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

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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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David Friscic
David has always had a passionate interest in the arts from acting in professional dinner theatre and community theatre to reviewing film and local theatre in college to making numerous treks to New York City to indulge his interest in live theatre. An enthusiastic interest in writing has shown itself in a BA in English/Education and an MA in English Literature. Taken together, these two interests have culminated in the logical conclusion of writing for an arts blog. David moved up and down the East Coast due to his father's job at General Electric and this has helped him to perceive the world in a very open way. After his schooling, David taught in Catholic school systems for awhile and, then, spent three years in the seminary with two years at Catholic University studying Theology and one year in a practicuum working at a church in New York State. David currently works at the National Science Foundation as a Technical Information Specialist for the Office of Polar Programs and has had the great opportunity to go to Antarctica twice and Greenland once in support of the research community. He enjoys living in Bethesda and has taken courses at the Writer's Center. David enjoys swimming, traveling, reading, and working on committees at his condo. His major interest, however, is the arts and all it encompasses---from symphony, to film, to museum treks to live theatre. He counts having lunch with Lillian Gish and meeting Lily Tomlin, Geraldine Page, Maureen Stapleton, Liza Minnelli and Sandy Dennis as some of the more exciting encounters of his life.