Dance Theater "Voodoo Queen" cast a spell on me this past Sunday evening at the Ailey Citigroup Theater, NYC. I found myself transported to New Orleans, almost two centuries ago, to experience the legendary tale of the Voodoo Queen through dance, music, and storytelling.
Inspired by the novel "Voodoo Dreams" by Jewell Parker Rhodes, this production is a modern story ballet infused with various dance styles and a narrating character who is entangled in the drama of lust and magic. The music- sometimes recorded, sometimes played live-carries the tale along, while enhanced coloring in the stage lighting elicits various moods.
I was transfixed from the very start when a sexy, jazzy female voice performing chants with groaning and other vocals over a background of swamp sounds fills an empty, pitch-black stage. This is a very effective opening because it creates an atmosphere of mystery that perpetuates throughout the performance. However, once I read the credits of the performers, the mystery disappeared because these diverse dancers have professional training from The Martha Graham Center of Contemporary Dance, the Ailey School, prestigious dance colleges and experience with well-known dance companies. Some professional capoeira artists are also part of the production, their skill and expertise in the martial arts technique very apparent in a fight scene within the first act.
Joi Lynn was mesmerizing in the role of Grandmere, her organic movements fluidly combining elements of ballet, modern, and African dance. A friend accompanying me to the performance expressed her fondess for this artist's expressive grace.
At times the dancers and the accompanying drummer seem to encourage the audience to join in the action of the ritualistic proceedings happening on stage. The talented drummer, who was born in Haiti and studied first hand ritual voodoo drumming, continues to play for voodoo rituals here in NYC as he hopes to offset negative stereotypes about voodoo.
The founder and producer, Katja Pfeifer, chose a captivating tale of love, lust, desire, betrayal and revenge to entice the audience. The choreography is very sensual not only in the way the male and female duets are filled with temptation and positions of lust, but also in the way it clearly expresses to the audience the spirituality inherent in the story. At times the movements and beautiful imagery created by the dancers elicit a desire to purr.
Simple, contemporary costuming allows for the focus never to diverge from the drama,and allows the audience to see this old story in the modern day. This dance/drama merges various dance forms with capoeira and voodoo rituals seamlessly. The blending of various artistic forms (including a speaking/acting role), the live musician onstage and the diverse cast are all elements that are definitive of the melting pot that is the cultural center of New Orleans. The dancers do an amazing job of morphing into the Voodoo spirits as they writhe across the stage and tell us this old spiritual tale. The corps of dancers forms the spine of this story, and they truly succeed in being not only story tellers, but also inspiring, beautiful dancers.
iDANZ Critix Corner
Official Dance Review by Lea McGowan
Performance: Voodoo Queen Productions
Venue: Ailey Citigroup Theater, New York City
Date: January 18, 2009 @ 6pm
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