Dance artists, some emerging and some established, excel at outdoor Montclair fest

dance on the lawn review 2022


Esteban Santamaria and Namhui Kim dance the late Nai-Ni Chen’s “crosscurrent” at Dance on the Lawn in Montclair.

The annual Dance on the Lawn festival in Montclair marks the opening of the fall dance season, but the carefree spirit of summer lingers at this sunny, outdoor event. This year’s free performance took place Sat., Sept. 10, in front of the Montclair Public Library, and visitors who were lured away from the Montclair Jazz Festival were in for a fun time.

On a day when all of Montclair appeared to be celebrating, Dance on the Lawn offered a feisty lineup of professionals and students, with each group introduced by Nasha Thomas, the elegant mistress of ceremonies. Bright and hopeful, the teens warmed up the crowd. Keep working, kids! And never take your eyes off the pros.

Thanks to an inheritance from the defunct company 10 Hairy Legs, Dance on the Lawn is able to commission new works from emerging artists. This year’s “Emerging Commissioned New Jersey Choreographer” was Will A. Ervin Jr., whose four dancers opened the professional segment of the program with a piece titled “Cycle.” Rushing across the stage in agitated transitions, dancers would leave one of their number behind, isolated and perhaps forgotten. Reaching upward with a broken gesture, they rubbed their fingers together, seemingly bemused by the texture of the air. Clinging together in a tangled group, they circled and struggled. Ervin explained that his piece was inspired by the sufferings of a man unjustly imprisoned for a murder he did not commit.

Maurice Chestnut at Dance on the Lawn.

Maurice Chestnut is a tap dance sensation, and one of the most amazing performers on the scene today. At Dance on the Lawn, he performed a solo titled “Interlude in Rhythm” on a square platform only 4 feet by 4 feet, and limitlessly inventive streams of music came pouring out of this small space. Adding to the impression of magic, this artist tapped with the speed and delicacy of a hummingbird. Restraining himself, he would lay three deliberate steps on the floor, then in the next instant he would allow himself to levitate on a cushion of sound. Inviting us to clap our hands to fill in missing beats, he playfully switched rhythms, and the audience loved being teased.

Maxine Steinman’s “A Measure of Quarantine” placed two dancers, Elijah Carter and Amir Baldwin, in an intimate space in which Satie’s “Gymnopédies” and the men’s gentle synchronies and manipulations created an atmosphere of warmth. Eventually Carter stepped back, however, and watched as Baldwin danced alone, swinging his arms, tiptoeing and folding. When Baldwin drew a hand down over his forehead, he seemed to make a private resolution.

In contrast, the late Nai-Ni Chen’s duet “crosscurrent” was a passionate affair in which loving caresses alternated with sudden starts, spins and leaps. Namhui Kim and Esteban Santamaria were the ardent partners, finally pressing their palms together in a gesture of magnetic attraction.

Courtney J. Lewis performs “E.R.” at Dance on the Lawn.

Another duet, Mikaela Morisato’s “Euphonic Connection,” displayed a less sculptural style, with Liana Zhen-ai Kleinman and Ragin Smith loosely jerking, punching and somersaulting their way through the dance. A wild energy possessed these two, until the music stopped abruptly freeing them from their compulsions.

Dancer Courtney J. Lewis capped the program with the go-for-broke solo “E.R.,” choreographed by Abdel R. Salaam. Dressed in a white lab coat, Lewis was the mistress of a battle-scarred table that stood in for a hospital gurney as she straddled and manipulated it. Responding to a series of emergencies, Lewis threw herself desperately into action, kicking and convulsing, pounding the table with her fists and skating across it. When the table flipped over with Lewis still clinging to it, the whole world seemed to tilt at crazy angles.

For some people, every Saturday night is like this, and we wish these healthcare professionals the strength to carry on.

For more on this annual event, visit


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