WV Dance Company, the state’s only professional touring dance company, continues it’s 40th anniversary season this week with performances at Radford, VA, Greenbrier Valley Theatre and Strand Theatre in Moundsville, WV. WVU Dance professor and former Paul Taylor Company dancer Maureen Mansfield Kaddar had the opportunity to view a company performance and provided Spotlight WV with her perspective on the company’s current works.
It is a rare occurrence when a group of dance artists can thrive in a large concert venue as well as in an educational setting. West Virginia Dance Company is one such group. On the 40th anniversary celebration performance of the company’s founding, six dancers – 4 male and 2 female – shared their unique talents, and those of the choreographers, with the admiring crowd.
Each dancer inhabited his or her own story, own space, and own individuality. Yet when they danced together, in unison or in contrast, one could feel the workings of a well-oiled and comfortable machine. There was ease within the effort of physicality as they found their way around one another’s weight, energy and timing with the familiarity of foraging for a snack in the kitchen of your childhood home. The varied work allowed the dancers to explore all possibilities of support and relation, which in turn gave the viewer much to chew on. One might see a man lifting a woman, a woman lifting a woman, a man lifting a man, a woman lifting a man. Throughout the evening, the dancers infused their impressive technique into the heart of the work, as true artists do, integrating skillful execution with full expressivity and connection. One could clearly appreciate the choreographers’ intent through the dancers’ craft. Visually, it was refreshing to see such variety of height, skin tone and dynamic quality within the group.
From the beginning to end of the evening, the work consistently spoke to the human spirit – the relationships, struggles, desires, joys, connections and misconnections. We can all relate to these concepts, no matter our ages. This was exhibited by Carli Mareneck’s, Tupoupou (“Dolphin” in Maori), a piece made for the Arts Education/Integration project, “It’s Your World – Full STEAM Ahead!” The images of the active dolphins, represented by three of the men in the company, were a delight in joy, playfulness and community. A subtle reminder how vital it is to take care of our earth and it’s vulnerable creatures, including ourselves.
Toneta Akers-Toler’s work, Ahava and the Residual Holocausts, for dancer Donald Laney was a powerful study in the strength and resiliency of man in turmoil. Inspired by the stories of the holocaust, we meet the various characters in this one performer. From the Holocaust victim, to the soldier, to the dangerously impressionable youth, the individual experiences portrayed encompassed a broad scope but all were created thoughtfully by the choreographer and expertly brought to life by Mr. Laney. To watch his expansive body move in space, fully expressive with grace and fluidity, yet weighted and grounded, is a visual delight.
A particularly satisfying aspect of being an audience member during this company’s performance is the ensemble work. It is intuitive, trusting and deep. In guest artist Gerri Houlihan’s Schubert Variations, in the collaborative The Mountains Speak, created by choreographers Laney, Akers-Toler and Rachel Oliver, and in Akers-Toler’s From the Depths, this is more than apparent. Each of these three pieces could not be more different from one other in style and concept though they each share the masterful ability to take the viewer’s eye on a journey through the solos, duets, trios and quartets with ease.
In The Mountains Speak, we meet the people of the coal mining culture of Appalachia and we hear the comforting nuance of storyteller, Adam Booth, as he retells events during the WV labor movement. We learn about the history of the word “redneck”, and the pride attached to it. We see the community of risk-taking men working to feed their families and the women keeping it together at home – everyone, doing the best they can. These stories are told through not only word and song, but through movement, inclusive and familiar. We all carry generations of memory in our movement, which bring us connection and belonging. The artists made us feel as if we were watching our own families.
In From the Depths, choreographed by Akers-Toler and set to Charles Mingus’ improvisational jazz music, the group intuition runs deep. As a fully collaborative work, the choreographer worked thoughtfully with each dancer’s improvisational experience, drawing out the individual uniqueness of each of them. The piece was a wonderful mixture of solos, parings, groups in unison, and a full stage of movers. Movement themes satisfied the viewer as they returned here and there. The senses of sight and sound were stimulated in many layers with rhythmic clapping and stomping as well as a gorgeous variety of black and red costumes. Ultimately, we can celebrate the voice and spirit of each of us through this dance, through both harmony and discord as we move through the greater world. Each individual artist was fully present and divinely themselves. And isn’t that what we all strive for?
An evening with the West Virginia Dance Company is one well spent. With such a wide offering of choreographic styles, topics and music choices, the dancers of WVDC partake from a delicious buffet of fulfilling artistry and deliver it perfectly.
Maureen Mansfield Kaddar is a dancer and educator originally from East Rockaway, New York. She holds degrees in dance, with honors, from Adelphi University (BFA) and the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee (MFA). A Paul Taylor Dance Company member from 1998-2003, Maureen can be seen as a featured cast member in Dancemaker, the Oscar-nominated film about Mr. Taylor. She now has the distinguished pleasure of setting his works on companies and universities, among them, West Virginia University. Maureen has also performed with the companies of Peter Pucci, Rebecca Kelly and Rebecca Stenn. She has taught dance and choreographed, nationally and abroad, as a guest artist at many university and college programs, including serving as Interim Director for Vassar College’s student dance company. Passionate about the power of building learning connections through movement, Maureen enjoyed teaching Arts Integration in the public schools of Morgantown through a WV state grant. Currently she serves as a part-time lecturer of dance at West Virginia University and was honored with the Adjunct Faculty Excellence Award in 2015 from WVU’s College of Creative Arts. As a certified yoga and Anti-Gravity yoga instructor, Maureen teaches private and community classes as well. She has presented at ACDA and NDEO conferences and is currently serving as the Conference Coordinator for the 2016 ACDA Mid-Atlantic region’s annual conference to be hosted by West Virginia University.