gracefully around the mansion’s ballroom, arms swooping in arcs, to and fro. Anthony Hyatt, on violin, accompanied them, and danced some himself. He even slithered on his back while continuing to play. Just as it was delightful to observe the children’s boundless energy, it was inspirational to witness the senior dancers’ active spirits. In both cases, the joy of movement was readily apparent and certainly contagious.

The adults ended the evening with a contact improvisation round robin. Prior to that, DPG performed two works, “Tracking Tornados,” in which, among other things, they licked their fingers and pointed into the air, and “What Next,” which featured accordions of sticky notes, text by Daniel Barbiero, and a manual typewriter. What was most impressive wasn’t the actual movement, but the way in which the dancers remained closely attuned to each other. In rushing, twirling, lifting, tangling, they exuded a fierce awareness of the group, which is definitely key when one is rapidly vaulting toward someone else, or being balanced in the air by others. In this delicate and intimate ensemble work, DPG’s dancers and Havlik’s choreography excelled. Overall, the most notable thing was the pulse of life that the performers of all generations provided to the vast space. In “Gathering Light,” the old mansion truly came alive, and the faces of the audience members likewise lit up. Surely, that’s a success.

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