REVIEW: Columbia City Ballet's Body & Movement - by Susan Lenz

To Each Their Own: Body & Movement Explored

Yesterday morning I sat at my laptop and composed a glowing review of Columbia Classical Ballet’s one-night-only production of Don Quixote. I knew that just twenty-four hours later, I would be putting words together in another dance review, one for Columbia City Ballet’s Body & Movement Explored. I attended Saturday’s show, the second in a two-night engagement at Columbia Music Festival Association’s black box theater on Pulaski Street. I went hoping the dancing would be as wonderful as the evening before. After all, it is far easier to write compliments than it is to write critical comments.

For the most part, I was not disappointed. More importantly, I learned a lot. Some of what I learned was about the creative ideas at work in a choreographer’s mind. There was a casual but informative talk-back session after the dancing. I also learned that my opinions might be 180 degrees apart from other knowledgeable dance fans, but that doesn’t mean any of us are more wrong (or right!) than the other.

What do I mean by that? Well, I ran into a friend who had also seen Don Quixote the night before. Unlike me, though, my friend found the entire performance boring and lackluster, not at all of the quality they expected from a professional company. We exchanged our impressions. Both of us acknowledged valid points from one another. Neither mind was changed, but it was certainly an engaging and worthwhile conversation.

Body & Movement Explored was an evening that easily showcased works one might totally love or absolutely hate. The person sitting next to you could easily hate the one you loved and loved the one you hated. As for me, I really disliked Philip Ingrassia’s Together Apart. In the talkback session, Philip announced that not only was this the third reiteration of the piece, but that he was greatly satisfied with where it was at and how intended to expand the piece into a full, fifteen-minute number. I was also not a fan of Stephanie Wilkins’ Ache. The three couples often looked awkward in movements that otherwise suggested the intention should have been flowing ease. To me, more rehearsal time was needed.

I found Martin Skocelas-Hunter’s In Good Company boring enough that my mind wandered. His concept was obvious. A group of four women danced side by side, doing the same steps as if an amateur recital. This was followed by four men doing exactly the same thing. The audience was to consider the difference in interpretation between men and women given the same choreography. As my mind wandered, I could almost see how this concept could be translated into a first-rate contemporary art film. What at first I found unexciting became ripe with possibilities. This is why evenings exploring body and movement are so important; Without a stage on which to experiment, choreographers work in the dark.

Though I’ve mentioned works I didn’t particularly enjoy, more than half the fourteen works presented were quite entertaining. This includes Good Eats, a tap-dancing duet choreographed and performed by Jordan Hawkins and Claire Richards to the live music by composer/trumpeter Mark Rapp and drummer Brendan Bull. The music was the title track to Rapp’s 2011 release paying homage to legendary saxophonist Lou Donaldson and the performance let the room know why Rapp was recently designated the Jazz Ambassador of Columbia and the State of South Carolina by the SC House of Representatives.

Both of Rachel Leonard’s works were wonderful to watch and showed a wide range of expressiveness. If I had known beforehand, I would have been predisposed to this opinion. Why? Well, Rachel Leonard is one of two founders of Surfscape Dance Troupe, a professional contemporary company in Volusia County, Florida. I saw them perform at the Joan James Harris Theater at the Atlantic Center for the Arts before their 2014 tour to Sadler’s Wells in England.  It wasn’t until the talkback session that my memories seemed to coincide with William Starrett’s story of meeting Rachel Leonard, as well as her story of going to Paris after her company’s performance in England. The first half of the program ended with Café de Courtieser L’Ecart, Leonard’s playful recollection of her trip. It was grand!

Yet the most intriguing number of the night for me was Amanda Summey’s Rock, Paper, Scissors, “Gun Emoji” set to Mendelssohn’s Movement in G Minor for Nicole Carrion, Jordan Hawkins, and Colin Jacobs. This was a work that ought to be further explored, expanded, and performed. The piece powerfully illustrated how differences of opinion can lead to intractable, unresolved tensions, not unlike the varying impressions left on audience members after any dance occasion

Miranda Bailey’s duet for Bonnie-Boiter Jolley and Maurice Johnson was ethereal. Unfortunately, Bailey finale, Origin of Love, would have benefited from a larger space. Still, it was so exciting to see dancers smiling, full of energy, and showing off spins and leaps as if cast in a Broadway musical about a high school performing arts school. Perhaps nothing from the evening will go on to fame, but being in the audience was fun and the ensuing conversations were stimulating. I hope my impressions initiate an interest in local dance, whether one agrees with me or not! We are all entitled to our own opinions and the community will grow if we share, explore, and learn from one another.

Full Disclosure: Jasper Magazine's former Dance Editor, Bonnie Boiter-Jolley, is a soloist with the Columbia City Ballet.