Asbury Park Dance Fest featured array of great performances on nightclub stage



Dario Natarelli performs with cellist Derek Louie at the Asbury Park Dance Festival.

Where does the dance scene go when audiences are on vacation? One place seems to be Asbury Park, where a crowd gathered at House of Independents on Aug. 27 for the latest edition of the Asbury Park Dance Festival.

Though visitors to the Shore might regard this fundraising gala as a mere interlude between frosty cocktails and dips in the surf, the dancing is seriously good. A team of Paul Taylor alumni organize these events to raise money for Arts Ed NJ (previously known as the New Jersey Arts Education Partnership), and this year’s program featured major talents and a terrific range of styles.

While most of the dances shown on this club’s small stage were duets, there was no shortage of variety. It would be hard to imagine a greater contrast, for instance, than the one between tapper Dario Natarelli and a pair of gutsy Pilobolus veterans, Casey Howes and Jake Warren, now with Leggy Bones Physical Theater Company.

In an atmospheric sketch choreographed with Michelle Dorrance, Natarelli wistfully addressed onstage cellist Derek Louie as Louie played a transcription of the yearning Gershwin melody, “The Man I Love.” Natarelli gently pawed the floor and appeared to dream. Gliding around the stage, and swooping low, he worked himself up to a tapping outburst that stood for passion.


Jake Warren and Casey Howes at the Asbury Park Dance Festival.

Howes and Warren displayed no such delicacy. Their piece, “Chaos Theory,” portrayed a grappling, rough-and-tumble relationship. Howes flew by the seat of her pants as Warren grabbed her by the belt and swung her in circles. She clambered up one side of her partner and down the other and wrapped her legs around his head, vise-like. This was love as a form of martial arts, tempered by a sense of humor and the characters’ romantic confusion.

Considerably more subtle, but similarly with no holds barred, was Doug Varone’s “Maybe,” performed by members of his company. Set to the rhythm of the torch song of that name by Janis Joplin, the movement here was alternately languid and abrupt, appearing wonderfully spontaneous as Courtney Barth and Ryan Yamauchi chased each other around the stage, making unpredictable connections. Near the end, a truce was reached. Barth offered her hand to Yamauchi (“Whoa, if I could ever hold your little hand,” the lyrics go), and when the dancers lifted their arms forming an arc overhead, we knew this couple would be OK.

Michael Francis McBride and Samuel Lee Roberts, both veterans of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, offered the duet “Strange Humors,” choreographed by Robert Battle. This piece flirts with danger, its orderly composition seemingly at risk from the dancers’ zany impulses. McBride and Roberts crouched and dodged; Roberts’ knees wobbled, and together the men suddenly fell flat. Yet we had no cause to fear — these wild men might skirt the edge of sanity, but they would never lose control. Even in a romp like “Strange Humors,” these powerful performers moved with elegance and grace.


Sonia Olla and Ismael Fernández perform at the Asbury Park Dance Festival.

“This Bitter Earth” is a neo-classical piece by Christopher Wheeldon. Complicating its sentimental mood, and the usual balletic swooning, were subtle movements in which the duet partners sharply turned their heads to the side. Added to a supporting pose with clasped hands, this motif oddly suggested two people locking together (click!). Other incidents, including the ballerina’s seductive approach to her partner at the beginning and her surprise directional change near the end, hinted at the drama in the accompanying text, and in Max Richter’s lugubrious score. New Jersey Ballet’s Denise Parungao and Joshuan Vásquez gave a limpid performance.

These were the highlights, but far from the only attractions at this year’s festival, where the offerings ranged from hip-hop to flamenco and beyond. Additional participants included Andrea Yorita and Zachary Kapeluck of BalletX; Gallim Dance’s Marc Anthony Gutierrez and India Hobbs; Georgina Pazcoguin dancing Bob Fosse; Sun Kim; and Sonia Olla and Ismael Fernández.

A special shoutout goes to Lorenzo Pagano, a star of the Martha Graham Dance Company, who brought his luscious physicality to the “Sun” solo from “Canticle for Innocent Comedians.”


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