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Mid-Summer Spectacular

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Nicky Paraiso, Mia Yoo bring bold eclecticism to La MaMa

New York might not be clamoring for yet another dance festival, but its newest one—La MaMa Moves!—exemplifies what remains attractive about this city. Curated by Nicky Paraiso and Mia Yoo, this series has all the bold intermingling of styles and cultures that we’ve come to expect from La MaMa—Ellen Stewart’s legendary experimental theater.

The festival, which closed on July 9, shuffled dozens of choreographers and troupes within six program tracks—”Duets,” “Dancing Divas,” “Children of UR,” “Burlesque Blow-Out!” “Mavericks in Motion,” and “Border Jumping”—arrayed across three weeks and three of La MaMa’s theater spaces.

One matinee configuration of “Mavericks in Motion” included solos by Bhavani Lee and Christopher Morgan, and excerpts from an ensemble piece by Tami Stronach. Lee, who blends Kathak—a form of classical Indian dance theater—with modern dance, began and ended “Beats of the Heart” in a serene mood. But between those reverential moments, the vivacious soloist repeatedly whirled and dashed herself against the floor. In another move, her strong feet struck it like a drum. Lee engaged musicians Ed Feldman (tabla, percussion) and Neel Murgai (sitar, daf, voice) like a tap dancer trading rhythmic riffs with a jazz combo, smiling with all the sly confidence and charisma of an old-time movie star.

Tami Stronach’s “Pinchas, the Fish-People and the Great Flood” might be a fable—for children, or perhaps us bigger kids with our weightier concerns—set in motion by the magical agency of her dancers. Her excerpts showed a floating ark, a mysterious trunk and its fascinated Pandora, and a couple of dancers resembling wading herons one minute and clucking chickens the next. Best of all, Lindsey Dietz Marchant and Jason Dietz Marchant—duettists in life as well as dance—twisted and slipped all over each other like rapids rushing over rocks.

“The Measure of a Man,” by talented soloist Christopher Morgan, offered a kaleidoscopic look at a queer man’s experience under rigid codes of masculinity as he shifted roles from b-boy to ballet boy and more. The piece, with its witty use of costuming as props and set, turns the soloist inside out, exposing the identities, memories, and negative voices slamming around inside his head.

On one Saturday’s “Border Jumping” show—nicknamed “Crazy Night”—the audience sampled six troupes of uncommon diversity. Two champion cheerleading squads hailing from Brooklyn College and Long Island were radically different in look and style as you’d imagine. Elena Lentini’s Karavansarai Company—blindfolded, Loie Fulleresque “butterflies” with color-drenched silk wings—wafted to a Turkish rhythm. Supreme Beings turned out not to be Diana Ross impersonators but a terrifically inventive crew of hip hop dancers. The Oyu Oro ensemble drew the evening to a close with lavish feast of Afro-Cuban dance and music.

On the whole, the show really cooked, but top marks must go to Spinnin Ronin, the Japanese troupe, for their world premiere, “A Real Hero.” Like Morgan’s “The Measure of a Man,” this well-integrated dance theater piece examined the dilemma of a young man at odds with society’s expectations. Here, choreographer Tsuyoshi Kaseda took the point of view—and role—of a young, bookish geek, bullied by his peers, who eventually assumes the gracefulness of the swordsman, played by impressive Satoshi Okabe, who has sprung to life from book to daydream to stage. With its tender humor and swift-paced, continuous flow of action and music, “A Real Hero” had unmatched appeal.

“My god! It’s the middle of summer! What are you doing in a theater?” cried Paraiso as he introduced “Crazy Night” to his overflowing audience. Simple answer—having a very good time.

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Updated 5:17 pm, July 20, 2018
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