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Vanaver Caravan brings diversity to dance festival

8/22/2013 - West Side Leader
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By Roger Durbin

The Vanaver Caravan performed Aug. 16-17 at Goodyear Heights Metro Park during the Heinz Poll Summer Dance Festival.
Photo: Dale Dong
AKRON — It’s not facetious to say the 2013 Heinz Poll Summer Dance Festival gave audiences the equivalent of an international food festival — only in dance — when Vanaver Caravan performed at Goodyear Heights Metro Park Aug. 16-17 in the final performance of this year’s summer of dance.

Just like the other fest, you got a sampling of traditions and a bite of the dance flavors of other cultures. That’s what Vanaver Caravan did with flair.

Labeling the show “Earthbeat! A Journey,” Vanaver set up a kind of dance travelogue in 20 or so parts ranging geographically from Southeast Asia through Africa, Eastern and Western Europe, to South America and ending in the hills of Appalachia with a rousing round of clog dancing.

What we found out, as groups like Riverdance in dance and Yo Yo Ma’s Silk Road Project in music, is there are overlaps where the human spirit finds a common denominator for expressing its artistic impulse.

Audiences saw the similarities among Spanish flamenco, Irish step dance and Appalachian clogging, just as the comparisons run rife in the line and circle dances of Israel, the Balkan states and the thumping rhythms and methods of South African gumboot dance or in the male-dominated machismo of Japanese taiko drumming and Brazilian capoeira and its martial arts tang.

Clearly the evening favorite was clog dancing and Irish step dance. Vanaver Caravan ended the first section before intermission with a rousing “Hangman’s Reel” and brought the genre back again midway in the second part and ended with an extended rapid sure-fire and fast-paced clog dance at the end. The Friday night audience kept time through clapping in rhythm and brought the dance evening to an end with a standing ovation.

Part of that response seems to be these dancers — most of whom are quite young — were most familiar with and comfortable in that mode. In other areas, like the Israeli line dance and others, some of the dancers were looking around to make sure they were still in the same dance game. That took away from the polished look you might want and the sense of sure professionalism you would hope for. It also cut into an appreciation for the performance.

When they were on, however, they delivered impressively, like in the “Wimoweh (Mbube)” — think of the old song hit “The Lion Sleeps Tonight.” It was obvious the dancers were enjoying every second of what they were doing. And why not, for the pulsing tribal gestures, tumbles, change of direction and small jumps made it exciting for them — and to watch for the audience.

Two solos were particularly good at the performance — dancer Livia in the “Flight to the Moon,” a Chinese ribbon dance, and dancer Gustavo in “Berimbau & Capoeira.” What Livia did with the ribbon — flurries of movement as the dancer moved about the stage — was not that far removed from Gustavo’s aerial dynamics as he did whirling double twists in midflight. Each of these dances sparkled with the beauty of motion.

Good for the Heinz Poll Summer Dance Festival for taking a chance on something like Vanaver Caravan. The festival is deliberate in finding companies that bring something new while maintaining the tradition of area dance. This year, in one stroke, it has widened the possibilities for this 40-year dance tradition in Akron. Forty years, and there’s still something new in town. Nice.


Roger Durbin is professor emeritus of bibliography at The University of Akron and board director of the Dance Critics Association. To contact him, email r.durbin@sbcglobal.net.

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