REVIEW: CityDance presents DREAMSCAPE
by Raquel Lake
One way to show what you can do is simply to do just that: show what you can do. Pull out all the stops and don’t hold back. If dance is what you aim to do, then you gotta dance! CityDance’s DREAMSCAPE was truly an example of all that. Eager, energetic, and incredibly talented young dancers gave it their all and danced like there was no tomorrow. This was not your kid sister’s dance recital, not at all. DREAMSCAPE was an inspiring show that delivered a clear message: the arts are important.
CityDance chose the historic Lincoln Theater for the night’s performance. The atmosphere created in those walls added a nuanced layer to the night. We were there to watch a significant moment for these young artists, a moment that may change their lives as dancers forever. When the theater’s lights went out and the performance was about to begin, the anticipation from audience for the performance was palpable.
A dark theater and curtained stage was the setting for the start of the show. The announcer came on with great enthusiasm, and he asked, then demanded, that we get out of our seats and participate. “Shake your shoulders, stretch your necks, get ready to move! It is time for DREAMSCAPE! We are going to light up the sky! So dance!” Next, the unmistakable theme of FAME filled the room, and the excitement began to build more. The curtain slowly opened to reveal the reward: Ms. Debbie Allen. Ms. Allen stood on stage in a spotlight, surrounded by six young dancers and another presenter for the evening. The entire audience squealed with delight watching her sway to the rhythm of the beat, while the young dancers danced around her.
Once we were all finally seated, Ms. Allen went on to give a rousing introduction for the night about art, dance, and why they are so important. She happily called DC her second home. This statement was accompanied by the audience yelling out with love for Ms. Allen too. She talked about how to dance is to command time and space and how in the “real cosmic universe, everything is in motion, everything is dancing. That is why dance is the original art form.” Ms. Debbie Allen, in that brief moment, left us all with so much inspiration, and eagerly ready to support dance.
After that, the lights went out again. When they came back up, there was vibrant color, a stirring sound, and dancers staring up into the light. The ethereal music helped set the scene for the first piece of the night entitled Kuro: Shift, which featured the CityDance Conservatory and DREAM students. The DREAM students are a part of CityDance’s after school program that aims to provide kids from underserved communities the opportunity to have dance training and the chance to perform. The piece was choreographed by Adjetey Klufio & Zenas Tobi Okanlawon.
The music had dancers and the audience all dancing to the beat as we all were transported into the DREAMSCAPE. Audience members called out with happiness and approval while an army of young dancers filled the stage, moving with intensity and great spirit. When the music switched to a zumba beat, feet stomped while dancers gyrated and whirled their arms around reaching for sky. All the barefoot dancers took turns running on and off stage for their turn in the spotlight. They danced their hearts out, and you could feel their excitement. There were leaps and spins, and the dancers left everything they had on that stage. When they hit the final pose it was the equivalent of a mic drop. This powerful opening act almost stole the show, and these talented students showed us why the arts and dance are so important.
Act I of DREAMSCAPE did not disappoint in giving a great introduction to many styles of dance. It featured ballet, lyrical, tap, step, and modern dance. Cervilio Amador and Chisako Oga, both of the Cincinnati Ballet, brought us our first balletic performance of the night with their pas de deux from Le Corsaire. The duet began with a blue lit stage to welcome the dancers. Amador, shirtless and wearing sparkling pants, danced while he waited for his ballerina. Once both were on stage, they gave us breathtaking lifts, long extensions, and controlled leaps. Dance is about grace and beauty, but it is also about strength and asking the body to do things that take time and training; these two dancers demonstrated that phenomenally.
The next piece, a stand out of the night, was the poetically beautiful, Our Last Chance (Excerpts), choreographed by Bruce Wood. This piece was performed by The Bruce Wood Dance Project and featured the dancers Albert Drake, Emily Drake, Harry Feril, and Kimi Nikaidoh. In a word, wow! These four dancers took the stage and engaged the audience while telling a story about the most basic of all things: relating to others.
