Local Arts Reviews


Dougherty Arts Center, March 25

I entered the Dougherty Arts Center alone. I took my seat as just a solitary spectator.

Then Ballet East Dance Theatre's spring production began, and something changed. I became witness to a wedding, a bonding of two people in relation to the community to which they belong. I watched as two revelers from rival groups (gangs?) in carnival garb met and bonded despite the frictions between their factions. I was transported to the banks of some river in Africa to see herds, flocks, tribes, moving in rhythm, in concert, as a group.

As the title of this program suggests, the company was exploring what it means to be a tribe, to belong to one or not to belong to one, to act in unity and in opposition – the dynamics of association. The breadth of the subject gave the five choreographers the latitude to look at it from wildly different perspectives. Melissa Villarreal's "Ring of Destiny," with its Middle Eastern costumes and music, imbued the marriage rite with a mythic splendor, while Marlo Wanielista-Berg's "Watch What You Wish For" was a whimsical vignette of four girls fighting over a parasol that, on a windy day, ultimately proves more trouble than it's worth. Eric Midgley's "Endless River" was almost epic, filling the stage with 10 dancers to convey a sense of nature's tribes in sweeping, sometimes thunderous collective movement, while Sharon Marroquin's "Endangered Species" held a hushed focus on four dancers' individual gestures – watching one's fingers wiggle, pivoting one's hand to suggest a bird cocking its head, peering through a cage – creating an enigmatic and intimate beauty. And yet, as different as they were from each other, all the dances drew attention to the connections in our world: of human to human, creature to nature, end to beginning.

Even when the stage was held by just a single person, a sense of connectedness came through. Dancing Melissa Villarreal's "Out of the Box," Chika Aluka thrust her arms up to one side then to the other, reaching out to someone or someones we could not see, her face imploring them for some kind of aid. The sharpness of her movements – rolling across the floor, carving sweeping arcs through space with her legs – coupled with the intensity of her expressions, imbued the piece with a sense of drama greater than that of a lone individual. In the same way, Sharon Marroquin's physicality gave her late mother a very real presence in "For My Mother: Version #2," but she made another person present even more powerfully when she simply lifted her loose green blouse to reveal her swollen belly, six months with child. The layers of relationship – a dance in memory of her mother from a daughter who is soon be a mother herself – made this already deeply personal work that much more intimate and moving.

The more I watched of these dances, the more I became aware of the people around me: the friend and colleague sitting to my left, the company dancer who introduced herself between acts, the boisterous teenagers in the front rows who had never seen modern dance before, the young man who took the stage at one point to sing a Mexican ballad, and, of course, the corps of dancers expending so much energy on the stage. Even when their movements were rushed or lacked the finesse they might have had, the dancers communicated a sense of involvement with what they were doing and with each other. One could feel their connection to the community from which they come and for which they dance.

I felt it, like an invisible web that binds us each to each and all to all. I may have entered the Dougherty by myself, but by the time I left, I was far from alone.

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Tribal, Ballet East Dance Theatre, Melissa Villareal, Ring of Destiny, Marlo Wanielista Berg, Watch What You Wish For, Eric Midgley, Endless River, Sharon Marroquin, Endangered Species, Out of the Box, Chika Aluka, For My Mother: Version #2

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