CityDance Ensemble debut their narrative, comic and dramatic works outside of D.C. for the first time. 

Defending Dance

Defense Analyst on Capitol Hill is a about as atypical as you can get as early training for a person entering dance, but that's exactly part of the job history for choreographer and Director of CityDance Ensemble, Paul Gordon Emerson. At the time, Emerson lived near Washington's Dupont Circle where the sound of bongos frequently roused him from bed. Conversation with the rhythmic perpetrators led him to shed his business suit to take dance classes up the street at Joy of Motion, where leg extensions, not missile defense shields, eventually captured the whole of his attention.

That professional transformation occurred in 1986, and many dances later, he joined CityDance Ensemble, established by dancer/choreographer Tara Pierson Dunning in 1996. The company, with its lyrical, athletic works performed by nine dancers and, frequently, live original music, has been celebrating growing success ever since. For one night only, on Sept. 22, a few days before the same program is brought to the Kennedy Center, this D.C.-based company will perform several works, including several premieres, at the Grace Street Theater.

Emerson purposefully chose Richmond for the ensemble's first full out-of-town concert for a few reasons. "Richmond has a great reputation for dance," he explains. "The university turns out great dancers. Anyone who's come out of Richmond that has anything to do with dance or music, like Jonathan Romeo, is talented and diligent." Plus, many Richmond dancers have joined the troupe, like VCU graduate Vladimir Angelov. "[Richmond] makes sense," says Emerson. "I also visited the Grace Street Theater and fell in love with the place."

CityDance prefers works that are "accessible." "We prefer work that tells a story," says Emerson. "There's a lot of lighthearted, comical work, also some that are clearly dramatic." Angelov's newly expanded "Jinari," with music by Kodo Drummers of Japan, fits the dramatic category, a sultry investigation into how natives of Japan deal with the ever-present danger of earthquakes. Nature's less jolting power appears in Emerson's emotional "The Aajej," its title drawn from writer Michael Ondaatje's description of an aajej as a fierce Moroccan whirlwind, against which the fellahin defend themselves with knives.

The rest of the program is packed with premieres. The troupe presents a trio by Dunning, with live music by Matt Jones, and Alvin Mayes' celebrational "One Breath, One Memory." Also in the offerings is a first peek at their "Legacy" series, which draws upon 25 years of works by D.C. artists; this concert includes "Girl Friends," Eric Hampton's witty look at courtship and failed love in Adrain Bolton's "Givin Up," inspired by Lester Horton.

CityDance is ample proof of what can happen when a defense analyst turns his attention to aesthetic, not military concerns. The high polish and rhythmic intensity of this company applies to its dance, not its weaponry.


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