BEACON 2024 – New Pathways in Dance

Shining a Light on Our Dance Community

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Among the many thrills of BEACON, the showcase of dance and multi-disciplinary works that made its annual visit to St. Pete’s Palladium Theater on April 5, is its sheer variety.

It’s thrilling to discover the multiple pathways that can be chosen by dancers and choreographers. Movement can flow through an entire neighborhood or evolve from a single chair. Classical technique can coexist with contemporary attitude, and spoken word can partner with dance as powerfully as music.

A dance can be open to interpretation or stay laser-focused on a single message, and costumes and lights aren’t mere accessories but integral to the whole experience.

Heidi Brewer and Sharon McCaman – photos by Sorcha Augustine

This year’s program opened with an enchanting marriage of movement and video that made me wonder — what if we all danced our neighborhoods? That’s what Heidi Brewer and Sharon McCaman did in Light Play.

Their video began with the duo experiencing St. Pete’s Old Northeast neighborhood through movement — interacting with the geometries of the Grenada Terrace pergola, striding hex-block streets as shadows lengthened, finally reaching the exterior of the Palladium.

Then, through the magic of multiple live-feed cameras, a delightfully mind-boggling transition occurred – they showed up inside the Palladium, exploring its anterooms and stairwells and eventually winding up live and in person onstage.

iN tHEir miNd

Video and dance intersected with spoken word and live guitar in Charlotte Johnson’s powerful IN tHEir miNd. An excerpt from the dancer-choreographer’s Journey to Freedom, it represents her dedication to highlighting the reality of mental illness.

Against a backdrop of headlines about mental health crises (“ALARMING STUDY”), three fiercely talented dancers (Katherine Smith, Tamoy Prawl, and Terrence Jamison) thrashed and flailed inside hospital gowns to Vincent Sims’s expressive guitar, and poets Di Nguyen and Raheem “Reality” Gordon brought eloquent words to inchoate feelings, concluding with “Help me break FREE.”

A technical note – it takes savvy to pull off the neat trick of lighting video screens and live action simultaneously, not to mention incorporating live feeds. That both Light Play and IN tHEir miNd managed such challenges was just one example of the expertise of the Palladium’s resident technical director, Christopher Spatafora. His collaborations with Beacon dancers and choreographers have been indispensable to the series’ success.

“He’s not only dedicated to making it look like we envision it,” says BEACON co-founder Helen French, “he’s always looking for ways to make it better. He goes above and beyond every time.”

Helen French

Their partnership was in full view in French’s elegant solo, Lineage, in which a gracefully curved, glowingly lit wooden armchair was the only object onstage. A family heirloom whose cherrywood hue echoed the red of French’s hair, it served as both partner and refuge for her.

Choreographed by Andee Scott with and for French, her movements away from the chair suggested seeking, waiting, reaching out. I was reminded of 19th-century sailors’ wives watching for their husbands’ return from the sea. There was a nautical element, too, in a scooping motion, as if she were gathering water to bring home. But home the chair was, and French found myriad ways to embrace it and be embraced.

Alexander Jones

Flashes of light and color were key in Alexander Jones’s glorious Within. Without. Subtitled “a journey through loss,” its impact was enhanced by Iky Standridge’s costumes – full, flowing skirts in dark colors with bright-hued underskirts, perhaps representing suppressed memories, joyful or agonizing.

Jonah Perez-Lopez

Jones’s projectALCHEMY dancers were terrific — beginning with a swirling, kicking, windmilling solo by Jonah Perez-Lopez, who was joined by Heidi Brewer, Talia Demps, Kirsten Standridge and eventually by Jones himself.

In a voluminous black skirt  ballooned out with crinoline and taffeta, he arrived like a goddess — or perhaps Death herself. Danced to the eerie sounds of music by Arvo Pärt, including frenzied strings and an insistent silver hammer sound like a ticking clock, the piece registered a haunting sense of time racing inexorably ahead.

Atlas Modern Ballet

An awareness of times past and their relevance to the present animated Frozen Angels, a work by the two-year-old, Tampa-based Atlas Modern Ballet. Choreographed by company director and founder Sarah Walston Phillips in collaboration with the performers – Cynthia Clark, Baylie Dockins, Nicholas Garlo, Kate Gierke, Antonio Hernandez, Troy Martin, Makenzie McLean, and Drew Travis Robinson – it was inspired by an exhibit of Greek figure sculptures at NYC’s Metropolitan Museum of Art.

The figures seemed like paragons of beauty, but on closer inspection, says Phillips, “their cracks and imperfections became pronounced with shadow.” Accordingly, the piece began with the company garbed in Grecian-inspired tunics in classical poses, but broke into movement that was by turns sinuous and angular, suggesting the ideal (say, the dynamism of a discus thrower) and the real (the urgency to escape).

Atlas is a company I had not seen before, and if this performance is any indication, they’re a welcome addition to the local dance landscape.

Bliss Kohlmyer and Andee Scott

Two dance veterans — Andee Scott and Bliss Kohlmyer — brought us the tremendously moving Listen Hold Listen hold listen hold… Choreographed for and with the dancers by the internationally renowned Robert Moses, it was billed as “a portrait of these two women,” but the dance is universal enough to suggest any number of relationships, from mother-daughter to sister-sister to partners in life.

Danced to a poem by U.S. Poet Laureate Ada Limón about the desire of a mother to protect her daughter from scars, Scott and Kohlmeyer gave us, through intertwined limbs and expressive hands, the push to challenge and soothe that runs through all close connections.

Beacon has been demonstrating the deep connectedness of the Tampa Bay dance community since 2015. May their light keep shining for years to come.

Photos by Sorcha Augustine

Bliss Kohlmyer and Andee Scott with choreography by Robert Moses


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