Review: Dana Foglia Dance - "I Am... We Are..."

NB: I actually wrote this review immediately after the show, on February 3rd. For the past few months, I have tried fervently to publish it in a magazine, but to no avail. I think it's unfortunate that none of the major dance magazines publish reviews, either from their own staff writers or freelancers, and I apologize that this review is so late -- but I wanted to be sure to share it with the dance community, as I am a staunch supporter of this choreographer's work. Enjoy.
DANA FOGLIA DANCE: I am... We are...
Review by Ryan P. Casey

Last year, in an
interview with Boston-based jazz dancer Adrienne Hawkins, the award-winning master teacher and choreographer was asked what has excited her in recent years about the development of dance. She replied:
“The new movement vocabulary that the younger people are bringing to the table. I don’t think they have figured out what to do with it, or how to use it as a tool for their thoughts and ideas, but the use of the body and the use of the music is refreshing.”
            Dana Foglia is one of those rare and gifted young choreographers who has already figured it out. Her unique movement vocabulary, costuming and performance style have earned her well-deserved attention from coast to coast, and it was only expected that the New York debut of her new show, I am… We are…, on February 1st and 3rd would have standing room only. This production, a seamless evening of her choreography presented in the DiMenna Center’s Cary Hall, an open black box space traditionally utilized for classical music, was a powerful statement of the promise of her innovative movement ideas.
            The event’s black and white theme (even the audience was encouraged to dress accordingly) was a simple, yet sexy and stylish look for the company of sixteen. The women were dressed in what has become the company’s signature look: solid black and white – or, later, striped – hooded leotards, some dancers also donning blond wigs, making them almost indistinguishable from each other. Similarly, the men boasted black and white shirts and capri pants embellished with bowties and suspenders, looking strong and snazzy.
            Lighting was simple but effective, transforming the space into the feel of an intimate club and complementing the pulsing – but often too loud – soundtrack, which consisted primarily of synthesized house music, the Eurythmics’ “Here Comes the Rain Again” one of the few recognizable tracks.
            In executing Foglia’s intricate choreography, the dancers embodied the music and the music embodied them. They hit every accent with a rhythmic sensibility I have only observed previously in the most musically astute of tap dancers, attacking powerful hip hop phrases and then relaxing into slinky, sexy contemporary combinations, lulling the audience into a false moment of relaxation before surprising them again with another sequence of complicated steps.  
            It is the kind of show that begs to be seen again because it is too elaborate to be digested in a single sitting: in one second, the dancers are in full splits in a staggered formation, and in the blink of an eye, it seems, they’re standing up in a straight line. I didn’t just wonder how they did that; I wondered how they had acquired the stamina to maintain such sophisticated and athletic choreography for an hour – an hour that moved so quickly and was packed with so much dancing, I vowed never again to complain about how tired I am after my next trip to the gym.
            Of these talented performers, Mishay Petronelli stood out not solely for her incredible power and control, but her emotion. While many of the dancers maintained severe, stolid expressions throughout the show, Petronelli’s face was a reliable window into the mood of each piece and how she felt as she performed it, and her eyes never failed to flash defiantly or flutter seductively at the audience while she commanded attention in each of her appearances. The men were just as strong, Denzel Chisolm effortlessly partnering Petronelli and young Jose “BoyBoi” Tena displaying remarkable athleticism and ferocity.
            While many of the dancers were skillfully utilized in solo moments, Foglia’s choreography is a reminder of the sheer power of ensemble choreography. The strongest moments of the show featured the cast dancing in unison, nailing complicated steps at breakneck speed and expertly showcasing Foglia’s rhythmic sensibility combined with visual appeal. When I found I had been holding my breath for a large portion of the show, I wondered how the dancers were able to catch theirs. The audience, for their part, seemed never to run out of breath as they continually hooted and whistled their appreciation, screaming wildly for their favorite pieces (one of which has almost 58,000 views on YouTube) as avid fans at a concert might go wild upon hearing the opening notes of a beloved tune. Foglia’s work has already attracted a loyal following, and it’s easy to see why.
            Part of the appeal is her imagination, which was on full display as the cast experimented boldly with props, juxtaposing strength and agility with risky playfulness. In one routine, dancers shared playful duets while rolling across the floor on swivel chairs, showing off their strength and control by stopping at the split second before a collision. In another, they tossed, bounced and rolled a soccer ball at each other without missing a beat of the choreography. A trio of female dancers on mini trampolines showed off their core strength and balance in a daring trio. It was all exciting and suspenseful, if not a little showy: some more context and justification for the incorporation of the props, or further development of the concept behind their appearance, would have made these experiments more cohesive and satisfying.
            Other concepts, particularly involving the company’s men, were particularly effective. One routine had them dancing along a grid of black and white lines taped to the floor (a chore some of the other dancers performed – literally – almost as a separate routine. Who knew marking a stage could be so sexy?), changing formations and delivering hard-hitting hip-hop sequences. They added an extra touch of class in a memorable routine to Missy Elliott’s “The Rain,” accentuating their outfits with top hats and canes, echoing a previous era of dance while infusing that elegant, sophisticated style with Foglia’s futuristic one.
            Her choreography has a commercial vibe, to be sure, but while it is at once sexy and flashy and edgy, it is sure of itself; it has substance. Everything is deliberate and, sans some of the prop explorations, developed to a sophisticated, satisfying degree. The audience leaves with an immediate and lasting impression of the look and feel of Dana Foglia Dance. Once you have seen her work, her name immediately conjures images of her powerful, mesmerizing choreography; her mysterious leotard-clad dancers; her space-age vibe. There are not enough flattering adjectives to complete the title of the incredible journey that is I am… We are… Foglia and her dancers are in control of an appearance, style and performance quality that are uniquely their own.
            I am excited for the continued development of this talented troupe…. We are lucky to have Foglia sharing her creations with the dance community. 

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