The Martha's Vineyard Dance Theatre performs
The Martha's Vineyard Dance Theatre performs "Storms in Africa." Photos by Ralph Stewart

Once more with verve - dance fest at 10

By Julian Wise - August 24, 2006

The 2006 Built on Stilts (BOS) dance festival marked a decade of wild, wacky, creative, and often brilliant choreography from a wide cross section of artists. Since its inception as a small festival for local choreographers, the event has morphed into The People's Festival, with people from all backgrounds and skill levels showcasing their unique creative visions. At BOS, nobody is too old, too young, too short, too tall, too inexperienced or too overqualified; all are welcome to join in the joyful celebration. Due to the expanding size of the festival, the show has expanded to a full week of performances, with each night featuring a different lineup of artists. The performance on Monday, Aug. 21, was a virtual explosion of diversity.

The show began with its signature drum circle as local musicians Tom Major and Paul Thurlow led a dozen percussionists through a vigorous rhythmic workout. Next was a film showing snippets of the festival over the past 10 years. The screen flickered with images of past performances overdubbed with David Bowie's "Let's Dance" and Abba's "Dancing Queen." Festival founders Abby Bender and Anna Luckey took to the stage and sang the show's introduction in a scat-jazz style over the bass notes of "Fever." The capacity crowd was in the show's pocket from the get-go, showering each artist with thunderous rounds of applause.

"Perfection," is a piece conceived by Karin Wilkinson.

"Caffeine Addicts-a-go-go"(choreographer Anna Seagrave, dancers Alyssa Burstein, Melissa Perrotta, Kate Seethaler) began with the dancers lurching around like broken wind-up toys to French jazz before locking into synchronized jazz and modern movements. The piece evolved to include a dash of Moulin Rouge-style kicks and Beach Blanket Bingo twists.

Poet Bob Buckley presented "Word Up Express," a blend of performance art and poetry as dozens of dancers rippled like waves behind him in improvised motion. In "Cha Cha," dancers Tom Newton and Nancy Cohen modeled salsa steps while Lilah Steece presented the solo piece "mother don't worry," a collection of edgy, graceful movements that seemed like a physical companion to the book "Reviving Ophelia."

The evening's most adorable moment may easily have come during "Growing In Color" (dancers Adelaide Keene, Carmen Major, Emily Moore, Emma Johnson, Erin Brown, Erin DeBettencourt, Grace Hall, Hartley Pieputoski, Isabella Maidoff, Isabelle Littlefield, Isabelle Ortlip-Sommers, Sarah Ortlip-Sommers, Jackie Sicoli, Juniper Ezanno, Lucy Dougherty-Soares, Maria Hastings, Maya Harcourt, Molly Houghton, Olivia Knight, Sheila McHugh, Juno Henderson, Sydney Johnson, Tallula Brodsky, Teo Azzollini, Tilly Alexander, Flo Alexander, Willa Vigneault, Zana van Rooyen). Clusters of girls in pastel yellows, reds and greens interlocked arms and spun like flower petals, creating a joyful springtime feel. The piece was a celebration of innocence and open hearts

"In the Tic of Time" (choreographer Jil Matrisciano, dancers Claire Baione, Jennifer Guercio, Jil Matrisciano) featured three female dancers in jeans, white shirts and Red Sox caps trying to outdo each other in tap dance rhythms. The piece had a good-natured sense of rivalry as each showed off their tapping chops. "Goumbe" (choreographer Lashanna Williams, dancers Christina Johnson, Tova Katzman, Stephanie Spain, Lashanna Williams) was a joyful exhibition of African dance. The dancers demonstrated how many of the signature moves in hip-hop derive from African origins. Ms. Williams took the stage to lead off an energetic series of solo pieces. Pint-sized Christina Johnson, eight, earned screams of applause for her no-nonsense, take-no-prisoners spirit.

Alexis Iammarino and Built on Stilts director Abby Bender in
Alexis Iammarino (left) and Built on Stilts director Abby Bender in "Haute Air."

"Storms in Africa" (choreographer Lori E. Cunningham, dancers Lori E. Cunningham, Alley Ellis, Amy Fligor, Caroline Fournier, Devon Lodge, Meghan Lowe, Anna Markwica, Eliza Sherlock-Lewis, Abbey Stone) displayed dancers in colorful leotards making sweeping ballet leaps, steps and spins to the ethereal tones of Enya's "Storms in Africa." The dancers brought a breathless grace to this dreamlike composition. In "Untitled," dancer/rollerblader Corinne de Langavant brought the grace of a figure skating exhibition to rollerblading, accompanied by a driving piano improvisation by David Stanwood.

"Unlikely Love" (choreographer Anna Luckey, dancers Abby Bender, Katie Federowicz, Laura Sargent Hall, Anna Luckey) presented the dancers dressed in white and seated back to back in folding chairs. The dancers reclined and draped themselves over the chairs, leaving their seats only to rotate in orbits around the seats. The dancers moved at a deliberate, fluid pace to the Hawaiian ukulele strains of Israel Kamakawiwo'ole. The Vineyard Belly Dance and Review (choreographer Suzanna Nickerson, dancers May V. Oskan, Betsy Smith, Diane Hartmann, Suzanna Nickerson) dressed in traditional belly dancing clothes and spun like dervishes, moving their hips in liquid motions and clapping their hands to the beat of the Persian music. The dancers would meet in the center of the circle and let loose a whooping cheer in celebration of the wild feminine spirit.

Six dancers opened Built on Stilts Sunday show with
Six dancers opened Built on Stilts Sunday show with "Hands to Hands to Hands."

"Red Shoes" (concept artist Victoria Campbell, dancers Victoria Campbell, Jimmy Dolan, Xavier Powers) was a rousing bit of musical theater, with Mr. Dolan and Mr. Powers depicting two sailors under the spell of a sultry witch (Ms. Campbell) and dancing together to Carmen Miranda's tropical "I yi yi yi Like You Very Much."

The evening concluded with "Musicality, A Physical Symphony" (choreographer Kelly Peters, dancers Kelly Peters, Alise Haigazian, Nina Carelli, Jessica Francis, Emma Lee Iverson, Marguerite Smith, Olivia Gross, Kate Cecilio, Noelle Nelson, Rilla Hammett, Hailey Plante, Ana Thibodeau, Grant Meacham, Evan Hall, Zion Morris). The piece delivered all of the signature elements audiences have come to expect from Mr. Peters and his crew; whip-snap hip hop moves, electrifying theatricality, and precise, synchronized hip hop routines that seem to defy the laws of physics. The title referred to Mr. Peters's vision of bringing music from the audio realm to the physical by manifesting each beat and tone in a distinct body motion.

By the end of the evening, the audience showered a thunderous ovation on the dancers as they joined together for a group bow. Truly the applause extended to the festival itself and its mission of creating a home for all choreographers and dancers who have an itch to get up and show the crowd what they've got.

Julian Wise is a frequent contributor to The Times, specializing in music, film, and the performing arts.