by Lewis Whittington for The Dance Journal
The Painted Bride Arts Center
September 23, 2012
Using beloved pop tunes to score ballets is tempting but presents distracting challenges not the least of which is that audience members can have expectations different from the choreographer. None of this was a concern for artistic director Christopher Fleming who has created Dancing in the Streets, commented before the performance that he loved the idea of choreographing to those the 60s songs. Indeed, he chose an era- blast of the sounds of Motown, R&B, the British invasion and West Coast psychedelia.
Fleming said that he heard most of these tunes all over his neighborhood on the stoops on Manhattan, where everyone was learning new social dances all the time. There are only flashes of those dance styles incorporated in ‘Dancing in the Streets.’ Choreographically, the mostly under four minute tunes makes for a dancer-mix with hits and misses.
The concert opened with ‘Goovin’ (on a Sunday afternoon) with a charming duet with Alyson Pray and Tyler Savoie, backed up by a very groovy young corps. The first half of the concert is lighthearted, energized dancer fun ala 60s dance shows Hullabaloo (a footnote to this dance campy show is that among the roster were such future dance luminaries as Michael Bennett and Donna McKechnie). In fact, during ‘Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You’ Fleming seemed to be channeling one of those shows in the infectious charisma, if very little dancing, of a duet with Gina-marie Battista and Dillon Anthony.
A quartet to Aretha Franklin’s “Respect” follows, with Shannon McCormick, Adrianna De Svastich, Aynsley Inglis, Sarah Schaeffer having shimming fun with attitude, but Fleming didn’t give them enough variation. The group work really got going with the Lovin’ Spoonful’s’ ‘Summer in the City’ with Fleming amping up the ensemble fluidity and Fleming more adventurous.
The second half of the program dramatizes the social consciousness and protest songs of the era. Here Fleming’s ballet lexicon to the social unrest songs is even trickier. Dillon Anthony has the deportment for the protest anthem by Buffalo Springfield ‘For What its Worth‘ (There’s something happening here) and is explosive in the layout work, befitting the theme. For the Beatles ‘Revolution,’ Gina-marie Battista’s mach-speed pirouettes, captures the music and the mood. In several of the group pieces, though, Fleming retreats to ballet safe-zones, using standard lift passes, for instance, which seem decorous with much of this music.
Great to see that several in his company who are solid within classical vocabulary executing solid tours and turn sequences, but overuse of those talents works against presenting the personality of the whole company. The dancers have a wide range of skill, but they need to work on polish and lags in performance level in key moments. Not helping the overall look is the closeness to the audience of the scale of the Painted Bride Stage.
Meanwhile, there were moments when concept, performance and space come together. The pulse switch was definitely turned on for the Temptations classic ‘I Can’t Get Next To You’ Fleming firing the company with nice unison work and group esprit. The most unlikely of songs Bob Dylan’s generational manifesto ‘Like a Rolling Stone’ was in the most dancey piece with the volcanic Tyler Savoie turning on and tuning out.
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