IMPRESSIONS: Kaatsbaan Cultural Park Summer Festival 2020
Return to Paradise
The sun was shining at Kaatsbaan Cultural Park for Dance, on Saturday, its ultraviolet radiation cleansing the outdoor stage, and naturally disinfecting the comfy benches set up to accommodate spectators. A refreshing breeze, meanwhile, was blowing all the nasty germs away.
Seriously, folks. Performing out-of-doors this summer should be a no-brainer for arts organizations that see their very existence threatened by the current lock-down. Yet Kaatsbaan’s artistic director, Stella Abrera, is one of the few to demonstrate courageous leadership, or even common sense, in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic. Abrera has figured out a way to keep the show that must go on, going on; and when we all have to abandon ship, I want to be in her life-boat.
Kaatsbaan strictly enforces social distancing (they have the space), and requires audience members to wear face-coverings and fill out a health questionnaire. You can’t come, if you have the sniffles. Beyond that, the arts center is a paradise.
And how good it feels to spend an hour in the company of these beautiful dancers! The “New Normal” will be a society that only a drug manufacturer could love. But the “Old Normal”! That’s the stuff!
When ABT principal Christine Shevchenko begins to dance, the rural backdrop fades away, and, once more, viewers feel the irresistible pull of Michel Fokine’s masterpiece, The Dying Swan, with its deep spirituality and exaltation of human feeling.
Bourréeing with her back to us, arms rippling; then turning to place one broken “wing” across her breast with her head sunken mournfully, the ballerina submerses herself in a ritual that familiarity has made not a whit less exquisite. Bending low to caress the floor with a sweeping gesture, and then rising powerfully, the Swan tosses her head from side-to-side in a futile struggle. Sinking to one knee, she lifts her face as if taking a last look at the world, and then she falls. Magnificent!
Like The Dying Swan, Jodi Melnick’s premiere solo Tenderly contains gestures that drape around the choreographer’s head, and frame her face. In every other respect, her dance couldn’t be more different from Fokine’s. It has restless hips, and knees that unexpectedly sag, or jut out when Melnick balances on one leg. She makes it all look casual, slinking and tossing her long hair; and this impish performer is about to melt over the edge of the stage, when the piece concludes.
Sonya Tayeh’s solo The Weight of It All aims at poignancy. Dancer Jacob Thoman fills his naked chest with breath, and then contracts his shoulders. His movements are slow and sensual—but then suddenly acute, shaking his hands or reaching out to grasp something at a distance. The final image, of Thoman turning upstage and hugging himself, is lamentably trite, however.
Bro Code, a comic duet choreographed by Gregory Dolbashian and the DASH Ensemble, asks a dumb, but timeless question. What’s a dude supposed to do, when his best buddy finally scores, and prefers spending time with his new lady love? As the two goof-balls confronting this dilemma, Blaine Hoven and Jose Sebastian “talk” it out in sign-language, shrugging their shoulders and gesticulating, seizing each other by the shoulders and even by the head. Sebastian refuses to be taken for granted. He forces Hoven to submit; and finally Hoven leaps onto his old pal to hug him. I’m still betting on the girl, though.
A thoroughly delightful piece that suggests the choreographic promise of dancer Gabe Stone Shayer, Ritual, excerpted from Good Moon, is a pas de deux of fluid movement, and frictionless energy. Stone Shayer partners Cassandra Trenary, and she manipulates him with her stockinged foot. Together they strike symmetrical poses, and he scoops her up in a circling lift that gradually rises without any sign of effort. Gorgeous!
Concluding this all-too-brief program, Jenn Freeman puts on a show. She calls her jazzy solo Channel. Dancing to “They can’t take that away from me,” this hungry performer tiptoes and scampers, making all her moves unexpectedly. Freeman twitches, bounces, and swoons, all the while talking to us with her hands, until finally she’s had enough of trying to explain herself, and dismisses us with a flick of her wrists.
It’s sad to have to say good-bye. But we can take strength from In Light: of the Time, a poetry installation in the Kaatsbaan gallery this summer. In the words of Carl Hancock Rux, “Love is the power and force of all resistance.” Keep that in mind, dance-lovers.