The film - Mad Hot Ballroom. This lovely documentary was filmed in the NYC public school system, where several schools have a program that teaches kids ballroom dancing for 6 weeks. This culminates in a city-wide competition, with the kids dancing things like the tango, swing, and the foxtrot.
I'm sure you can tell by the description that this is a crowd-pleaser, and it is. It highlights the power of arts education, and why it's so vital in our nation's schools. But it's really about more than the dancing - it's about the character changes in these kids. It's interspersed with interviews where you see how disturbingly grown-up these 10 year olds are. They know far too much about sex, marriage, drugs and death. So for them to have an outlet for fun, creativity and competition is so important.
But of course the dancing is fun as well. It reminded me of another great ballroom dancing flick that I own and watch when I'm feeling blue.
Meanwhile last night, the SNU and I saw our first of three subscriber performances to the dance series at the Kennedy Center. It featured the Jose Limon Dance Company.
I'm very interested in Limon from the research I did on him for a term paper in grad school. He was born in Mexico, and later studied under my favorite dance author, Doris Humphrey, who is pictured here:
Limon choreographed with a lot of powerful dramatic movement, strong arms, and lots of deep second-position bends. Pictured below is one of his most famous pieces, "The Moor's Pavane" - a retelling of Shakespeare's Othello using a handkerchief as an allegory. (Limon is dancing the part of Othello in the center, Iago is on the left, Emilia on the right, looking over the corpse of Desdemona.)
Aaaaanyway, the show last night was interesting. This review actually sums it up pretty nicely. First was a piece that seemed to highlight an austere religion - very similar to Humphrey's "The Shakers" (which I danced in back when I first met the SNU). Next was the quirky fun of "The Ubiquitous Elephant," which was full of richly drawn characters.
After that was Limon's tribute to Humphrey, and the company just performed a suite from it, which in of itself was quite long. The challenge is that the movement motifs that Limon borrows from his predecessor feel so dated and simplistic today. There were absolutely some exciting moments - like a leap into a jazz split (ouch), or the whirling conflagration of the ensemble towards the end. But on the whole it grew dull, and you could perceive the shift in the seats as the audience grew restless.
But the showpiece was the final one, a comission from Lar Lubovitch. I really love his work - he created two of my all-time favorite dances - "Fandango" and "Marimba." In this work ("Recordare") he was examining the rituals of the Mexican Day of the Dead - a celebration of the afterlife. It was colorful, inventive and fun. I think my favorite scenes were the one which featured a married couple facing death by meat cleaver, and the section when dancers spread marigold petals through a graveyard in quiet contemplation of death. This piece was just the right length, and a good way to end the show.
Next stop, the SNU and I will see the Bill T. Jones Dance Company in a couple weeks. I'll keep you posted.
(Now that you read that, aren't you shocked at how intellectual and cultured I am?)