Contemporary, Dance, Review

Hannah Kahn at Lakewood Cultural Center: Cross Purposes

A review by Robin McNeil

Once again, it has been proven to me that the arts are alive and well in Denver. Saturday evening, I attended a marvelous performance of modern dance done by the Hannah Kahn Dance Company, titled Cross Purposes. I would suggest to all of you readers that if you have not seen a performance of this dance company, that you need to go. As a matter of fact, on Saturday, May 17, they are performing again Lakewood cultural center with the Colorado Wind Ensemble conducted by Matthew Roeder. You will be in for a rare treat. Simply put, this is one of the best modern dance organizations that I have seen for a very long time.

Marisa Hollingsworth and Michael Hernandez

Marisa Hollingsworth and Michael Hernandez

On the Hannah Kahn Dance Company webpage, Hannah Kahn’s bio reads as follows: “Hannah Kahn, founder and Artistic Director of the Hannah Kahn Dance Company, is a master teacher with 35 years’ experience creating over one 100 dances. Some of the strongest influences on her choreography were her childhood classes in Ithaca, New York, with Iris Barbura, her studies of the techniques of Jose Limon and Martha Graham, and her performances of dances by Doris Humphrey and Anna Sokolow. The practice of Tai Chi has also influenced her movement style.”

“After graduating from the Julliard School, Kahn founded the Company in New York, and directed it there for twelve years before moving to Colorado in 1988. Kahn has received two NEA choreography fellowships, a New York State Council on the Arts individual choreographers’ fellowship and a CoVisions Recognition Award in dance choreography from the Colorado Council on the Arts. In 2009, Hannah was honored as a “Living Legend of Dance” by the Carson Brierly Dance Library, an award that honors those individuals who have made an outstanding contribution to dance in Colorado.”

In addition to her own company, her works have been in the repertories of over a dozen other dance companies and she yearly re-stages her work on the budding artists of the Denver School of the Arts.

I have seen other modern dance companies over many years, and so many of them seem to find it necessary to emphasize that they are a modern dance company and not a ballet company. They seem to find it necessary to emphasize a style of dance that eliminates the classic beauty of ballet: its grace and its association of the grace to the music, or as the case may be, the drama of the music. Some seem to emphasize the disassociation with ballet by placing an emphasis on spasmodic movement even where the lack of grace does not fit the choreography. Most certainly the movements in modern dance are different from those in ballet; that’s why it’s called modern dance. In modern dance, usually, there is no battement tendu, but that does not mean that modern dance cannot be graceful, enchanting, or exhilarating.

And that brings me to another point. The Hannah Kahn Dance Company is one of the very few modern dance companies that I have seen where the choreography truly fits, in every way, the temperament of the music. In addition, Artistic Director Hannah Kahn chose some absolutely remarkable music for the choreography that she created. I must say, that at Saturday evening’s performance, the couple sitting next to me was clearly attuned to that as well. During the small breaks between each dance performed, I could hear them commenting on how great the music was, and how carefully the choreography seemed to fit the music. Please notice the italics. This is one of the major differences between this dance company and so many others that I have seen. Not only was the choreography excellent, but the choice of the music seemed to make the dancers artistically comfortable with the choreography. My only criticism is that in the program notes, the titles of the musical selections were omitted: only the composer’s names were given. Hence, in one of the best selections of the evening entitled Dusk, the couple sitting next to me had no idea what Rachmaninoff composition was being performed. Since I could not help but overhear their conversation, I told them that it was the piano trio entitled Trio élégiaque No. 1 in G-minor, written when Rachmaninoff was nineteen years old. They thanked me for the information, but they, too, lamented the fact that the title of the work was not in the program.

All of the five dances performed Saturday evening were superb, but another wonderful performance was a dance entitled (R)evolve. The music was by Nick Mason and Phillip Glass. This was an excellent work wonderfully done by the dancers who made it genuinely expressive, and the choreography was unbelievably complicated. I was struck, in this work, by the drama that the dancers gave to the choreography. Again, I point out that in the past performances I have seen of other modern dance companies (and it could be that I was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time), drama doesn’t seem to be a consideration at all.

Rya Merschat and Claire Brunelli in Cross Purposes

Rya Merschat and Claire Brunelli in Cross Purposes

There is no question that the dancers in this company are compelled by their art to present the remarkable choreography as an art, and not just as an example of physical prowess.

The dancers are Anna Claire Brunelli, Kimberly Chmielewski, Brittany Curry, Erin Fitzgerald, Kaitlin Gibson, Kasey Hall, Lara Hayes-Giles, Michael Hernandez, Marissa Hollingsworth, Rya Merschat, Jacob Mora, David Smithey, and Lori Wyatt. Every one of them deserves to be mentioned.

It is not unusual for dance companies to hire an individual known as a repetiteur. That is an individual who has exhaustive knowledge of the choreography of specific ballets. That means that the repetiteur must be a highly gifted person in choreography and in music. The performance Saturday evening with its outstanding choreography coupled with excellent choices of music, led me to wonder if Hannah Kahn had ever been asked to be a repetiteur of her works danced by other companies, as well they should be. They could not make a better choice.

I have spent some time in this article explaining the close association of choreography and music. But, you must also understand, that a choreographer is often inspired by the quality of the dancers in the company. The choreographer has to know what the dancers are capable of, and have the stamina and courage to allow the dancers to realize their full potential. In Saturday’s performance, it was readily apparent that there is an enormous interchange of mutual respect between Hannah Kahn and the performers.

This was truly a delightful performance Saturday evening. It will stay in my mind for a very long time because of its excellence, it’s originality, and the obvious dedication of everyone involved to their art.

Marisa Hollingsworth, Michael Hernandez and Claire Brunelli

Marisa Hollingsworth, Michael Hernandez and Claire Brunelli

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