Lisa Traiger; The Washington Post
November 9, 2007
A fiery phoenix rising from the ashes.
A biting satire about stereotyping and race.
An elegant tribute to the roots of Indian dance, with a modern twist.
All will be on display as three women, as different as their performances but united by their passion for their art, dance Monday evening at the Atlas Performing Arts Center in Washington.
In the program "The Essence of Dance," featuring local choreographers Nejla Yatkin, Gesel Mason and Tehreema Mitha, each dancer will showcase her approach to contemporary movement and then share the stage in a collaborative improvisation.
Yatkin has a long, powerful body that she wields with abandon. A professor at the University of Maryland at College Park, she has focused on solos in recent years. On Monday, she will dance one of her signature works, "For People With Wings," which she describes as a rebirth. The work is a testament to Yatkin's entrancing stage persona. "It's about moving yourself into a new space, a phoenix rising from the ashes," she says.
On stage, Mason is an electrifying presence, tough and tender, depending on what she is dancing. For "Essence," she will return to an early work, "No Less Black," from 2000. Part manifesto, part satire, the piece examines race, skin color and social responsibility in the African American community. Her poem of the same title, read offstage by performance artist Holly Bass, challenges preconceived notions: "No gangsta lean/No Afro Sheen/I like R&B, rap and Rachmaninoff."
Mitha carries herself with a regal elegance. Born in Pakistan, she is an expert in the south Indian classical dance form bharatanatyam. Mitha will perform "In the Spirit of Things," a work she describes as "classical contemporary" for its interplay of codified hand gestures and stylized body positions and the more free-form expressive range of Western modern dance. "It's important to present a work like this because many have preconceived notions of Indian dance," she says.
Each woman interprets the essence of dance in a different way, aiming to capture its power in her own distinctive style.
For Yatkin, dance is about "that silent, internal space you create when you're engaging in the act of creation." Mason defines its essence as "trying to be absolutely honest with the movement and the intention." And Mitha says she finds it in "the sincerity that you choreograph a dance with. . . . You make a dance because it's something that you really have to say."
The Essence of Dance Atlas Performing Arts Center, 1333 H St. NE 202-399-7993 Monday at 8. $25. The Essence of Dance Atlas Performing Arts Center, 1333 H St. NE 202-399-7993 Monday at 8. $25