BAR HARBOR — Perhaps the most illuminating aspect of the Acadia Dance Festival, held last weekend at the Criterion Theatre, was the unexpected opportunity to see Sam Pott, the artistic director and choreographer of Nimbus Dance, dance again.
Apparently one of the principals of the New Jersey based dance troupe injured himself during rehearsals and Pott was obliged to step in to two of the scheduled pieces.
“Bear in mind it has been some seven or eight years since I danced on stage,” Pott said when making the replacement announcement before the show started. “So be kind, Bar Harbor.”
The plea for kindness was not necessary. Pott still has all the right stuff that made him such a delight to watch when I last saw him perform some 10 or so years ago. However, what he did demonstrate, most eloquently, was how difficult the rigorous discipline of dance is. Before Pott joined in, we were entertained by an ensemble of lithe, young Nimbus dancers who whirled, swirled and twirled as effortlessly as leaves on the wind.
When Pott appeared in “Danzon,” an exuberant, sexy, Latin-influenced piece by Pedro Ruiz, it was impressive to see how well he knew all the steps and difficult partner lifts after just a few rehearsals, but he also demonstrated the physical exertion required to execute them. His sweat-soaked costume made us doubly appreciate how effortless the more, um, well-practiced dancers made their moves appear.
Effortless certainly describes Tamir Rios’ every moment and movement on stage, most notably in his interpretation of the Pott choreographed “Letter Home,” in which a young World War II soldier, aboard a transport ship taking him overseas, narrates a letter to his sweetheart. The letter itself is poetic as the soldier describes the beauty of the tranquil sea and night sky as they steam toward some terrible front of conflict, but the dance that Rios accompanies it with is filled with heartbreaking apprehension and longing, which he expresses with every inch of his long, graceful limbs, his fingers, toes and facial expressions.
Other standout performances of the evening of dance were “Shadows and Silhouettes,” evocatively danced by the Nimbus duet of LeighAnn Curd and Victoria Santaguida, and a new piece Pott choreographed for Aaron Copeland’s “Appalachian Spring.”
Pott, who once danced in the Martha Graham version, said it was both a great honor and a heavy responsibility attempting to reimagine this iconic work, but the new piece, which is still a work in progress, would surely make Ms. Graham smile. Like the original, Pott has combined classical, balletic and contemporary dance genres with folk dance. His story arc appears to be more secular than the original with the dynamic more about opposing ideas and romantic conflict than spiritual versus physical passion. But Pott takes us farther into the 21st century with some pop and hip-hop elements.
It is all great fun, with special kudos to Nimbus dancer Sara Choquette, whose sprightly, puckish character added a delicious dash of humor and mischief to the piece.
As in the night’s opening number, “Crystalline,” the Nimbus ensemble welcomed young dancers from Camp Beach Cliff and high schoolers from Acadia Dance Festival Intensive to join in making “Appalachian Spring” a true showstopper.
The other guest act was a trio of dancers from New York called Luminarium, who performed a very timely piece about the distractions of the modern-day world with the three women wandering onto the stage literally tethered to and tangled up in their cellphones.
It was also great to see most of the orchestra seats of the Criterion filled with enthusiastic audience members.
The one element that didn’t work so well was the lighting, which was primarily a somber blue throughout. Occasionally a spot was used to highlight a soloist or a duet, and this could have been employed more often to add a bit more texture and dimension to the bare stage.
Last year, Nimbus relied on videos from various troupes and solo dancers throughout the country to create the Acadia Dance Festival, which was a neat solution to the pandemic problem, but oh, what a wonderful difference it made this year to see all these beautiful dancers and dances in the flesh. The next logical step would be the addition of a live orchestra – especially for the Copeland piece. Perhaps the Bar Harbor Music Festival could add a little dance to their packed summer schedule? Just sayin’.