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‘Ascendance’ at CityDance

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This weekend in the CityDance Studio Theatre at Strathmore, CityDance Onstage Ignite presents Robert J. PrioreAscendance. CityDance Onstage Ignite is a program geared toward showcasing the work of rising choreographic stars. On top of presenting an evening of the choreographer’s work, CityDance takes care of the marketing, public relations, administrative tasks, and rehearsal space for the performance. This fabulous initiative allows the artist to concentrate his/her energies toward the art of it all, which is so often not the case for “rising stars” in this business. While there were technical hiccups here and there, such as lights up before a piece was set to begin and sound levels that were jarring for anyone seated near a speaker, the strength of Priore’s choreography and the technical prowess possessed by every dancer in his works rose above it all.

Top Left to Right... Dana Pajarillaga, CityDance Conservatory, Class of 2013 and The Juilliard School Candidate, Class of 2017;Diana Amalfitano, CityDance Conservatory, Class of 2013 and Purchase College, SUNY, Class of 2017;Bottom Left to Right: Robert J. Priore, CityDance OnStage Ignite Artist; and Matthew McLaughlin, CityDance Conservatory, Class of 2013 and Purchase College, SUNY, Class of 2017. Photo courtesy of CityDance.

Top Left to Right. Dana Pajarillaga, CityDance Conservatory, Class of 2013 and The Juilliard School Candidate, Class of 2017;Diana Amalfitano, CityDance Conservatory, Class of 2013 and Purchase College, SUNY, Class of 2017;Bottom Left to Right: Robert J. Priore, CityDance OnStage Ignite Artist; and Matthew McLaughlin, CityDance Conservatory, Class of 2013 and Purchase College, SUNY, Class of 2017. Photo courtesy of CityDance.

Divided We Stand opened the program, with nine dancers, both men and women. The men were in grey tank top/shorts ensembles and the women were in grey shorts and crop tops. The sound score of the piece mixed the human voice with pulsating electronic rhythms and industrial sounds. Priore used the space beautifully, often having full-bodied phrase work in one area of the stage, and a growing clump of dancers performing repetitive, pulsating gestural work in another area of the space. The pairings of dancers, both in the full-bodied movement and in the gestural movement was always visually striking and unexpected. It is rather fitting that the work, titled Divided We Stand, fully embraced the unique physical gifts of each dancer, as if to make a statement that by embracing individuality we create a stronger unit when we come together. In the sociopolitical landscape of 2015, we could all use to fervently heed this message so eloquently expressed in movement. (Divided We Stand was performed by Diana Amalfitano, Diana Bended-Bier, Ryan Carlough, Tyler Curry, Alexandra Grayson, Colleen Hoerle, Katie Koegel, Dana Pajarillaga, and Kevin Pajarillaga).

Forgetting the One that Didn’t, an intimate duet performed by Priore and Kyoko Ruch, followed in the program. Priore, in an all back ensemble, and Ruch, in an unassuming flesh toned dress, address the effort it takes to forget someone, be it a lover, friend, family member, etc. once you’ve moved on from a particular place and time. From lifelessly clinging to someone as they attempt to move on, to carrying the weight of another person as you attempt to further yourself, Priore and Ruch experience each of these scenarios, and more, in the duration of the duet. From luxuriating in the seemingly perfect past, thanks to hindsight, in the first movement, to snapping back into the reality of it all and the high highs and low lows of the relationship in the second movement, both dancers embody abandon and rock solid stability simultaneously with aplomb. In the third and final section, Ruch dances a lovely solo in which she is able to rid herself of the other dancer’s specter which has been haunting her, and move on so she may find the one that will, and hopefully for the long haul.

Unseen Boundaries, performed by a wonderfully expressive and alive cast of dancers in black and navy to Max Richter’s haunting interpretation of The Four Seasons, Spring is a perfect example of Priore’s expert hand at working with large casts of dancers. His eye for space, both in entrances and exits, and in breaking up unison moments with featured pairs, trios, etc. is uncanny and wildly entertaining for an audience. A particularly rapturous moment for me was an intricate trio on two ladies and one gentleman toward the beginning of the work, in which the dancers move in and out of cannon and unison movement without skipping a beat. As the piece ends, a rather present dancer with an exacting use of focus performs a detailed, nuanced solo, as the line of dancers facing upstage from the beginning of the piece perform behind her. (Unseen Boundaries was performed by Courtney Anderson, Sofia Bisogno, Grace Cho, Sabrina Clarke, Brian Galvez, Saffron Gelbart, Gabrielle Henoch, Allegra Kirksey, Athena Lewis, Natalie Pagenstecher, Robby Pine, Caroline Shriver, Jayme Slotkin, Bintu Traore, Julianne Trostinetzky, Stephanie Vargas, Kaylee Wong, Daisy Xu, Mariano Zamora and Lucia Zelaya)

Her, danced by Megan Ardito Caputo, Katherine Horrigan, Rachael Mauney and Kyoko Ruch in neutral dresses and socks, followed in the program. A series of duets, with trio and quartet moments here and there, set to iconic songs sung by the likes of Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, and Nina Simone, is a mood shift to yesteryear with a modern sensibility that is intoxicating. These are women of the present day grappling with timeless, human issues such as finding a mate, exploring another person’s body, fitting in, etc. With the nuanced choreographic vocabulary of Priore, the dancers are able to explore these ideas, and more, and allow the audience to find beauty in the awkward moments of human interaction, and embrace sudden shifts of weight, placement of limbs, and changing of one’s mind, affections, etc.

