FLY: Five First Ladies of Dance
Victoria Theater at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center, Newark, NJ
December 11 and 12, 2010

A Review

On that not too rainy Sunday I did find my way to the NJPAC to see what I anticipated would be great performance, and I did bring home with me echos of performance moments that will resound in me.

Two of the Ladies were known to me: Bebe Miller, who was my student when she was three and is now co-director with me at Bearnstow in Mount Vernon, Maine, and Carmen de Lavallade, with whom I have a nodding acquaintance.

Bebe Miller opened the concert with Rain (1989), a quiet piece that celebrates natural wonder. I have seen and enjoyed this work on numerous occasions but was disappointed with it this time. The lighting was harsh and not suggestive of the wonder of the natural world. The mat of “grass,” upstage of Bebe in the opening, appeared as the dry straw mat that it was, and this mounting seemed to keep the motion from escaping Bebe’s skin to reach out and touch the audience.

Germaine Acogny is an intense mover with an intense theme and her Songook Yaakaar (Facing Up to hope) awakened the audience’s senses. It is a fierce, moving solo with occasional video projections, which seemed to me superfluous. Her choreographic style, a mix of native African and modern European dance, is relentless. Germaine set me up on my sitz bones. I feel uncertain about her choreographic mapping: Where did it start?... to where did it lead?

Then came Diane McIntyre with her If You Don’t Know… (yes, the ellipse is a part of the title). The piece’s mapping is elegantly clear from her cermonial entrance with her pianist George Caldwell to her final declaration. This is a complex work with live piano, recorded song, recitative, and strong dance. One gets the impression that Diane is constantly finding a newness and is telling us about it (hence the ellipse). I don’t know how many small, intense dance gems make up this piece, but it is a work I need to see again.

Jawole Willa Jo Zollar’s Bring ’Em Home is a rollicking refresher. She had the auditorium jumping as she made one pass across the apron, a contemporary crowd pleaser of move, move, move. Move this, move that, and move the other thing.

The Creation and Carmen de LaVallade—what, and who could follow this? Once God has made our world and found it “good,” that is it. Nothing can come up to this iconic work of Geoffrey Holder, as performed by the incomparable Carmen. This concluded the program with a grand Hoorah!

—Ruth Grauert, December 12, 2010

Seated in front: Dianne McIntyre, Jawole Willa Jo Zollar, Carmen de Lavallade, Bebe Miller, and Germaine Acogny

Photo by Thelma McLeod Hagood