Columbus Dance Theatre’s ‘Dancers Making Dances’ a mixed bag worth digging into

CDT's Elena Keeny (center) in Jaime Kotrba’s “Isolation.” Photo by John Ray.
CDT’s Elena Keeny (center) in Jaime Kotrba’s “Isolation.” Photo by John Ray.

Columbus Dance Theatre – Dancers Making Dances
Fischer Theatre
Columbus, Ohio
October 23, 2015

Reviewed by Steve Sucato

Columbus Dance Theatre kicked off its 2015-2016 season with its annual Dancers Making Dances program in which CDT company members choreographed on each other.

Like most productions featuring works by mostly novice dancemakers, the program on October 23 at the Columbus Dance Theatre’s Fischer Theatre, was a mixed bag in terms of quality and refinement. It led off with what would be its highest quality offering Christian Broomhall’s “A Dozen Places,” that set a high standard few works on the program would approach.

Set to a trio of Indie-folk tunes by singer-songwriter Sam Beam (a.k.a. Iron and Wine), Broomhall, a former dancer with BalletMet and Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, put the full weight of his past movement experiences dancing the works of great choreographers into creating a gem of his own.

Essentially an extended contemporary dance duet performed by himself fellow former BalletMet dancer Kerri Riccardi, “A Dozen Places” was a quiet, tender piece that swept up the viewer in its soft current like a winding stream.

CDT's Christian Broomhall and Kerri Riccardi in Broomhall’s “A Dozen Places.” Photo by John Ray.
CDT’s Christian Broomhall and Kerri Riccardi in Broomhall’s “A Dozen Places.” Photo by John Ray.
CDT's Christian Broomhall and Kerri Riccardi in Broomhall’s “A Dozen Places.” Photo by John Ray.
CDT’s Christian Broomhall and Kerri Riccardi in Broomhall’s “A Dozen Places.” Photo by John Ray.

Broomhall’s choreography for the first of its three sections fostered the image of a romantic couple conversing through movement.  The pair leaned into and fell into each other. Each targeted touches that gently nudged the other into motion. And while Iron and Wine’s song “Muddy Hymnal,” musically fit the mood of the section, its lyrics seemed at odds with the picture that played out before us.  In contrast, the work’s second section danced to the song “Cinder & Smoke,” pitted Broomhall and Riccardi on opposite sides of a movable wall mirroring and shadowing each other’s unseen movements but not able to touch.

Entering into the mix were dancers Erika Junod and Jaime Kotrba who appeared to be echoes of Riccardi’s character, flanking her at times and other times moving two more mini-walls about the stage that hid and revealed the work’s dancers with magical results.

Well thought-out, wonderfully-crafted and beautifully danced, “A Dozen Places,” alone justified the price of admission with the rest of the program still to come.

Broomhall is talented choreographer that CDT artistic director Tim Veach would be wise to utilize in future productions.

After a Stefani Repola’s balletic and breezy “Drops of Ocean,” dancer Terrence Meadows showed off his technical prowess, strength and vulnerability in “Please Don’t Leave,” a solo he created for himself set to the French standard “Ne Me Quitte Pas.”

The program’s first half then closed with Alexandra Napoli’s group work “Bella” for six of the company’s women. One of several beginner-level choreographic works on the program, Napoli’s choreography, although rudimentary, held an air of grace to it.

Napoli’s work, along with others on the program, also revealed the wide range of dancer skill and maturity found in the company.  Individually, CDT’s dancers are all capable movers in their own right. As a unit however, those disparities in technical ability and stage presence could at times be quite glaring.

The program’s second half began with Seth Wilson’s pas de deux “A Walk in the Park” set to the Stevie Wonder song “Village Ghetto Land.” Like Wonders’ song, which juxtaposes a happy melody with depressing lyrics about poverty and violence, Wilson chose to pair a cute, playful, contemporary dance waltz with those stark lyrics that was nicely performed by Broomhall and Kotrba.

As choreographer for the geisha-inspired group work “Suzuko” that came next in the program, Junod struggled to create an interesting, cliché-free dance. As a performer in Chloe Mellblom’s solo work “unBalanced” that followed, Junod showed brilliance. The solo had the feel of a delicate lullaby interjected with flurries of leaps and turns. Most captivating though were several repeated gestures in which a paused Junod nervously twisted her hands together or tensely grasped at her dress.

The program closed with Kotrba’s vibrant “Isolation.” Set to pulsing music by Philip Glass, Tyondai Braxon and Nosaj Thing, nine of CDT’s dancers including central figure Elena Keeny, swiveled, shimmied, twisted and twerked with style in the interestingly patterned work.

A program like Dancers Making Dances for any dance company is more a vehicle to foster its dancers’ growth as artists rather than being a best representation of its capabilities. Sometimes, as with Broomhall’s “A Dozen Places,” those two objectives meet.

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