Review: ‘DEMO by Damian Woetzel: Now’ at The Kennedy Center

An eclectic excursion into choreographic experimentation, innovative instrumental accompaniment, and exciting vocalizing is all part of DEMO by Damian Woetzel: Now at Kennedy Center’s Terrace TheaterThis interactive evening was part of Direct Current, the Kennedy Center’s two-week celebration of contemporary culture.

The accomplished director and curator of this evening–former New York City Ballet principal dancer, director, choreographer, and incoming president of the Juilliard School, Damian Woetzel–delivered interesting and informative comments about the purpose of the evening and the stimulating innovations involved throughout in a fine introduction, and in between the evening’s nine performance pieces.

Throughout the evening, the talented string quartet, Brooklyn Rider, enveloped several of the performance pieces with instrumental sensitivity and flair. The members of this group were Johnny Gandelsman, Colin Jacobsen, Nicholas Cords, and Michael Nicolas.

Charles "Lil Buck" Riley performs, backed by Brooklyn Rider and Savannah Harris, in DEMO by Damian Woetzel: Now. Photo by Teresa Wood.

Charles “Lil Buck” Riley performs, backed by Brooklyn Rider and Savannah Harris, in DEMO by Damian Woetzel: Now. Photo by Teresa Wood.

The initial piece, “Dig the Say,” was a knowing, edgy and iconoclastic delight as the perfectly timed movements and dance of Charles “Lil Buck” Riley and Ron “Prime Tyme” Miles converged. To the percussion of Savannah Harris, each movement was calibrated to achieve the ultimate merging with the music’s rhythms. Slow-motion movement and dancing in unison were particularly interesting to observe.

“A New Work-in-Progress” was the title of the next performance piece and, indeed, it was a superb piece of vocalizing composed and sung by Caroline Shaw. Her vocal range was remarkable and her voice intensified to mesmerizing effect as the song progressed.

“Fandango” was sensitively danced with graceful and stylized balletic movement by the wondrous dancer Sara Mearns. Choreography by Alexei Ratmansky initially emphasized a flamenco-like feel and, as the piece progressed, Mearns finalized her performance with a beautiful swan-like pose.

Rashaun Mitchell and Silas Riener dance in DEMO by Damian Woetzel: Now. Photo by Teresa Wood.

Rashaun Mitchell and Silas Riener dance in DEMO by Damian Woetzel: Now. Photo by Teresa Wood.

Next up was the exciting modern dance movements of Rashaun Mitchell and Silas Reiner, who have worked together for years in the Merce Cunningham Dance Company. Mitchell and Reiner choreographed and performed the modern dance entitled “Desire Liar,” which was abstract and totally engaging at the same time.

“Solo for Patricia” was a fascinating and very moving balletic performance piece with dancer Patricia Delgado. Ms. Delgado matched her every movement, however minute, precisely yet delicately to the music by Bela Bartok, with innovative choreography by Pam Tanowitz. Johnny Gandlesman and Colin Jacobsen provided accompaniment on the violin.

The next performance piece was “Orbit” with Charles “Lil Buck” Riley dancing solo to the strings of Michael Nicolas on cello. Riley danced his heart out to every note of the cello. Music by composer Philip Glass aided immeasurably to the overall effect of musical innovation.

Caroline Shaw, accompanied by Brooklyn Rider, sings in DEMO by Damian Woetzel: Now. Photo by Teresa Wood.

Caroline Shaw, accompanied by Brooklyn Rider, sings in DEMO by Damian Woetzel: Now. Photo by Teresa Wood.

The song “Stars in My Crown” was sung to haunting effect by Caroline Shaw. Backed up by the strings of Brooklyn Rider, Shaw sang with an evocative intensity and she is, indeed, her own amazing talent–her voice had the same shimmering quality of singer Judy Collins.

The performance piece “Blueprint” was a World Premiere choreographic commission by the talented Pam Tanowitz.  Dancer extraordinaire Patricia Delgado was joined by two male partners, Jason Collins and Victor Lozano, for an extremely witty and often erotically-tinged balletic threesome. Ethereally light costumes added so much to the free-flowing movement of this ingenious ballet.

The final performance piece of the evening was all-inclusive as all the previous members joined to perform in “Ascending Bird,” a Persian traditional song with a captivating ambiance. This finale highlighted the dancers and music that made the evening both stimulating and innovative.

Kudos to all who participated in the exciting DEMO: Now—part of Kennedy Center’s Direct Current series!

Running Time: 85 minutes.

DEMO by Damian Woetzel: Now was presented on Wednesday evening, March 7, 2018, at the Kennedy Center’s Terrace Theater. This program was part of the Direct Current series at the Kennedy Center, located at 2700 F Street, Washington, DC. For further information and tickets for other Direct Current events, go online.

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