As Teatro@Benzina brought VENTOFORZA5 (LaMama, May) to its abrupt, bloody conclusion, I wondered if directors Stefano Zazzera and Maha Chehlaoui had sacrificed clarity for brevity. Like frames cut from a film, crucial connective material appeared to be missing throughout this work inspired by Plato’s myth of Atlantis and set to electronica laced with Hopi and Mayan songs. Despite its histrionic activity, the movement looked oddly static. And how curious that a troupe noted for aerial acrobatics merely dashed a few grains of it into its mix. In one example of a missed opportunity, a victim of the ship-borne mob is roped and forced up on stilts only to be lowered to the ground mere moments later. Why not keep him aloft long enough to do something exciting?
When the Annabella Gonzalez Dance Theatre played Henry Street Settlement in May, works as old as semi-surreal Window (1987) and Viejitos (1992)—the latter based on traditional comic Mexicana but rendered as flat as warm soda—were juxtaposed with newer, sleeker models. (Choreographers Gonzalez and Johnny Martinez benefit from the diligent salesmanship of pleasant dancers, but their products lack artistic urgency.) On opening night, though, guest choreographer Sara Joel wowed the audience with her gymnastic dancing. In the physically risky solo Bearing, limber Joel resembled tumbleweed, or maybe a spider dangling from a web, as a metallic prop acted as constant partner, support, hiding place, pedestal, and bed. —Eva Yaa Asantewaa
DanceAfrica, in its 25th year, is more a party than a performance. Outside BAM on Memorial Day weekend, a bazaar buzzed with energy, music, the scents of incense and food.
At Saturday’s matinee, Ballet Folclórico Cutumba, of Santiago de Cuba, portrayed several deities, or orishas; musicians evoked the ritual beat of Afro-Cuba. A taut and sprightly dancer played Elegua, the child god who opens the roads. Ogun followed, a young dancer with liquid elbows and knees playing the metal god flashing his machete. Oshun, the laughing goddess of sweet waters, was danced with mesmerizing fluidity. Later, Cutumba got secular with “chancleta,” the syncopated sandal-footed percussion developed in eastern Cuba by African slaves, and with “guaguancó,” the playful crotch-swiping dance-war between the sexes.
Imposing and puckish, festival founder Chuck Davis engaged the audience in a spirited call and response. In a saucy women’s dance, his troupe flaunted volume, maturity, and sass. Exuberant, disciplined young dancers from Bed-Stuy, the BAM/Restoration DanceAfrica Ensemble are a group worth following. Rennie Harris’s sensational Puremovement brought down the house with death-defying breaking, popping, hand-walking, and tumbling. —Suki John
Tap Extravaganza 2002, a love-fest and ceremony to present tap’s Flo-Bert Achievement Award (Town Hall, May 26), honored tapper-historian-producer Jane Goldberg, known for her sardonic mix of tap and comedy, and pianist-composer Frank Owens, dubbed the “tapper’s best friend” for his sensitive accompaniment, on display as the house band. Standout performers were Omar Edwards, a new-school athlete who segued from barefoot rhythms to lacy phrases in tap shoes; cabaret diva Mable Lee singing “Here’s to Life,” dripping with firsthand experience; and Reggio and his twice-as-old partner Brownie Brown, whose stirring duet exemplified the intergenerational foundation of the art. The Sole Sisters—female all-stars including Dianne Walker and Brenda Bufalino—paid affectionate tribute to Goldberg, who joined the rousing femme finale. Jeree Wade and Ty Stephens performed polished song-and-dance numbers from Owens’s musical, Shades of Harlem. Cameos Gregory Hines and Jimmy Slyde added professional luster to dull-tongued, mercury-footed MC Savion Glover. —Susan Yung