It’s opening night for Breaking Ground 2017, the contemporary dance festival launched a decade ago by Carley Conder, founder and artistic director for CONDER/dance. People are gathered at Tempe Center for the Arts, where the main stage lineup includes 13 dances. Li Chiao-Ping’s compelling piece, titled Between Here and There, is among them.
A first generation Chinese-American, the Wisconsin-based choreographer, who also performs in the piece, explores issues of race, ethnicity, home, place, power, and identity – incorporating the Emma Lazarus sonnet beloved for its inclusive “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses…” language, along with poems written by Angel Island detainees and Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Statue of Liberty rededication speech.
When Between Here and There premièred in 2016, Li couldn’t have foreseen its perfect alignment with current events the day she performed it in Tempe. It was Friday night, January 27, the day newly inaugurated president Donald Trump signed an executive order banning citizens of seven predominantly Muslim countries from entering the United States.
The context of contemporary American politics only served to heighten the inherent power of Li’s poetic piece, which perfectly balanced movement, sound, and set design. Bottom line: She’s a gifted storyteller.
And storytelling was the strongest element of Breaking Ground 2017.
With Exposition, New York dancer Monteleone delivered a “movement and spoken manifesto” featuring his own choreography, words, and music. Taken together, they’re a window into his world view – both quizzical and quirky. Far and away the most moving and meticulous dancer to take the stage during Breaking Ground 2017, Monteleone exudes remarkable energy that radiates even through his thumbs.
Carley Conder’s new work, inspired by a Joan Didion essay, uses Howard Hughes’ mythical persona to explore “the perils of communication and connection.” It’s a more abstract form of storytelling, fueled largely by Hughes’ eccentricities, which are reflected in movements that range from complete body tremors to a mime’s take on smoking a cigarette with faux sophistication. Conder often explores issues of identity, and her latest iteration is wildly entertaining.
For the Tiny Dance called Perpetuating Victoria, choreographed by Charlotte Adams in collaboration with dancer Dot Armstrong, Armstrong manipulated her white hoop skirt while delivering a sarcastic riff set against the backdrop of classical music by Franz Liszt. For another Tiny Dance, Savage Abstractities, choreographers and dancers Anthony James Kelly (Akellz) and Juan “Coel” Rodriguez coupled frenetic movement with slapstick humor.
Taken together, both evening-length dance works and their shorter small-scale counterparts, did something more than just telling individual stories. They told the story of a dance scene growing increasingly creative, energetic, and diverse. And that’s the most compelling story of all.