On With the Dance! Bowen McCauley Celebrates Its Final Season at the Kennedy Center (photos)


On with the dance! let joy be unconfin’d;
No sleep till morn, when Youth and Pleasure meet
To chase the Glowing Hours with Flying feet ….. Lord Byron   

In its first performance in over a year, Arlington based Bowen McCauley Dance Company was granted permission to perform in front of a live audience at the Kennedy Center’s Terrace Theater on Wed. May 26. It was an important step for the venue, as the performance was one of the Kennedy Center’s first event since its closure in 2020, though the invite-only gathering was restricted to just 25 percent of room capacity. Stringent safeguards were imposed by the theater management, and the program was also simulcast live to more than 300 viewers. The long awaited one-night performance was previously set for March 27 and 28, 2020, but had to be rescheduled twice due to Covid-19.

In the words of Bowen McCauley dancer Dustin Kimball: “There is always an element of nervous excitement when I step on stage. But being back after so long not knowing if it would ever happen again made it even more special. Feeling the energy of the other dancers, the audience, and knowing all the others watching from home, made me feel like a piece of me that had been missing was finally back in place.”

Late last year, BMDC’s founding Artistic Director, Lucy Bowen McCauley announced that this — its 25th Anniversary Season– will be the company’s last. Though the Covid pandemic was not the determining factor behind the decision, it did effectively move the closing date back by about a year.

In its 25-year history, Bowen McCauley Dance Company has continued to fulfill its mission of “introducing people of all ages to the joy of dance,” not just throughout the D.C. Metro area, but as far away as China, Mexico, and Germany. McCauley has choreographed more than 100 original pieces and provided a ready platform for outstanding dancers, musicians and guest choreographers. “Live music not only is a strong element to BMDC’s performances but is an integral part of our guiding philosophy,” said McCauley.

In line with its commitment to community service, BMDC’s K-12 program has reached thousands of students through residency programs in D.C., Virginia and Maryland schools. And BMDC is the only company in the Washington area to provide free weekly dance classes for people with Parkinson’s Disease and their care partners – “Dance for PD.” Since 2009, BMDC has served more than 800 people living with Parkinson’s as part of the program and will continue.

The company’s executive director Helen Chamberlin wished to emphasize that though “the nonprofit organization is closing its doors after its finale performance on September 14, McCauley will transition to a freelancer in order to follow her passion around ‘dance and disabilities’ teaching with the Mark Morris Dance Group’s researched-backed Dance for PD program in partnership with the Maryland Youth Ballet in the fall of 2021.”

“We are in discussions with two other local area art partners in hopes of adding two more venue sites for the program in Virginia and Washington, D.C., once BMDC sunsets,” Chamberlin said.

The pandemic has presented particular challenges and risks for professional dancers, who traditionally work together tightly onstage and in not well-ventilated studios and dressing rooms. “In order to do this show in May, that was originally scheduled for March,” said McCauley, “we started back in the studio in September 2020 — we were fully masked, separate barres, 6 foot squares to stay in and no partnering. We had kept the dancers on payroll with PPP and did a weekly Zoom call prior to this. After 6 months of only home workouts in small spaces, I knew I needed to ease the dancers back in to shape very slowly.”

The show opened with the reprise of “Dances of the Yogurt Maker,” choreographed by McCauley featuring Turkish composer Erberk Eryilmaz with the music of Hoppa Project. This first-ever collaboration between these two award-winning artists was commissioned by Fairfax Symphony Orchestra in March 2019. Added McCauley, “During the fall, I changed a piece — ‘Dances for the Yogurt Maker’ — to have no partnering. It was the only piece in the recent repertoire that I thought could withstand being stripped of contact. This dance opened our May 26 show and people were thrilled to see it again, looking possibly even better than before.” 

A second piece took a look back to honor two longtime principal dancers, Alicia Curtis and Dustin Kimball, with a short screening of the filmed version of “Far Behind,” set to music by Jason and The Scorchers which was part of the full-length production, “Victory Road” (April, 2015). Curtis and Kimball have been principal dancers at BMDC for 15 and 16 seasons, respectively. 

The evening concluded with the world premiere of “Trois Rêves,” set to Maurice Ravel’s “Gaspard de la Nuit” for piano and played live by pianist Nikola Paskalov. Choreographed by McCauley, the piece featured seven company dancers portraying three dream sequences designed to “make audiences swoon, tense, lean-in, and laugh.”

“Trois Rêves,” which in French means “three dreams,” was created with Covid restrictions in mind, and it certainly presented its own sort of challenges. Again, there was no partnering or touching, and the dancers maintained safe physical distancing. And, of course, each dancer was wearing a protective mask.

Bowen McCauley Dance Company has already booked its Silver Anniversary Season Finale for the Kennedy Center’s Eisenhower Theater on Sept. 14.

Said McCauley, “I created a new work during the pandemic to Maurice Ravel’s ‘Gaspard de la Nuit.’ The music was recommended to me by our music director Nikola Paskalov. It is an extraordinarily arduous piece to play, and Nikola had had it on his bucket list for years. I took the challenge of this 30-minute work, knowing the dancers would be in masks and still with no partnering. The result is unique, especially the second section, and the dancers had to become even more expressive through their bodies…. We look forward to getting back in to rehearsals next month with full partnering to prepare for our huge Sept. 14 show at the Kennedy Center. The performance will have three premieres and all live music and a special guest artist. Let’s all cross fingers and toes that this can happen!”

Added dancer Alicia Curtis, who also designed the costumes for the performance, “Nothing compares to performing for a live audience. It feels exceptionally invigorating now after such a long time dancing without an audience. There’s an electricity in the air and an acknowledgement that you are truly sharing that space and moment in time together.

(For more information about the Sept. 14 finale performance at the Kennedy Center, or the Dance for PD program, visit www.BMDC.org)

Jeff Malet has been a principal photographer for Bowen McCauley Dance Company for 12 years. View his photos from May 26 at the Kennedy Center by clicking on the photo icons below.

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