November 04, 2005

Dance your cares away

Here is my review of a video that I watched this week, as well as a live dance concert that the SNU and I went to.

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?)



ScottE. said...

As a non-dancer, I really enjoyed the Humphries series. I didn't think it was dated at all...but again, I don't know dance history.

Prior to getting to the KC, I asked what I should expect. J gave me a good summary of the history of the company and I was much more excited to see it.

I liked Elephant piece, but didn't love it. The dancer portraying the "guest" was really good. He later portrayed the mischievous 'death' in the last piece, which i think was really good and seemed to have been influenced by what I would call theatre of the absurb. good stuff.

Madhot BallRoom....I watched most of it, but had to go to bed...was too tired. But those kids know way to much about life and love...maybe I'm just more a prude than I want to be. Good times.

Em said...

What a coincidence -- I saw Mad Hot Ballroom last weekend! Loved it! It really made me want to take ballroom dancing classes. Adam and I wanted to do that before our wedding but didn't have time. Maybe we'll get to it this winter.

The dance performance sounds cool. My modern dance teacher in college was trained in the Limon technique, so I'm fairly familiar with his work. I've seen "Shakers" a half-dozen times probably. Not my favorite by a long shot, but I can appreciate it in an academic way I guess.

Oh, if you haven't seen "Spellbound" it's another great documentary about kids. It follows a few kids who make it to the finals of the national spelling bee. I really liked it, although it was sometimes painful to watch. The kids, and sometimes their parents, are just obsessed with the competition. Very interesting though.

Stef said...

I second the good reviews of both Mad Hot Ballroom and Spellbound. Something about watching kids achieve makes me weep...break out the Kleenex for these movies!

So, J-Lo, if a beginner had to pick just one dance performance at the KC this year, which one would you recommend? I do think I'm gonna see the Nutcracker, but I'd love a suggestion on something new and interesting to see, too.

Dancer in DC said...

Great question. For the beginner, the most audience-friendly by far is Alvin Ailey, which is our last subscription show (in February). His work is very accessible, and they will always do one of his classics along with some more contemporary work.

Lady Brandenburg said...

Mad Hot Ballroom is on my Netflix list. Can't wait!

Stef said...

Alvin Ailey is a great suggestion! I better get on that mailing list to make sure I get ticket info!

Remind me sometime to tell you a sweet story that took place at your Dupont store, btw. It nearly brought tears to my eyes, I was so proud! I'll fill ya in on T'giving if not before....