BAR HARBOR — Nimbus Dance Works, which, pre-pandemic, had for the last several years traveled from its New Jersey home to Mount Desert Island to perform and conduct dance workshops, is back.
Last Friday it held its annual Acadia Dance Festival at the Criterion Theatre.
This year, artistic director Sam Pott decided, in a world still not safe from COVID, to make this a film festival rather than a live show. Fourteen different dancers and/or dance organizations submitted videos to be screened at the theater for a live audience. From these, two winners were chosen and awarded $100 prizes.
Down East Favorite went to “See You When You Appear” and the Critic’s Choice award went to “Between Silences.” The third award and $250 prize for Audience Favorite will be named Aug. 6.
I was asked to help choose the Critics Award winner, which, as a fan of TV’s “So You Think You Can Dance,” I thought would be neat.
Well, watching the submitted dance films was absolutely a delight, but choosing my favorite was not such a breeze. There was something I liked best about each of them.
The whimsy and fun of “Picnic Sisters” was truly appealing. It has the silly exuberance of a pair of enthusiastic synchronized swimmers even though much of it was shot on land. Molly Hess and Eliza Malecki are both adorable and graceful as they play and feast in and around the water.
For poignancy, the prize goes to Ali Kenner Brodsky’s “Between Silences,” shot on location in the dunes of Cape Cod. At first, I was bothered by how sad the solo dancer seemed to be, despite her gorgeous surroundings of sea and sand. But then it became clear Brodsky was telling us a story about a journey through grief. Anyone who has gone through this – and to some degree we all have this past year – knows how sometimes beauty just seems to mock your sorrow. The other two critics chose this one as their favorite.
“No Man is an Island” with dancers from New York’s Pony Box Theater transports us to an almost dystopian New York City during the pandemic. Here, four beautiful young men, clearly professional dancers, find one another on empty, graffiti-graced streets to form a supportive bond.
For strongest social statement, I’d give the blue ribbon to Sierra Christine Sander’s “Triumph of the Black Spirit.” It is a provocative piece danced before the NYC sculpture “Triumph of the Human Spirit” to the words of the Bill of Rights set to the compelling rhythm of African drumming.
“Ground Swell” danced in the gorgeous Berkshire countryside gets the “mysterious” award. At times, this piece was reminiscent of the cult movie hit “The Blair Witch Project” with a shaky handheld camera following the young dancers as they wander deeper and deeper into the woods. Only nothing bad happens.
In “Island to Island,” dancers on the tiny island of Islesford and the great island of Manhattan find a connection in dancing mirror images of one another.
For humor and eco-relevance, Christina Balinski’s “Keeper of the Bees” takes a top spot. Here, a pair of dancers interpret a PBS newscast by Scott Simon about the theft of French beehives in a way that is funny, informative and impressively danced.
In “Bubbling,” a lovely dancer is confined in an inflatable fabric bubble, reminding us why dancers should always be free.
For hauntingly beautiful, Max Auger’s “Nyada,” shot in Portland, Maine, takes the cake. Here we see a siren spirit in flowing white wandering along water’s edge in the Old Port District, trying her old trick of luring sailors to their doom.
Leah Abbott’s “An Aversion to Adaptions,” in which she dances along a rocky shore, suggests a mermaid trying out a pair of new legs before plunging back into the sea.
In Paige Cowen’s “Again it Pulls,” dancer Akane Little is torn between two worlds – the past and the present – and it is a fascinating thing to watch her evoke her own hard-earned power and strength as she navigates in her new and often alienating circumstances.
Another contender for the hauntingly beautiful prize is “Secret Place.” Shot in the interior of a what appears to be a small house using ambient light from a single window, three dancers from Urbanity Dance retrace the steps of childhood. What make this piece even more outstanding are both Robert Honstien’s music and the inclusion of his quartet of musicians in the dance.
Closest to my heart of all these fine dance videos and winner of the Down East Award is “See You When You Appear,” which best uses the natural environment – in this case Acadia National Park – as an element in Holly Wilder’s thoughtfully choreographed and beautifully danced piece.
However, when judging these films on sheer excellence in dance, Charly and Eriel Santagado’s “Arcadia” leaps, twirls and soars to the forefront, for me. Performed by the Mignolo Dance Company in a large dance studio, the walls and windows of the building quickly fade away and we find ourselves transported by the dancers to an ancient sylvan forest where Pan and his woodland creatures dance with joyful abandon.
Still, I am not sorry to have been outvoted. As I said, each one of these dance films has something award winning about it. And, in fact, the $250 audience favorite has yet to be named. Folks who want to weigh in on this one can access the 14 short films by purchasing a $10 ticket at
www.acadiadancefestival.org/events-1/dance-film-online-screening and voting for their favorite online at www.acadiadancefestival.org/performances.
The winner will be announced Aug. 6.
I look forward to seeing Sam Pott’s Nimbus Dance Works return to the Criterion and resume their fabulous live dance performances and workshops, but I am once again awed by how our performing arts people and organizations are finding ways to keep the shows going on.