From the DC Dance Journalism Project
DC Contemporary Dance Theatre/El Teatro De Danza Contemporanea: A Commemorative Performance in Honor of Gloria Contreras at The Washington School of Ballet
PREVIEW By Michelle Hayes
DC Contemporary Dance Theatre/El Teatro De Danza Contemporanea: A Commemorative Performance in Honor of Gloria Contreras was a warming, senses-filled and intimate experience at The Washington School of Ballet Joseph C. Coleman Studios.
I walked along Wisconsin Avenue and found the small sign for The Washington School of Ballet and followed signs up to the second floor. I walked down a long hallway with other exercise businesses, to be greeted and welcomed by the staff of the Joseph C. Coleman Studios. I was guided to enter the studio to find a seat front and center. The studio space was wide and had five long rows of white chairs with an intimate space creating a half-circle-shaped stage.
The program for the evening was in honor of Gloria Contreras, who passed a year ago. The company presented three of her works along with a premiere work by Lloyd Whitmore. Contreras had a huge influence on the development and continuation of DC Contemporary Dance Theatre/El Teatro De Dancsa Contemporanea (DCCDT/TDC) and on the Founder/Artistic Director Miya Hisaka. Contreras was one of Latin America’s most well-known figures in the world of art and culture. She was a rebel in her artistry, combining ballet technique and mambo social dance in Latin America. It was important for her dancers to be technically trained and able to express human emotions from deep down. Dancers needed to live what they were dancing. She thought it was necessary to make work through the civil war and destruction in the world as a way of processing and as a representation of the culture. When Miya Hisaka crossed paths with Contreras, Hisaka was immediately influenced by her determination, desire to use dance as a form of communication, and representation of humans. Contreras became a mentor for Hisaka and her dance company.
DCCDT/TDC is a bi-cultural dance company passionate about creating repertory that represents Latin America with the influence of multi-cultural dancers. The company was the first biracial dance company in D.C. when it was founded in 1984. Its genre of dance ranges from contemporary and ballet to indigenous roots of Latin America and the company’s African roots. Since this performance was in honor of Gloria Contreras, the pieces were contemporary ballet work. The history mentioned above was an essential part to the presentation of the evening and was shared after the first piece by Hisaka and Contreras’s son, Gregorio Luke, through a power point presentation.
The show started with a trio, Concierto (1920), by Eduardo Rogel with performing artists from an adult workshop. The music and attitude of the dancers was welcoming as they used opening arm gestures, traditional ballet port de bras, and light and airy glissades and arabesques. The three performers danced together and in solos and duets. It gave me the feeling of watching an adult ballet class but did serve a purpose as an introduction to the evening’s atmosphere.
They created distinct horizontal pathways back and forth through the space. They danced with warm, smiling faces and pleasant demeanor, which fed their movement. The balletic steps echoed the music dynamics. When the music became soft and smooth, arms brushed through the air with grace and feet glided along the floor. When the music was quick and loud, the trio moved swiftly, covering a lot of space. This was followed by the presentation about Gloria Contreras and ended with encouragement and excitement from the audience’s applause.
K-622 (1995), choreographed by Contreras, was a duet with a man and woman to Mozart’s Adagio K.622. Their starting pose was striking, leaving the image still in my mind. Max Maisey was in front with Chika Imamura’s arms wrapped under and around his shoulders as he walked slowly forward, dragging her feet along in longing and slight heartache. He wore light grey tights and she wore a light pink nightgown like dress supporting the romantic feel of the movement. From the moment they started, their bodies were filled with connection for each other. There was a constant pulling energy between the two dancers showing longing to be close to each other. When they were not in direct contact, they portryaed a feeling of agony through facial gestures and slow contractions of the torso and slowly outstretched arms. They often looked upward or towards one another. Every time they danced away from each other, I longed for them to return.
He would gently place his hand on her waist and spin her about into an arabesque, embrace her in a delicate hug of not wanting to let go. Every touch and step was with elegance and compassion for the other. When they were face-to-face and embraced, they looked deep into each other eyes. K-622 was an intimate experience between the two dancers, and we were invited into the world they were struggling in. The struggle was seen through the embraces and angst in their steps when they were apart. Among all the passion, horizontal and diagonal pathways were a noticeable choreographic choice.
