The 4th annual Beta Dance Festival was hosted at Phoenix Center for the Arts on July 23rd-24th. Beta provides the opportunity for local dance artists to produce and perform their own original works. The event seeks to introduce dance supporters in the Phoenix area to new artistic voices of movement in an effort to grow and cultivate the Phoenix dance scene.
Phoenix Dance Observer invited three members of the dance community to attend the festival and share a response. The only guidelines were: 1. Write from your subjective experience and 2. Be honest. Here are their responses.
As I sit in my chair, anticipating the start of the show, I have to remember that there is more to dance than meets the eye. Having been in the field for some time now, I tend to look at the art form in very specific ways. Stripping away those filters that have been created (or in some cases, placed there) can be difficult. So, here I am now, trying to write out the thoughts that came to mind while enjoying the hard work of many beautiful dance artists. Although I enjoyed all the work, here are a few thoughts from several pieces that still linger in my brain:
From the beginning, a sense of community is built with three performers entering the stage. Live sound takes over, as one of the performers starts to play percussion, and the dancer sways her hips side to side. Already engaged, a flute player joins in, adding more depth to the sound score. In and out, the sound adds flare to the flamboyance of the dancer’s ocean blue outfit and hip movements. After about ten minutes of circling the stage, waving her skirt, and engaging with the percussion, the dancer begins to calm the waves and shortly after the sounds fade, and the stage goes dark. The sound of applause takes over, and the performers leave the stage.
Entering the stage, two bodies take up one corner. As the lights fade in, the tension between the two performers is very strong. Mystery of their relationship begins to take over my mind. Fast paced movements, and strong partner work intensify their relationship. Feeling distant from the performers, I am watching a discussion from the outside looking in. As the lights begin to dim and end the piece, it leaves me with questions: “where does this go? where can this go? is it over?”
Dramatic… is the first word that comes to mind. The two performers energy fills all of the stage allowing for drama to ensue between each other. With their pedestrian attitudes, I soon feel close to them, as if watching two sisters bicker about what to get their mother for Mother's day. Almost instantly, my engagement grows stronger, wondering how the two performers will solve their problem, and wanting to step in and help. Then it ends. Still wondering if the problems they [might] have created for themselves were resolved.
Two performers enter the stage. The feeling of being submerged in water comes instantly with the blue hues of light fading into the space. Curious, I stare at their faces, which have the look of discontent and confusion. As the music builds up, their movement intensifies, yet stays playful. Sharing gestures and a kiddie pool between each other, they seem to come to an agreement of some sort. They keep the audience in a humorous state of mind. We clap and laugh throughout, sharing the frustrations and difficulties of trying to stay cool in the summer. We've all been there and done that. Cleverly done.
(A)SENSE: A COLLECTION OF THOUGHTS I HAVE WHEN I’M ALONE - EXCERPTS
From beginning to end, the thought of damage is stuck in my mind. Most of the partner work comes off as abrasive, leaving room for the dancers to inflict aggressive energy on each other. The sound score adds intensity, keeping me in question of the events leading up this point. Out of the million possible reasons, I don't settle on one certain answer. Why would I? Why did I feel I needed to? As the piece continuesd, I feel more at peace with my role as an audience member, and the fact that I can not intervene. I would not intervene. Then it ends, and I remember that this was art being performed…
Once in while, as an audience member, certain movement aesthetics will compel my body to mimic the movements I am seeing. This is one of those times. As small gestures fill up the entire stage, my head begins to move with the three dancers. Abstract sounds of nature with clear sounds of bird whistles. Following the fluid like movements, that feel natural to my own body. Still keeping an eye on the piece as a whole, I'm engaged in the small spatial shifts that happen simultaneously. The shifts become much larger; the dancers start expanding the space. One by one, the dancers' individually fluid movements accumulate to create one fluid image as a group. Then the image stops moving all together. Tension builds between the dancers and I, keeping me in the fourth wall that the stage almost automatically creates for us. This tension restricts my movements, until only my eyes continue to move to move with the performers, tracking. Still seeing the spatial shifts which are becoming much smaller, bringing the dancers back to where they started. The lights fade out with their final gestures. Sound continues to fill up the darkness. Then it ends, still in tension, until the lights fade back in for the bow. The tension is now broken.
Félix El Cruz
The Beta Dance Festival was a two evening event on the nights of the 23rd and 24th of June. Filled with local artists, it was a showcase of the many thoughts that local choreographers wanted to physically explore. Subjectively speaking, I have been witness to many dance festivals that include the American College Dance Association, American Dance Festival in Durham, North Carolina; Impulstanz in Vienna, Austria; Tanz Im August in Berlin, Germany; and Spring Dance Festival in Utrecht, Netherlands to name a few. The thing that excited me most about these dance festivals was the time they took to showcase work. Work that was pushing the boundaries of dance and the possibilities of the dancing body.
The Beta Dance Festival was chock full of dance artists, but lacked the amount of time I needed as a viewer to not only process the work I saw, but also, the amount of time to allow the choreographers themselves to delve into their inquiries. It was like an evening of teaser trailers. Though there were dances that took advantage of the time frame given, as a whole, the festival was an incomplete thought. I understand that the more dances that are presented, the bigger the audience will be. Smart business tactic. I question where the business part can be pushed aside to allot room for more development for the artists.
As an audience member, I found myself wishing for a cohesive thought or through-line for the evening. There was so much dance packed into this 2-hour event, that I lost interest and attention mid-way through. Aside from this, I don’t think any dance really pushed the boundaries or possibilities of the dancing body. The few exceptions deserve mention: Lacee Garcia and Emily Laird, Leanne Schmidt and Marlene Strang, Travis Richardson, and the Dreams of Arabia Music and Dance Ensemble. I appreciated the community the Beta Festival built for the audience and the performers. I didn’t appreciate the lack of risk taken by the majority of the choreographers. Subjectively speaking, I have moved past the ideologies of concert dance. I am bored with the majority of what I saw. You moving in a contemporary manner accompanied with an archetypal sound loses me. Phoenix has the heart and soul to be a progressive dance scene, but chooses to be lackluster. I could think about this objectively and celebrate what happened, but I don’t find that to be conducive with the potential the dance world has if only more voices took chances and stepped out of their comfort zones. With the exception of the four aforementioned dances in the program, I felt like I was watching a So You Think You Can Dance episode. I’m over it. I apologize if this sounds like an attack, and I understand how it may sound like such. But I love dance too much to be complacent. There was SO much potential in what I saw, but the amount of time granted did not allow this potential to be realized. A potential to be daring, transgressive, and think out of the proverbial box is what I saw and hoped for.
I am looking forward to next year’s festival. Hopefully, it will consist of less artists so the artists chosen are granted the time to explore, and hopefully, the artists selected will take more risks. I have faith in both of these things and I know you do as well. So….just fucking do it.
If you have any reservations, qualms, arguments, or questions please feel free to contact me at email@example.com. Love, peace, and dance grease.