Bringing street dance to the concert stage is a tricky undertaking; so much of the vibrancy of forms born in the clubs is a product of spontaneity and invention. How does this movement language translate to a proscenium stage? How does the choreographer craft a sustained dramatic arc for an uninterrupted hour?
B-girl and choreographer Ephrat Asherie and her eponymous company have a fresh take on this old puzzle in “Odeon,” playing October 11-13 at the Dance Center of Columbia College. Asherie and her six dancers each have a distinctive style and physical voice, which were allowed to shine in the strongest moments of the hour-long performance, a collaboration with her brother Ehud, a jazz pianist who arranged the score and performs on stage along with a bassist and two percussionists. The quartet performs music by Brazilian composer Ernesto Nazareth, providing complex rhythms accented at times by clapping and stomping from the dancers, who occasionally gathered to face the quartet, or drew them from their chairs to join the action, the percussionists producing more sound from one or two hand instruments than seemed humanly possible.
Woven through these beats, which ranged from sambas to tangos to Afro-Cuban rhythms, were duets, trios and quartets, with intermittent ensemble sections. The most arresting moments in “Odeon” were the most intimate, with direct play between the music and movement: a duet between a popper and a b-boy, standing face to face and pecking like exotic birds in a mating ritual; a commanding solo (with backup dancers) from voguer Ousmane “Omari Mizrahi” Wiles ending with a grand flourish on the final chord of a song. The standout moment was the penultimate section, between house/contemporary/African dancer Linda “LaNaija” Madueme and a percussionist providing all sound with a single tambourine. Though Madueme traveled across the stage in a raw, emotionally committed performance, the two were never more than five feet apart, their shared energy captivating. This was not a solo dancer with an accompanist, it was a duet in the truest sense. The ensemble and unison sections of “Odeon” felt like backdrop in comparison to moments like these.
Relationships—physical conversation between dancers, conversation between dancers and musicians—were the heart of “Odeon.” And the individuality of the ensemble members made that conversation engaging, humorous, dramatic and, ultimately, deeply affectionate. At the end of the show, Asherie professed her love of her dancers and introduced each of the company members one by one. (Sharon Hoyer)
At the Dance Center of Columbia College, 1306 South Michigan, (312)369-8330. Thursday – Saturday, October 11-13 at 7:30pm. Tickets at www.dance.colum.edu.