Closing out the first act is the deeply engaging, wholeheartedly ecstatic work Baiana, with a similar cast as Unseen Boundaries, this time clad in eye-catching hues of purple, bright green, teal, and sleek blue. Priore’s cast brings with them a boundless energy to the stage, and dancers file in exponentially as the piece progresses. The piece requires a readily available athleticism, soaring leaps and jumps, and a supple unfolding of the limbs that every dancer on the stage is able to deliver, with smiles on their faces to boot! This work is an excellent example of dance for dance’s sake, and what better way to celebrate than with the various ages, races, genders, shapes and sizes of this cast exuding a love of dance that cannot be taught? Their impeccable technique shines, that is not to be forgotten, but it is this love of dance pouring out of them that allowed every audience member to transition into intermission with a new pep in his/her step. (Baiana was performed by Courtney Anderson, Sofia Bisogno, Grace Cho, Sabrina Clarke, Jade Diouf, Gabrielle Henoch, Camille Jones, Allegra Kirksey, Athena Lewis, Natalie Pagenstecher, Robby Pine, Caroline Shriver, Laura Segrillo, Makani Yerg, Mariano Zamora, and Lucia Zelaya with Alexandra Grayson, Colleen Hoerle, Katie Koegel, Dana Pajarillaga, and Kevin Pajarillaga)

La Fête des Chats opened the second act, with the women in a range of printed dresses and the men in printed tops and solid bottoms. The dancers’ performances in this work displayed a stunning bravura, whether they were dancing in the fanciful ladies section at the top of the piece, the whimsical and technically stellar male and female duet, the duet of women, or the mixed gender group section at the end of the piece. The musical accompaniment for this work was varied, but there was delicious layering in each and every piece of music that was resonant in the movement of the work. This piece snapped each and every audience member back into the dynamics of the program with wonderful energy. (La Fête des Chats was performed by Miriah Auth, Grace Cho, Sabrina Clarke, Jade Diouf, Kaitlyn Foreman, Brian Galvez, Gabrielle Henoch, Camille Jones, Athena Lewis, Natalie Pagenstecher, Robby Pine, Makani Young, Mariano Zamora and Lucia Zelaya)

Counterpoints followed in the program, danced by Alexandra Grayson, Colleen Hoerle, Dana Pajarillaga, Kevin Pajarillaga, and Robert J. Priore, with the women in khaki long-sleeve crop tops, black leggings, and black socks, and the men in khaki shorts, black tank tops, and black socks. The sound score for this work was pulsating and percussive, and the dancers echo both sentiments in their every movement. Priore’s choreography sequences into and out of group choreography both effectively and efficiently. The choreography demands a laser focus and uncanny control, which the dancers attack fervently.

Wander, danced solo by the supremely expressive Kimberly Anderson, is set to the iconic “Claire de Lune.” Anderson brings an adept technique and extremely focused performance quality that sparkle and shine brightly with Priore’s smart composition and nuanced sequencing of movement. Priore has choreographed this work in such a way that if feels as if the music is pouring out of the dancer’s soul as she penetrates the space with contrastingly sharp and smooth qualities. The tone, pitch, and dynamic of each note in the piece informs Priore’s composition, and through Anderson’s exquisite performance, it is as if both she and Priore are making sense of the music as the piece unfolds.

Robert J. Priore. Photo by Jason Garcia Ignacio.

Robert J. Priore. Photo by Jason Garcia Ignacio.

Last in the program, Abandon is danced by Vanessa Owen, Dana Pajarillaga, and Gavin Stewart, in long black tunics, black socks, and black kneepads. This pulsating sound score elevates the dancers’ performances, as they coax each other with every physical feat and statement of daring, as if to coax each other to jump higher, hold an extended leg a second longer, etc. With the establishment of a small pool of light for the quartet of dancers at the top and bottom of the piece, and an exploration of larger space in the middle of the work, it is as if the dancers come to an understanding in smaller sub-sects of their community, take these ideas out into the community-at-large, and then bring what they’ve each experienced as individuals back to that same small sub-sect and see what has changed, if anything, from where they began.

With Ascendance, Robert J. Priore displays his skill with harnessing the power of large groups of dancers, as well as his nuanced work with quartets, duets, and solos. His fondness for pulsating, electronic sound scores compliments his works, but I believe he shines with pieces of music that juxtapose the intrinsic pulsating of his choreography. I look forward to experiencing another evening of his work, and you should check out

Ascendance plays at CityDance Studio Theatre performing at The Music Center at Strathmore – 5301 Tuckerman Lane, in North Bethesda, MD. There are a few remaining tickets for today’s 6 PM performance and they can be purchased online.

Running Time: One hour and forty minutes, with a 15-minute intermission.

LINK:

Robert J. Priore’s website.

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