Siciliana (1996), a solo choreographed by Contreras and danced by Wanyi Ng, was a breath of fresh air filled with sweeping and swinging arm movements and piques through the space. She moved in circular floor patterns with circular arms brushing through the air like wind to J.S. Bach’s “Siciliana.” Wanyi had quick feet that followed the rhythm of the oboe’s melody.
After three gentle, sweet, and airy pieces, we were presented with Solo Para Angel Contemporaneo, a fierce and force-filled solo choreographed by Contreras danced by Fidel Garcia. He began the piece with his back turned to us, hands in fists at his side as they slowly moved up and his body lowered. The movement motif consisted of batting away at something with forceful strikes using his arms through deep lunges. He seemed to be searching for dominance through his outward gaze and pacing about the space.
The evening concluded with the premiere of Llyod Whitmore’s Songs Without Words, a large group piece broken up into three sections. The first and third were similar in movement, choreographic structure and energy. There was a quartet, trio, two duets of women of similar stature that weaved in and out of the space. It was a showy presentational work.
One particular movement that stuck out was when they faced front with arms swooping to the sides with a jazz flair of weight-shifting. This was repeated with each group, and each time I saw the movement in a new way based on who was doing the movement and the relationship between the dancers. The cast of this piece was well diverse in size, gender, and race. This, along with the number of dancers on stage, made this repetition of movement intriguing. Each dancer brought their own individual style to this piece. The high-spirited music and dancers created a fun and energized environment. It was full of fast pas de bourees, pas de chats, saute arabesques, and spine undulations. They were free flowing with quick jumps in and around each other.
Soon all the dancers but two women and a male left the stage, and there was a dramatic change in the music to more melancholy energy. There was a moment where the two women were on the floor kneeling and male went over to each, stroked his thumb from their eye down their cheek to the other side. There were many small intimate gestures like this, with a sense of reflection and weight in their steps, in this section. The dancers were inwardly connected to each other.
Another gentle movement that left a lasting image happened in the beginning and was repeated at the end of this trio section. The three stepped forward, looking up, lifted their arms above their heads and then back down like a feather gliding through the air. This gesture led into a soft, but quick, step into second position with each arm brushing up to a high level and then to a lower level. The choreographic choice to repeat such a phrase in a cannon at the end was refreshing and satisfying to me. It was similar to the movement in the large group section but with a different dynamic and emotion.
The piece ended with the full company returning to the stage in their designated groups. During this section, the emotion of being present in the moment and enjoying the human connection between dancers and audience was eminent. They were honestly having fun, enjoying sharing their talent and heart and bringing us into their world. The full company sections were very organic in the playful excitement the dancers had as they danced with each other and invited us into their environment. The performance ended with calls of “Bravo!”, abundant applause, and pleasant energy. The performance gave the audience permission to be a part of the emotions and expressions of human connection. It reminded me of all the different emotions we feel on a day-to-day basis and that we should feel them whether enjoyable or uncomfortable.
There were moments of facial expressions in the trio in K-622 that were over exaggerated with longing, but overall the whole performance’s expressions seemed genuine and true. The intimate space with no lighting or wings supported the ability to see the human side of the dancers as we saw their breathing and the sweat on their foreheads. Even though it was not a typical theatre space, the performance was professionally articulated.
As a viewer of dance I often look for a storyline, however, in this performance storyline was not important for me to be inspired and engaged. It was the expressions, emotions, and human connections between the dancers and the audience that brought me into the world of the dancers. In all the pieces, the dancers had expressions that looked into the world outside of them and had a desire to explore the other. DC Contemporary Dance Theatre had a powerful effect of creating an environment full of honesty and beauty. This show was primarily contemporary ballet, but their repertory is so much more and the DMV area has a second chance to catch their artistry through a program of more diversity through indigenous, Latin American, African and classical ballet influences The performance takes place at Dance Place on Dec 3 & 4.
Saturday, Dec. 3 at 8:00 PM and Sunday, Dec. 4 at 4:00 PM.
“Ubuntu: For the Whole of All Humanity-Building Bridges Between the Latino and African American Communities.” (Multi-cultural dance program of classical, contemporary and indigenous works).
Dance Place, 3225 8th Street NE, Washington, DC 20017 (two blocks from Brookland Red Line metro stop by Catholic University).
$30/General Admission at the Door; $25/Admission (Advanced Sales only)*; $20/Artists, College Students, Children 17 & Under.
*Advance Sales end 4 hours prior to performance start time
To Purchase Tickets and Venue Information:www.danceplace.org 202-269-1600.
For more information about the Company: www.teatrodedanza.org