Dance Review: Dance Immersion 20th Anniversary Season Celebrating Our Men in Dance

Dance Immersion 20th Anniversary Season
Celebrating Our Men in Dance
Enwave Theatre, Harbourfront Centre
Feb. 6 – 8, 2014
Reviewed by Lise Watson

 

There was no shortage of talent, technique and testosterone in this ambitious project produced by Vivine Scarlett and Dance Immersion to mark their 20th anniversary.  Bringing together a group of artistes of such diverse backgrounds is surely no easy task and Vivine deserves much respect and kudos for such a successful outcome.

Featured choreographers included BaKari I. Lindsay (COBA – Collective of Black Artists, Patrick Parson (Ballet Creole), Mafa Makhubalo, Mikhail Morris, Shavar Blackwood, Sani-Abu Mohammed Allen (Ijo Vudu), Shawn Byfield, and  Casimiro Nhussi.

Having followed dance companies/organizations like Dance Immersion, Ballet Creole, and COBA for the past twenty years, I often reflect on the legacy of the dance veterans who started them, and wonder if the next generation of dancers of African descent is poised to carry the torch.   If Celebrating Our Men is any indication, we have nothing to worry about where the male of the dance species is concerned.  We have an ample supply of young men already putting their best feet forward in leadership and creativity.

The range of experience and backgrounds amongst this group of performers was impressive and all blended beautifully.    We sampled dance influenced by everything from West African,  Caribbean folk, and Alvin Ailey, to tap, hip hop and contemporary.   At the Q&A following the performance we learned that some of the choreographers and dancers were formally trained, while others simply grew up with dance.   BaKari Lindsay said it best when he explained “I didn’t choose dance, my body just started to move.”

Nigerian-born Sani-Abu’s rousing Evolution kicked off the show. Sani never disappoints with his unique and inspiring West African dance.  He has a theatrical soul, beautiful colourful costuming and body adornment being essential for his work.   This was the only performance with live music on stage, and the pounding of the drums led the charge of momentum for the night.

Transitioning us from the strictly traditional was Patrick Parson’s Bakongo.  Set to African music, this piece fuses the traditional with the contemporary, making it a natural segue.  The simple beauty of the costumes drew attention to the strong masculine form and movement of the dancers.

It was my first time to witness the tremendous artistry of Shawn Byfield, Mikhail Morris and Shavar Blackwood.  Their choreography and dance were exceptional, Byfield tapped his way onstage through the audience with so much joy, one couldn’t help smiling. Such an extraordinary talent. Blackwood was joined onstage by Irvin Washington and Matthew Cluff who executed This Woman’s Work with passion and class.

 

Mikhail Morris

photo credit: christoper cushman

 

Morris and his group (Benton Morris, Renaldo Barrett, Dorrian Brown and Brandon Owusu) blessed us with an emotionally charged finale in Living in the Moment.  The costumes, facial expressions and agonizing movements brought tears to my eyes.

 

BL

photo credit: christoper cushman

 

But after 30 years of dance, BaKari I. Lindsay still reigns supreme when it comes to technique and control.  His Blood Memory was a stunning solo performance captivating the audience with his every skillful move.

Celebrating Our Men in Dance was billed as a tribute to male dancers of African descent, so it was somewhat distracting to have a black and a white female dancer (Amanda Benn and Maria Pino) taking part and this interrupted the powerful energy at times

But overall, this production fulfilled its mandate and made for a fascinating evening.  Congratulations to Vivine Scarlett and all involved on a celebration worthy of your 20 years.

 

*** Photos by Christopher Cushman and dance Immersion celebrating its 20th Anniversary season with Celebrating Our Men In Dance.  To see more photos go to http://www.epiphanynoir.com/dance

 

 

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