Miami Moves: A Weekend at the Miami Beach Dance Festival

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Carolyn Dorfman Dance Company
Photo by Tom Caravaliga

It’s good to send the dance critic out of town every now and then. With that in mind, I jumped at the chance to be a last minute dance talk replacement for Tedd Bale at the Miami Beach Dance Festival. Plus, as much as I love you all, I welcomed an opportunity to see new faces dancing through space.

Momentum Dance Company’s Artistic Director, Delma Iles, organized the festival. Iles is a one-woman dance hurricane. She’s not kidding about the momentum part; this dance maven does more in one morning than I do in a week, and looks good doing it. (Note to self: next visit to Miami dump the frumpola routine and save up for a pair of Manolo Blahniks.)

Where better way to launch a festival than in a jungle? The festival got off to magical start with members of Momentum Dance Company romping through the Miami Beach Botanical Garden. Modern dance amidst bromeliads and bamboo works extraordinarily well. The dancers that were not afraid to get muddy and dance on concrete included Danella Bedford, Odman Felix, Amber Wortham, Amy La Rue and Jesse Sani.

Getting up to speed on two artists I new zilch about was no easy task, but I did my best to sound like I at least tried to learn a lot in a short period of time. My first talk was on Aria for Endangered Species, performed by Core Performance Company with choreography by Ellen Bromberg, and images and music by Yoko Ono. Bromberg was the “it’ choreographer while I was living in San Francisco, so it was wonderful to catch up with her. Turns out this piece was a pivotal piece for her and the first time she incorporated visual media into her work. Bromberg is now a filmmaker and teaches at the University of Utah. I hope we get to see her work in Houston some day soon.

Because the piece is quite elaborate with huge paper mountains, Core’s Artistic Director, Sue Schroeder, excerpted the piece salon style, interspersing live performance with Ono and Bromberg’s words. Wonderfully sensitive performances by Renne Dismukes, Brooks Emmanuel, Lori Teague, and D. Patton White brought the performance to life. Re-visiting Ono’s work came as a blessing as well. In the 80s I was part of a Fluxus revival at the Washington Project for the Arts. Of course, as a typical unconscious artist, I had no idea what I was performing; it just felt cool. We forget the road Ono paved for us in her work that continually questioned and reframed perception. I plan to start using some of her Instruction Paintings as way to refresh my own lens. The event was presented by the Center for Emerging Art under the direction of Ava Rado. Special thanks to curator Valerie Cassel Oliver at the CAM for giving me some direction with the Yoko part of my talk.

My next challenge was to come up with something meaningful to say about Carolyn Dorfman, a mid-career artist with some 50 works under her choreographic belt. The Carolyn Dorfman Dance Company has been performing in and around New York, and elsewhere since 1982. She’s a serious woman that makes substantial work and it was a great joy to get to know her and her work. Dorfman crafts dances that delve deeply into her Jewish history, her love of storytelling, and her finesse with props. Not just any props, but big ones, like a huge 120 lb. wheel in Echad. Dorfman is a whiz at making the stuff she puts on stage look like it really belongs there. I half expected the wheel to take a bow. Her newest work, Cat’s Cradle, traces life in Theresienstadt, a ghetto in Czechoslovakia where they sent all the artists and intellectuals. The piece draws its history from true-life tales of Dorfman’s mother and aunts (all Holocausts survivors) enlisting knitting as a means to endure. It’s a haunting work, built from reverence and remembrance. With songs, sung in English and German, by Ilse Weber and Bente Kahan we revisit this chilling period in history. The piece was beautifully danced by her fine troupe: Joan Chiang, Jacqueline Dumas, Sarah Wagner, Kate Hirstein, Wendee Rogerson, Kyla Barkin, Mark Taylor, David Shen, Aaron Selissen, and Jon Zimmerman.

I finally just got to kick back and watch a spared bill between Momentum Dance Company, and an energetic spin-off company, Dance Now! Ensemble, under the direction of Hannah Baumgarten and Diego Salterini. Iles’ errie Sand Calendar takes place in a sand rainstorm (300 lbs. worth to be exact). And what a treat to see Jose Limon’s The Exiles, elegantly danced by Sani and Bedford. Baumgarten and Salterini’s lively dances were more of a jazzy genre. The festival continues with Ballet Flamenco La Rosa and Ballet Contemporaneo de la Cuidad de Oaxaca.

No festival is complete without awards; this is a perfect time to honor those that work tirelessly to keep dance on the upswing in their communities. Miami Beach Dance Festival awards went to Florene Litthcut Nichols, who has helped countless students experience the joy of dance, and Pedro Pablo Pena whose leadership in the Miami International Ballet Festival has made an enormous contribution to Miami culture.

Evenings were spent at the fabulous Z Wine Grill, the official watering and dining spot for the festival, while I spent my days hanging with the peacocks poolside. Not a bad way to spend the weekend.

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