The piece began with two male dancers sitting with their backs to us while the two women stood in two separate spotlights poised and ready. The men took turns tapping and pushing each other, until they were retrieved by the women. Dancing in pairs, one of the men spun his partner upside down while the other lifted his partner in the air so she could walk on it. I felt as though I could see the steps she was walking down. When the dancers were in unison, it was mesmerizing. They used all their space and time to tell the story, using inspired lifts to demonstrate the struggle of relationships and the balance that we must find even when things may be difficult.
A dark stage concealed the next performer from us, but we didn’t need to see the him to know what we were in store for, because his feet rang out the beat. Our next performer was the tap dancer extraordinaire, Mr. Cartier Williams. Williams’ piece, entitled Conversations, was just that: a conversation, his feet talked to each other and then talked to us. Williams definitely had fans in the house ready to talk to him, as you could hear them call out, “Swing it out baby!” and “Work Car!” He gave us high speed feet, go go beats, and even soft taps that led into a crescendo of sound. He needed no music, all he needed was his golden tap shoes. His performance was a highlight of the night and gave the audience a taste of this exciting dance style.
The rest of Act I featured the captivating ballroom stylings of Denys Drozdyuk and Antonina Skobina with their piece Synergy, which grooved to the beat of “Ain’t No Sunshine When She’s Gone,” and Complexions Contemporary Ballet in Testament, choreographed by Dwight Rhoden. Act I wrapped up nicely with the high energy stepping number, Idemo, presented by Step Afrika!
Before the second act began, President and CEO of CityDance, Alexe Nowakowski took the stage with Chris “Styles” Bacon to make a thank you speech. Instead of a bland speech, Bacon provided a beat for the audience to clap while he rapped the list of people to thank, adding another element of fun to the evening.
Act II started auspiciously with the piece Let It Fall, choreographed by CityDance Alumni Kevin Pajarillaga. The piece featured Anca Putin, Eoin Robinson, Melissa Anderson, and Pajarillaga. The four dancers, dressed in unbuttoned shirts and jogger pants, paced around the stage while intense music played. The quartet then broke into pairs, each pair dancing with creative lyrical movements, like sweeping arms that created wind that seemed to float up into the balcony. Violins sang while leaps and falls gave dimension. At the end of the piece, the dancers had no music, just the sound of a heartbeat. The sound, while haunting, added a unique touch to the piece. We are all connected by the beat of our hearts, the internal drum that spurs us on, and having the dancers finish the piece to the most universal sound on the planet made for a poignant ending.
Bruce Wood Dance Project presented another piece, an excerpt of Orange Sky. It featured two dancers from the company, Albert Drake and Emily Drake. The lit stage looked like the orange sky of a warm summer’s day, and the dancers floated across the stage like two love birds. They folded into each other and fit together like perfect puzzle pieces, each dancer always complementing the other. At one point Drake picked his partner up and held her on her side while she swam back down to the floor with gorgeous dolphin kicking feet. Wood is masterful at choreographing romantic dance, and the Bruce Wood Dance Project, hailing from Dallas, was a treat.
Other repeat performers of the night were Drozdyuk and Skobina, who danced to Michael Jackson’s “Smooth Criminal” in their second appearance. We were wowed by spins and precise footwork. They managed great lifts while never missing the beat, showing how fun and entertaining ballroom can be.
Before the finale, Washington Ballet talents Brooklyn Mack and Maki Onuki performed a pas de deux from Coppelia with big smiles and even bigger leaps. Onuki had great poise and beautiful limbs that seemed to reach the far corners of the vast theater. The two were individually fantastic artists, but as a pair they danced so well together.
The final piece, entitled Fuego, featured the CityDance Conservatory Dancers again. The girls wore dresses of varying colors while the boys were all in black. Four couples took to the stage, first dancing in unison to the rhythm. The dancers leapt off the stage and made way for a group of dancers all stomping to the percussion heavy beat. ‘Fuego’ means fire, and these dancers lit the stage with every movement.
CityDance’s DREAMSCAPE was a great night of dance. CityDance did a stellar job of presenting quality dance that any audience would enjoy and want to help support. In one night we got to see more than five different styles. We watched seasoned professional dancers, as well new young dancers just starting to make their mark. Once the finale was over, I felt like I truly had an adventure while in the land of DREAMSCAPE. The arts need our support, and this evening of dance showed us why.