Generation Dance Festival

LEON Contemporary Dance Company. Photo by Pin Lim.

Generation Dance Festival

A Place for Art, a Place for Dance

by Mirannda Lindberg

At 8 PM on May 13th at the Midtown Arts and Theater Center Houston, Generation Dance Festival kicked off their first ever Gala performance. As the festival’s second year in activity, founder and artistic director, Dorrell Martin, has much to celebrate. The night’s festivities brought together a collection of dance artists in a delightful blend of ballet and contemporary works performed by a mix of young growing dancers and seasoned professionals. The festival’s intention is to bring together the Houston Dance Community in support of one another, and with the night’s auction proceeds going to Houston’s Special Olympics, Martin and his staff have created a nurturing space for choreographers and dancers to present and share work.

But of course, we are here to dance, so let’s talk about the dancing. Three professional companies showcased their work in the evening’s production: Ad Deum, LÉON Contemporary Dance Company, and BARE Dance Company.

Ad Deum Dance Company. Photo by Pin Lim.

The first piece to perform was titled “Song for You” and was choreographed by Ad Deum’s Randall Flinn. Seth York delivers a profound yet balanced emotional performance as he dances this solo. With his stunning lines and technical clarity, York is breathtaking to behold as his character journeys through personal conflict to find peace. Choreographically, Flinn’s fluid shaping on top of a classical vocabulary resonates with the watery yet elegant storm of emotion that personifies the dancer’s emotional progression throughout the piece. Occasionally, however, the technical virtuosity overshadows the story’s unfolding. Despite this, between the elegantly structured movements and the stunning delivery, “Song for You” was a very well received success.

The next work was performed by LÉON Contemporary Dance. A sense of lethargy hovers over the moving bodies in “Push.” Moments of partnering are executed almost mechanically without much connectivity between dancers. The dancers seemed to be “going through the motions.” In juxtaposition to this, choreographer, Dorrell Martin and, lighting designer, Edgar Guarjado create an environment of pulsing lighting and throbbing bass that transport the audience into an underground club scene, a place full of energy and excitement. With the forceful nature of a title like “Push,” one might expect to see more outright usage of the force, but the dissonance that is created between such powerful lighting, music, and titular verbiage and the apathetic execution of choreography hints at a more emotional, more internal push that is occurring.

LEON Contemporary Dance Company. Photo by Pin Lim.

Following intermission, LÉON Contemporary returns for their second work, “Red Rain.” The opening image is striking: dancers in red, wearing medical masks. The dancers remain isolated from each other, their movements communicating a sense of suffocation and paranoia inside their disease ridden, polluted environment. But then, a dancer removes her mask. Feeling her environment is “safe,” she proceeds to remove the masks of her fellow dancers and they allow her to do so. Why do they not fight her? Have they been disillusioned into disbelief? The scene shifts, the music becomes more driving, sound clips of news reports on odd weather patterns course over the work, and the dancers become the embodiment of the title element. Choreographically, Martin’s usage of fall and recover, weight sharing, and the reappearing placement of hands over the mouth portrays a dying community. This builds to a final image of a dancer left alone on the dance floor with not but a ghostly white figure hovering over him, placing a medical mask over his face. Too little, too late, for he is already succumb to the man-made affliction of a toxic environment.

BARE Dance Company. Photo by Pin Lim.

The next work in the concert was “Chiroptera” performed by BARE Dance Company. When two dancers begin a dance standing on their heads, you know you are in for a treat. BARE hails to us from New York City and is under the direction of Mike Esperanza. Esperanza’s work has earned him national recognition, and he is highly sought after as a teacher and choreographer for his ability to create interesting visuals and provocative movement patterning. In “Chiroptera,” Esperanza molds the two dancers, Erin Love and Katrina Muffley, around each other in a stunning display of partnership. The sharp, twitchy movements coupled with the flowing half ponchos make the dancers seem like bats flitting about each other. The use of partnered weight sharing and shaping about each other was entrancing. These dancers were entirely in sync with one another. Esperanza’s attention to detail is pristine. Not once does either dancer stray from their partner in intention or movement. The two form a constant movement portrait in which one could not exist without the other. A riveting duet surplus with connectivity, fine craftmanship, and virtuosic execution.

In the final piece of the night, Ad Deum returns with a large group number. “Higher Love” is jazzy, upbeat, and festive. Once again, Ad Deum’s dancers showcase their technical achievement with high flying jumps, impeccable turns, and exemplary lines. The company guest artist, Hannah Anderson, choreographs a work that dictates joy and free-spiritedness under the love of a higher being. There were moments however when the emotions on the dancer’s faces seems forced and superfluous as, in the beginnings of the work, we had not yet progressed enough into big explosive movements for the joy to feel authentic. It would have been more pleasant to watch the dancers’ portrayal of emotion evolve naturally with the rising intensity of the choreography.

Overall, the concert was a great mixture of varying choreographic approaches and artistic viewpoints. Alongside these performances, we also enjoyed some outstanding performances from Houston’s youth, featuring: LÉON Dance Arts, TKB Ballet Center for Ballet and Dance, Met Too, Vitacca Dance Project, City Dance Center, and Houston Repertory Dance Ensemble. A big congratulations to all of the dancers participating in this event. We can certainly look forward to Generation Dance Festival’s third year of facilitating art making and dance for the Houston Community.

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