Swept Away: Fire Island Dance Festival

posted by Wendy Perron on Monday, Jul 21, 2014
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Sara Mearns in Joshua Bergasse's "Stairway to Paradise." Photo by Whitney Browne

The glories of nature blended with the glories of dance in DRA’s Fire Island Dance Festival, now celebrating its 20th year. It’s hard to resist letting your eyes rest on the waves of the bay behind the stage. And when the dancing embraced the setting—whether by intention or chance—you felt like you didn’t want to be anywhere else. That happened with four of the 10 pieces shown: the balcony pas de deux from MacMillan’s Romeo and Juliet, the traditional Hawaiian piece by Patrick Makuakane, the “Man Fan” solo from MOMIX’s Botanica and Ailey II performing “Wade in the Water” from Ailey’s Revelations.

MOMIXWhen Luciana Paris walked up the stairs of the balcony of Verona (made for the occasion), the swell of Prokofiev’s music supported the swell of her love for Romeo. She looked out over the sea, surveying the beauty of nature almost as though she might burst into the song “Somewhere (There's a Place for Us)”, admittedly from a much later version of R & J. As though to answer her plea, American Ballet Theatre’s Marcelo Gomes entered the stage from the bleachers, where the audience was sitting. Some couldn’t help giggling to see the charismatic Gomes standing in our midst, for a brief campy moment, draped in his Romeo cape, before descending to the stage. But this site-specific version of the balcony scene, which begins and ends with Romeo reaching up to his Juliet and her reaching down, was ultra romantic. Luciana Paris, chest open to Marcelo's boyish ardor, joined him in the choreography’s entwining arms, kneeling lifts, swooning partnering, and tender kiss.

 

Above: MOMIX's Jon Eden in Swept Away. Photo by Whitney Browne.

 

In Maui, Turning Back the Sky, three men alternated chanting and dancing with a rooted, steady beat. Their rhythms seemed to mesh with the sound of the water and the rumble of distant motorboats. Their pelvises, encumbered by bow-tie–shaped tutus, tipped and swirled as we contemplated the sky of the title.

The soaring quality of the MOMIX contraption that extended Jon Eden’s energy upward lent a spectacular visual effect. His torso braced by a fanned-out set of sticks similar to the bones of a corset, he guided a humungous billowing white sail above him that seemed to caress the sky. It looked like a giant bird unfurling its wings, or a parachute wafting into a shape of a tulip or a whirlwind….shades of Loie Fuller.

Ailey IIWhen the three young dancers from Ailey II undulated their spines in front of the waves, it seemed that this was the setting that Alvin Ailey had planned all along. For once, "Wade in the Water" did not need the kitschy blue fabric strips that stand in for water when they perform Revelations in a theater. During their exit stage right, we thought they might tumble into the bay, where they’d be in way deeper than mere wading.

 

Above: Ailey II in Revelations. Photo by Whitney Browne.

 

There were other highlights too. Jon Bond of Cedar Lake, one of today’s most beguilingly polymorphous dancers, rippled, pounced and melted in his solo My Move. He was the perfect choice to serve as a last-minute replacement for the injured Desmond Richardson.

It was a hoot to see Sara Mearns, queen of classic Balanchine, vamp it up with eight guys in Stairway to Paradise by Joshua ("Smash") Bergasse, prompting my friend to ask if she’s ever performed Slaughter on Tenth Avenue. (She has.) Olivia Bowman-Jackson was another hot Mama in Nick Kenkel’s Good in Goodbye, in which she played a diva in a black dress surrounded by women and men in red two-piece outfits. Also on the program were a boy-girl duet by Troy Schumacher of BalletCollective and a slithery trio by Arte Phillips

Gomes, who could rest on his laurels as a crush-worthy ballet superstar, has been dipping into choreography, often commissioned by Youth America Grand Prix. His premiere on this occasion, a quartet for Complexions dancers called Igual, was purportedly about equal rights for same-sex marriage. I had a seat near the edge of the bleachers, and I have to admit that while waiting for a visible same-sex romance to blossom in Igual, I was delightfully distracted by seeing Marcelo, on the sidelines, bobbing and tilting along with the dancers.

Everyone was in a good mood because they know the festival is for a good cause. We filed out afterward, walking back to the ferry on the narrow boardwalks, bamboo plants overflowing around us as we chatted with old friends. The long trip from Manhattan (subway, LIRR, van and ferry), was worth it to have this inspiring experience. Kudos to Dancers Responding to AIDS, co-founded by Denise Roberts Hurlin and Hernando Cortez, for their work in supporting dancers living with AIDS.