Sunday, March 19, 2006

Cleveland Contemporary Dance Theatre (Cleveland Public Theatre)

Cleveland Contemporary Dance presents inconsistent program

Several years ago Michael Medcalf combined with David Shimitakahara to present a memorable evening of dance. Since then Medcalf has developed his Cleveland Contemporary Dance, the only all African American dance group in the area, into the Karamu House’s residential dance company. They recently presented a program as part of Cleveland Public Theatre’s ‘DANCEWORKS 06.’

Staged with the unusual device of having each choreographer discuss his/her concept in a tape-recorded interview which played before each presentation, the audience was alerted to the philosophical concept of each piece.

Presenting an inconsistent program, the company opened with ‘HYMN/BY THE WATER, which choreographer Medcalf indicated in his pre-show was a journey of two men who move in different ways toward their goal. On the surface this appeared to be an interesting concept. Unfortunately, since both dancers started on the floor, moved behind a screen and removed their clothing, then spent time in what appeared to be sleep and moving in tandem, then arose, put on their clothing and proceeded to dance in tandem to each other, the theme seemed to be unfulfilled. To compound matters, Ryan Lott and DjDoc’s contemporary throbbing music was not carried out in the movements of the dancers. Antwon Duncan and Daniel Isaah Henderson were both proficient but not entrancing.

‘WE, AT THE CROSSROADS,’ was choreographer Paloma McGregor’s attempt to give “dancers a voice.” As with the opening number, the total effect was less than compelling. The dancers were quite undisciplined and displayed various levels of skills. Often their unity moves lacked unity and there were problems in holding freezes. McGregor’s message did not come forth loud and clear.

‘TO HAVE AND TO HOLD,’ as choreographed by Shapiro and Smith, though a little long, was an evening highlight. Using three benches as props, there was a mobility, a joy, an interaction and a discipline in this piece not seen in the two opening numbers. This was a powerful and athletic piece which clearly developed the concept of those who have loved and lost, but have not forgottten.

The evening ended with Kevin Iega Jeff’s exciting ‘CHURCH OF NATIONS.’ Jeff, Medcalf’s mentor, blended 10 men and one women into a cohesive unit. The movements well fit the liturgical music. The dancers moved onto, over, next to, and beside the eleven black chairs arranged in a random pattern. Jeff stated in his taped interview, “You are expressing the idea or not. You need to be prepared.” His dancers were well prepared “to question whether the houses in which we worship should give consent to death and destruction in the name of God.”

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: Cleveland Contemporary Dance Theatre’s all men’s program was inconsistent. Fortunately, the latter two numbers were compelling, leaving the audience with a positive final image of the evening.