Lesole's Dance Project
by Carmel Morgan
December 13, 2009 -- Dance Place, Washington, DC
Lesole Maine, Artistic Director of Lesole’s Dance Project (“LDP”), is an inspirational figure, and a handsome dancer as well. Born in South Africa, he founded LDP, “A Traditional and Modern South African Dance Company,” in 2003 to perform work that highlights modern and Afro-Fusion dance and provide educational programs relating the movement and history of popular South African dances. Maine was the recipient of the 2007 Metro DC Dance award for emerging choreographers. In August 2009, LDP launched its International Edu-dance Program, working with local schools in the townships of Sebokeng, South Africa.
In December 2009, LDP teamed with Rhythm in Bleu, a newly-formed youth tap ensemble from Ashburn, Virginia, at a performance at Dance Place in Washington, DC. Both dance companies strive to preserve traditional forms of dance and educate youth. The combination of an adult modern/African dance company and a youth tap ensemble certainly provided variety to the program. Adding even more diversity to the program, Maine performed a piece called “Nna (Part 1),” which mixed elements of African rituals with various styles of Step taken from African American fraternities, choreographed by Artistic Director of DC’s Step Afrika!, Jakari Sherman.
While undeniably a unique program highlighting different forms of dance that share African and African American roots, it was also a confusing program with little in the way of glue to hold the diverse segments together. The young tappers from Rhythm in Bleu, although they surely put a lot of effort into their performance, seemed painfully mismatched on a bill with more seasoned adult dancers. Perhaps because of their relative inexperience, they concentrated on their tapping more than connecting with the audience. Many stared solely at their feet.
The best choreography on the program was that of Alvin Mayes, who is on the dance faculty at the University of Maryland. As a veteran choreographer, his work – “Ubuntu (Community/Humanity)” – showed the maturity and composition skill that the choreography of Maine and Justin Lewis, Director of Rhythm in Bleu, lacked. Yet even in Mayes’ work, one yearned to feel more of an emotional connection with its performers. Although “Ubuntu,” according to program notes, was about “dancers finding honest and generous connections,” the connections achieved between the pair of performers seemed awfully tentative.
The two group pieces choreographed by Maine for his company, “Board Meeting” and “Without a Home,” focused on contemporary social issues. The works largely resembled each other. In “Board Meeting,” the dancers took the role of harried office workers. They literally pushed papers off a large table. The movement was perhaps purposely rather empty, showing the pointless nature of corporate jobs. However, the majority of the movement phrases failed to flow together meaningfully. Gesture followed gesture followed gesture, without a clear message. When the dancers fidgeted with their button down shirts, looking to other dancers for approval, though, the movement was effective and interesting.
“Without a Home,” a work exploring issues of homelessness in South Africa and the U.S., similarly somehow lost its message. Also, it could have used some editing, as it seemed overly long. Powerful gestures, like a pointed finger were used, but they resulted in bewilderment. I’m confident almost no one favors homelessness; however, without the movement being sharper and the relationships among the dancers better defined, what should have been a moving work ended up being fairly lifeless and bland.
“Nna (Part 1),” a piece combining African dance and Step, presented Maine’s most appealing choreography. A solo work by Maine, “Nna” began with a barely clothed Maine sitting with one leg extended. He stared out across an imaginary African plain, slowly changing his focus until he suddenly jerked to the floor. Later, Maine rotated his shoulder blades rhythmically, stepping from side to side. Here, he did what I had been longing for – he engaged the audience with his eyes and expressions. The second half of the work, introducing the Step choreography, began after an interlude featuring the sound of lapping waves, presumably symbolizing the travel of Africans to America. Nonetheless, the change to Step dancing was abrupt and out of place. Moreover, Maine understandably looked much less comfortable with the Step movement than he did with his own movement style.
The best part of the performance was the infectious enthusiasm for dance that Maine and Lewis bring to people in the DC area, especially young people. There is room for both dance troupes to improve significantly, and with their ebullient leaders, it is practically guaranteed the two groups will continue to grow and strengthen. One specific suggestion for the future would be to credit all of the dancers in the program and list the dancers who performed in each piece. Another suggestion would be for LDP to include South African dance forms more prominently in the mix.