Wednesday, February 24, 2016

2015 in Review: That's Dancing!

Savion Glover's STePz, Strathmore, Bethesda, Maryland (February 6, 2015)
On the STePz... © Andrea Mohin/New York Times
Savion Glover always brings something new. Unlike any other dancer, this guy makes me sit at attention and, by the end of each performance, my mouth is usually gaping and my eyes are dry from not blinking.

STePz seemed more formal than the other free-flowing Savion Glover shows I've seen. This one celebrated the history of music and dance. It paid tribute to several dance styles other than tap, as everything from classical and Latin to pop blasts through the speakers. Savion performed a moving solo honoring tap pioneer Bill Robinson during "Mr. Bojangles," where he and his shadow evoke the past with Robinson's familiar moves. On the fly after the intermission, he and the three lovely lady tappers accompanying him during the show – Robin Watson, Sarah Savelli, and Lisa LaTouche – decided to sing an acapella verse and chorus of Michael Jackson's "The Way You Make Me Feel."

The show included a few short sets of stairs (the STePz?) on which Savion and the other dancers tapped – sometimes choreographed, sometimes improvised. In one memorable moment, Savion and fellow hoofer Marshall Davis, Jr., battled it out on the steps, mimicking and adding to each other's improvisational beats. In another, the three ladies took advantage of the stairs for some choreographed tapping that saluted other dance styles, like ballet, tango, and jazz. The show ended with the whole troupe dancing to Stevie Wonder's "Sir Duke." They froze at the end in classic superhero poses with one arm punched skyward. On cue, we erupted in cheers – until we had to leave and deal with our delirium at home.

Savion Glover never disappoints me. Here's a taste of the show:

Savion Glover's STePz video © Savion Glover

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre, Kennedy Center, Washington, D.C. (February 7, 2015)
From "Revelations" © Gert Krautbauer
Seeing the Alvin Ailey dance troupe is always a good idea. Having said that, my heart was still beating to Savion Glover's taps from the night before when I attended this afternoon matinee, so my memory of it is vague. However, I liked this performance very much.

Whenever the Alvin Ailey company comes to the Kennedy Center, it's booked there for a few days and offers different dances at different performances. This show's dances were created over the course of more than 50 years. "Polish Pieces" first appeared in 1996, "Bad Blood" premiered in 1986, and "Caught" is from 2004. The showstopper at the end of every show this time around was "Revelations," a dance created in 1960 and set to traditional, spiritual music.

What I always remember about Alvin Ailey dance shows is the bodies – how the dancers hold their alignment with precision and move in inventive ways. The music informs the movements, and the costumes accentuate the emotion. "Revelations," for example, sweeps you up as the dancers in full colorful skirts twirl across the stage in unison. Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre gives you a full experience that touches all the senses through movement and leaves you with something new to talk about afterward. This afternoon's inspiring performance had us singing along, cheering, and clapping for encores.

It's a coincidence that I saw a story about the Alvin Ailey dance troupe on PBS Newshour last night. Correspondent Jeffrey Brown talked to Artistic Director Robert Battle about his aim to take the company in a new direction while honoring its storied past. Check it out:

Twyla Tharp 50th Anniversary Tour, Kennedy Center, Washington, D.C. (November 13, 2015) 
From "Yowzie" © Kevin Parry
Although I've always known her name, I'd never seen Twyla Tharp's dances until this 50th anniversary performance. "Long ago, I made the choice to mark this point in my career not with events celebrating the past, but with new dances showing what I had learned and some of what I had experienced during this working life," Tharp explains about the show. A short fanfare piece introduced each half of the the program, and while the two halves couldn't have been more different in style or music, they somehow made sense together.

The first half explored Bach's preludes and fugues through balletic moves. During these short piano pieces, the dancers, who were dressed in plain but bright one-color costumes, personified the notes being played. Each entertaining piece was different in the number of dancers and their stories. All were infused with surprising funny moments told through dance. The second half showcased "Yowzie," a performance set to a series of 1920s jazz tunes, many of which I didn't recognize, though I knew the composers, like Jelly Roll Morton and Fats Waller. For these dances, the performers were dressed in bright, patterned costumes and accessorized with headbands or hats. They never stopped moving and sometimes looked like jelly bouncing into and off each other in joyful, controlled chaos.

The innovation Twyla Tharp's choreography is a thrill to watch. I love most that the humor and joy she finds through her work is evident and contagious with every step. Here's a snippet of the show:

Twyla Tharp 50th Anniversary Tour video © Twyla Tharp

Dancing is good for the soul, even if you're just watching. So, go treat yourself to a performance and you might find yourself dancing your way home. 

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