This past weekend, Dogtown Dance Theatre hosted the first weekend of its annual Richmond Dance Festival, a comprehensive three-weekend festival bringing together Richmond’s top local choreographers, alongside national and international dance artists, in the heart of historic Manchester.
The festival exists as an initiative for Dogtown Dance Theatre to support its mission of providing dance artists with the resources necessary to present their works to an audience, which they hope will ultimately lead to artistic and financial success and sustainability. This production creates common ground for diverse audiences and artists to come together to enjoy globally renowned dance art and dance art film in Richmond. In my own attempt to give each adjudicated piece what its due, I have created a superlative list for the ten performances of Weekend One:
“Soul Swept,” choreographed by Elsie Neilson
With a cast of young VCU dance students, Neilson created a dream. All dancers, at varying positions on the stage, held the arms above their head, wearing flowing outfits. This piece was light, peaceful, and dreamy; a perfect opener.
Best Richmond Culture
“Black Kings Dance Too,” directed by Kelly Hamlin and KrasH!Dance
In this film, Hamlin intentionally casts a litany of Richmond dancers and choreographers who identify as black males. From Jay Static at the Latin Ballet of Virginia to Rah Williams of Richmond Urban Dance, Hamlin has given a long overdue spotlight to a vibrant demographic through 18 different dancers. Each scene is a simple highlight of footwork and expression from each dancer, ending entirely with each dancer’s lips visibly saying the words “black boy.”
Most Likely to Be Remembered in 100 Years
“(Bro)tha/Brother,” choreographed by Vania Claiborne
“(Bro)tha/Brother” is a duet between two black men in white tanktops and du-rags, which celebrates that same uniqueness and joy. In the final section, the dancers perform to a spoken word piece by Neko Williams called “Screen Protector.” The words heavy with weight, I found myself with tears in my eyes as the dancers held each other together, like a screen protector holding together shattered cellphone glass.
“The Sun is God,” directed by Alice Pennefather and produced by Charles Haswell
Coming to us from London, this dance film tells the story of a woman left behind to wait and dream about her husband, who is fighting the first World War. Classical ballet is highlighted as phenomenal dancer Francesca Hayward seamlessly reminisces of place, of memory, of emotion and feeling through pointe. This project also hoisted the highest budget of the playbill.
“Tribal,” performed by Ajna Tribal
Ajna Tribal is a local dance company who specializes in improvisational belly dance, or tribal fusion dance. What is interesting to me, besides golden bells hanging from their hips, is that this style of dance is made-up on the spot, with one dancer leading and the others following. Often, the dancers switch places, taking turns between following and leading. They even have finger cymbals!
Best Structural Integrity
“Reset,” choreographed by Ryan Davis
Performed and choreographed by one person, Ryan Davis, he hit the stage to perform a whirlwind of a piece, tight and exhausting. “Reset” was short, but left Davis winded even after a minute or so. The image of him with his hands on the ground, using his core, pushing his body up with his pointed toes, will remain with me long after the conclusion of the festival.
“Walls of Limerick,” directed by Arturo Bandinelli and performed by Máire Dee and Kathryn Cooley
Another historical dance film, “Walls of Limerick” tells the story, through dance, of civil strife in Ireland. This topic has echoes reaching back more than a century, and still reverberates to this day. The choreography was thought-provoking, exhibiting forms of ballet, modern, and aerial dance. Stylized in black and white, this film shed light on the Irish independence issue that had left my mind because it had left the media.
“A Piece,” choreographed by John Manzari and performed by Mary and John Manzari
“A Piece” is a duet set between siblings. The tap-dances this specific piece featured were some of the highlights of my night. The energy, the chemistry, and the tapping all played together for a delight. It’s not often tap is seen on a professional stage alongside ballerinas, but that’s what’s great about Richmond Dance Festival. The sister/brother combo had me looking up the prices of tap shoes when I got home.
“And So Say All Of Us,” directed and edited by Mitchell Rose
This dance film showcased the living history of modern choreography. In an overwhelming cast of dancers, the Ohio State University Department of Dance enlists dozens of highly-famous choreographers to participate in Rose’s film, including Meredith Monk, Nora Chipaumire, and Ron K. Brown. Each dancer showcases their skills while wearing some type of red shirt. Then after they’re done, the camera pans to a new dancer. The cuts are seamless, and the connection network is outstanding. Many of these famous choreographers have found themselves performing in Richmond at some point.
Best & Biggest Prop
“The River Runs Deep,” choreographed by Denise Purvis and performed by Dogwood Dance Project
Out of all the modern dance pieces performed during the first weekend of Richmond Dance Festival, Dogwood’s “The River Runs Deep” was the only work that featured a prop. Dogwood quite literally used an old, wooden rowboat to show the audience their riverteeth. Featuring Dogwood’s Youth Ensemble, this Richmond troupe proved that this is a city of dance as they rocked an empty boat back-and-forth.
Be sure to make it out to Weekend Two of Richmond Dance Festival this Friday and Saturday, May 3rd and 4th at Dogtown Dance Theatre, located at 109 W. 15th St in Manchester. Admission is $15 for students, $20 for the general public; tickets can be purchased at Dogtown Dance Theatre’s website.
Top Photo: “Tribal,” by Dave Parrish