Dancing Poetry Festival

September 30, 2000

The Dancing Poetry Festival

Florence Gould Theater
California Palace of the Legion of Honor
San Francisco, California
September 30, 2000

Reviewed by Beth Mehocic

Interpretive dance was alive and well in San Francisco at the Seventh Annual Dancing Poetry Festival, produced by Natica Angilly’s Poetic Dance Theater Company and Artists’ Embassy International. The California Palace of the Legion of Honorproved to be an idyllic setting for the festival, especially since it was built in part with the inspiration of dance legend Loie Fuller.

More than a hundred poets throughout the U.S. and Japan, as well as forty dance companies and solo dance artists, submitted works for the festival. Forty poems were selected to be choreographed or read, and ten dance companies were invited to perform along with Angilly’s company. The festival was a combination of staged and unstaged poetic readings that had movement and/or dance references. As the festival unfolded, it became apparent that the dance was more about visualization and interpretation of the poetry through movement, much like classical Greek theater, and less about technical bravado. Angilly’s use of choreography, masks, costumes, sets and props was reminiscent of the interpretive dance styles of Isadora Duncan, Ruth St. Denis and Loie Fuller. Dance history teachers and students enjoyed seeing this “poetic” dance, since Angilly’s research into the forerunners of modern dance was quite accurate. With this in mind, one can appreciate the style of dance that she is trying to preserve.

One poem choreographed by Angilly was titled The Stone, by Barbara Crooker of Fogelsville, Pennsylvania, who read the poem before the company performed it. It was about Crooker’s autistic son, whose family considers him a “precious stone.” The dance interpretation, along with a second reading of the poem from the stage, was effective especially at the ending, when a many-faceted emerald appears out of the stone and each dancer is connected to it with a silk lifeline.

Many guest performances were notable. I Have Come into the City, a powerful poem in the style of Maya Angelou by Sonia Sanchez, was choreographed and performed by Arisika Razak. It was rich with African American movement themes and literary symbolism.

Jesus Modeled for Our Class Today,
a poem written, choreographed, danced and recited by Errol Strider, was sacred dance at its finest. Strider, an excellent technical dancer, drew the audience viewers into the poem until they really were seeing the words because of his movement.

The Ancient Touch Ensemble danced Butterfly Dream, a poem written, choreographed and read by Delphine Kini Mei, the company’s artistic director. A thirty-foot white parachute with a head and a Japanese parasol emerging from it engulfed the stage. As the figure began to twist and turn, dancers emerged from under the chute as if a butterfly were giving birth. The visual effects were stunning.

Clothed in a gold metal thong with a gold headdress and war paint, Walter Thompson III enacted his choreographic adaptation of the poem Last Dance of a Pagan Warrior. Thompson’s lithe body and technical ability were powerful as he took command of the stage in a presentation that was much like that of a Ted Shawn dancer.

In the 11 Yd Dress,
a poem written, choreographed, danced and read by Cherie Carson, a heap of fabric lay across the stage as the dancer emerged from within it. The poem, which was read in Spanish and English, was about a young woman whose grandmother tells her that being pregnant will be like wearing an eleven-yard dress. Carson’s manipulation and creation of patterns with the dress was intriguing as she nimbly moved across the stage.

You Can Not Dialogue Aabout Dance,
written, choreographed, danced and read by Sandra Bestland, was a spoof on doing what you say you can’t do?dancers who would rather move than talk. Bestland, a skilled dancer, was steadily entertaining as she moved through the words in a style somewhat reminiscent of dance pioneer Helen Tamiris.

Authentic Romany dance, culture and spirit were beautifully displayed by the poems Beyond Survival and Romany Soul, written, choreographed, danced and read by Nadia Hava-Robbins. Her movements displayed gypsy soul and passion.

Many unstaged poems had exciting readings by their poets: Flamenco and Plaza Major by Mario Rene Padilla, The Fugue by Kathy Keith and Halloween on the Mental Ward by Marriette Lindner.

More information on poetic dance can be found at www.dancingpoetry.org.