By Luella Christopher, Ph.D.*
Copyright © 2015

BALLET ADI on Nov. 21-22 offered the purest balletic and most polished of American Dance Institute’s 2014 fall offerings in Rockville, Maryland. Company director Runqiao Du is a graduate of the Shanghai School of Dance and former dancer with The Washington Ballet and Suzanne Farrell Ballet. This pedigree sparkles like a constellation in the night sky. Du achieves a level of exquisite craftsmanship with the neoclassical vocabulary of ballet master George Balanchine (and likely influence of the late Washington Ballet choreographers Choo-San Goh and John Goding). His ballet technique is difficult but highly refined and the movement style a blend of the athletic and lyrical. Ensemble work, for starters, is perfectly synchronized but never mechanical, resulting in seamless, unbroken lines.

Du delivers a serious-minded yet lilting update of a musical choice that has seldom looked so natural and complete (no offense to Jerome Robbins and others): a large swath of the Chopin piano repertoire, from the opening Waltz in E minor and Mazurka in A minor to more waltzes, including the “Minute”, plus Preludes in F, B-flat and E minor, a Berceuse and the final Ballade in A-flat. The live music is brilliantly rendered by Glen Sales, National Symphony wünderkind and former invited guest pianist since 1990 with American Ballet Theatre.

Shortly into the “The Chopin Collection”, a full-ensemble Mazurka is distinguished by quicksilver but the more difficult pirouettes en dedans (working leg whipped “inside” toward the standing leg) and allegro in-place jetés. An opening solo by Rachel Bade and adage by Catherine Roth and Melissa Lineburg are softer moments. In the numbers with larger casts, Du’s dancers propel through a whirlwind of grand ronds de jambe en l’air (great circles in the air) and sissonnes to airborne pas de cheval (horse steps) and a dramatic grand jeté à la seconde (great leap in second [open] position) facing the back wall. Port de bras (arm movements) seem to emanate from deep inside the torso, reminiscent of the young Farrell. Dancers even use their arms as a balancing mechanism on the floor as a leg whips around the arm. This gives the hint of a martial arts/Peking opera step that was grafted onto ballet during the Chinese Cultural Revolution of the last century. Christine Doyle, Erin Fitzgerald and Beth Griffin completed the Ballet ADI roster. More from Runqiao Du, s’il vous plait!

Paired with Ballet ADI was LONI LANDON DANCE PROJECTS in a work entitled “Doubling”. Developed with the support of 2014 CUNY Dance Initiative Residency at LaGuardia Community College, Landon in the program notes explains that her choreography was inspired by a sculpture of assembled collages of thousands of clippings placed between layers of glass. Multiple layers created a three-dimensional collage whose choreographic equivalent becomes one person with many heads growing from the top. Many roles, identities and personas are explored. Matt Miller’s lighting design sets the mood for the piece, which opens to a lilac, dusty stage. Nothing happens. The curtain then closes and reopens to reveal dusty grey hues.

Two dancers mirror each other. They pull apart and a third dancer enters. Meghan Rose Murphy’s sound design sustains the mood created by the lighting. Rattling music accompanies the dancers’ figurative choking of one another. Intertwining and turned-in feet morph into contorted bodies. Heads create angles over each other or appear glued together. Different limbs become virtual partnering devices. One of the male dancers seems headless in one stationary configuration of several bodies. Lighting shifts to blue and orange; cello and percussion sounds emerge.
In Landon’s moving sculpture, the arms of her dancers act as protagonists. Other choreographers have evoked a much more literal effect; witness the insects vividly portrayed in various repertory pieces by Momix Botannica. Landon uses a similar movement vocabulary but stays in the realm of abstraction. This renders her choreography all the more intriguing as it is subject to wide-ranging interpretations. “Doubling” was amply performed by Eloise DeLuca, Thomas House, Christopher Ralph, Caitlin Taylor and Nicole von Arx.

