Review: ‘DEMO: Now’ at the Kennedy Center

As Director and Curator of DEMO: Now, Damian Woetzel brings together artists of different disciplines. The idea is simple: put artists together in a room and see what develops, what is created that is new or for the first time, and to flirt with the immediacy of now in new collaborations. The March 2019 DEMO: Now performance, presented as part of DIRECT CURRENT, the Kennedy Center’s celebration of contemporary culture, welcomed with Woetzel’s introduction. Dancers, musicians, and poets took the stage in practice clothes. There was no scenery or curtain, and the ease set the tone for a rich interchange more likely to happen in your own living room rather than at a huge cultural edifice such as the Kennedy Center. We see people who are performers in an atmosphere of something newly discovered. It’s a breath of fresh air.

DEMO: Now: Patricia Delgado and Caroline Shaw (violin) in 'Solitude.' Photo by Teresa Wood.
DEMO: Now: Patricia Delgado and Caroline Shaw (violin) in ‘Solitude.’ Photo by Teresa Wood.

Sarah Kay performed her poem A Bird Made of Birds and brief solos arose for the full cast.  Kay’s spoken word and Caroline Shaw’s violin created the music as dancers enhanced the score with individual signatures in movement. Framed by two pianos, Caleb Teicher danced a tap solo, TurnAround, that was from the very first moment a trio with pianists Kurt Crowley and Joel Wenhardt. Three small platforms divided and elevated Teicher’s percussive yet slippery performance, uncanny especially when traversing that bit of empty space between the boards.

Old Fashioned by John Heginbotham is not new, but two performers new to the roles, Vincent Lozano and Macy Sullivan, danced the work. In a sort of courtship display, the two merged together with complex side-by-side maneuvering and intertwining arms. The music The Cocktail Suite by Dana Suesse was performed by pianist Kurt Crowley as a partner in the light-hearted play.

Duke Ellington’s Solitude was interpolated by violinist Caroline Shaw for a work entitled Solitude by choreographer Jamar Roberts. Soloist Patricia Delgado’s precision enhanced impossibly sustained movement, with expressive control that pulls you in and makes moments linger in mind. In Poppy, poet Sarah Kay joined again with violinist Caroline Shaw to frame dancer Maile Okamura. The poem travels across generations and aging, relaying a story about containers of water, as used at various stages of life. Maile Okamura echoed the theme of repetition with movement that reiterates and starts over again, as she danced on, staying sweetly in one tiny area of the space.

The preview of a work-in-progress Token by choreographer John Heginbotham was danced to music by Bela Bartok performed by Juilliard String Quartet. Dance Heginbotham with a cast of 8 performers swept across from one side of the stage to the other, with multiple entrances and unexpected crossings. The movement echoed the music, each tiny pulse or beat reiterated visually with unison movement or with the dancers in smaller groups. Large encompassing leg extensions filled the space while at times dancers tipped upside down, a crown of the head to the floor. The beat-for-beat matchup of sound and movement made for expected sharp bursts or syncopated groupings, without moments of contrast to offset the demands of the score.

DEMO: Now: Dance Heginbotham and the Juilliard String Quartet in 'Token.' Photo by Teresa Wood.
DEMO: Now: Dance Heginbotham and the Juilliard String Quartet in ‘Token.’ Photo by Teresa Wood.

Here and Now by poet Sarah Kay concluded the evening with an invitation to the audience to join in. Certainly, it would be a wonderful idea to join into the future performances of DEMO, a way for artists to discover new ways to work, and a way for audiences to be part of the experiment.

Running Time: 80 minutes, with no intermission.

DEMO: Now, played on Friday and Saturday, March 29-30, 2019, at 7:30 p.m. at The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, Terrace Theater – 2700 F Street NW, Washington, DC. For tickets for future DEMO performances, call the box office at (800) 444-1324, or purchase them online.