One of ADI’s annual programming gems is “DANCE AND DESSERT” by Christopher K. Morgan and Associates. New works of local artists are introduced and audience feedback elicited over brownies and grapes. I saw the first of two such Sunday afternoon offerings on Sept. 28th. Stephen Clapp, who is co-artistic and executive director of Black Box Theater, describes himself as an arts-based social justice facilitator and certified arts integration specialist. In “Windswept”, Clapp composes, writes, self-narrates and dances a theater piece on “climate change, capitalism and the human experience”. A personal tour de force whose intent is to give multiple perspectives rather than persuade or polemicize, Clapp amalgamates resource material from statistics to public policy pronouncements.
Fingers splayed, using expressive arms and hands, Clapp walks and pivots on a diagonal (“we might even sleepwalk across that cliff”). He extends arms, curling them toward his chest and his wrists around themselves. Gestures thus come from the core, transiting to soft lunges and outstretched hands as he digs at corporations (“their goal is simply to make more money”). Clapp’s pacing throughout the stage – mostly lyrically and measuredly – promotes audience reflection. “Windswept” was subsequently performed at Dance Place on Oct. 14th.
In the second piece presented by Morgan, “Hemata Being – a singular cell”, Engelhardt (one of his own company dancers) situates herself initially on the floor, legs splayed, then arches her back like a praying mantis. She crawls and lifts her legs with feet flexed. Very percussive music is introduced but halts. She slumps into herself. At one point, Engelhardt lies flat on her back, legs splayed, then raises into a contraction. She employs pliés in parallel, knees bent inward – almost picking her way along a path as if avoiding some objects. In the talk-back, Engelhardt advocated “loving the chaos that’s in your skin and how blood flows”. Looking forward to viewing the finished piece!

IVY BALDWIN on Oct. 17-18 gave a foretaste of the work later shown at BAM’s Next Wave Festival on Nov. 13-16 in New York. A product of both North Carolina School of the Arts and New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, Baldwin states that her goal is to understand common and visceral experiences through abstraction. “Oxbow” begins by focusing the audience on a stark landscape of rock formations. In talking with dancers Lawrence Cassella and Ryan Tracy after the show, I was reminded that the title refers to a bow-shaped lake formed in an abandoned channel of a river. As a production design, the oxbow lent itself to many images registered by my daughter Sylvana (serving as the evening’s scribe for her mom, whose hand and arm were bound in a plaster cast).
Shore and ocean bellows. Seagulls in turning sauts en passé and crabs prancing about the stage. Constant dissonance, most boldly conveyed by the female dancer who pounds her hand randomly on the keys of an onstage piano. Convulsing movements signaling the birth of a new planet. Sound design by Minneapolis-based composer Justin Jones is cacophonous, yet married to the dancers’ leaps, turns and lunges (Jones holds a BFA in dance from NYU). Anna Carapetyan, Eleanor Smith and Katie Workum comprised the female element of the cast.

Other notable performances of ADI’s fall season included AZURE BARTON AND ARTISTS (Oct. 3-4), VERTIGO DANCE COMPANY (Oct. 24-25) and NEIL GREENBERG (Nov. 14-15). The directors of these companies were energetic and forthcoming in my post-concert exchanges with them. (Champagne receptions are a duly advertised feature of every ADI season; they follow all performances and afford opportunities for such interactions with choreographers and company members.) Unfortunately, I was unable to write on these occasions due to the hand surgery. Less satisfying for this writer was the “pop” feel of the season’s initial offerings: JODI MELNICK (Sept. 5-6) and VICKY SHICK (Sept. 19-20, reviewed earlier).


*Editor’s Note: Dr. Christopher is the author of Pirouettes with Bayonets: Classical Ballet Metamorphosed as Dance-Drama and Its Usage in the People’s Republic of China as a Tool of Political Socialization, an original interdisciplinary work in political science, choreology, ethnology (cultural history), philology (language construction) and visual arts (drawing and photography). “Pirouettes with Bayonets” was given the 1979 Outstanding Dissertation Award for its “connection of international political analysis with the entire sweep of humanistic studies” by The School of International Service, American University, Washington, D.C. It can be ordered from the national roster of archived dissertations on microfiche at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.