Vanaver Caravan headlines final performance of Heinz Poll Summer Dance Festival

Arts / Article

New York City-based Vanaver Caravan was chosen to be the out-of-town guest for this year’s Heinz Poll Summer Dance Festival. Someone recommended the group to director of the event Jane Startzman, telling her that Vanaver Caravan would be a good choice.

Turns out that is correct, and not only because the company is used to performing outdoors. (For the Heinz Poll festival, a temporary stage is built weekly, over the course of a month, in various parks in the metro area.) Vanaver appeared as part of the festival on August 16 and 17.

Clog dance, Vanaver Caravan. Photo by Dale Dong

Founding partners Bill and Livia Vanaver have brought together an appreciation for international music and dance respectively, and created an impressive show around their passion.

Vanaver comes with its own legion of musicians who play strange and fascinating instruments – things like the Australian didgeridoo and, at one point, a seashell (which I’ve tried and tried to do with no success). Unfortunately, at the performance on Friday night, the sound equipment kept malfunctioning – taking not only away from the quality of the instruments and orchestra, but the effect of the performance itself. This is certainly not Vanaver’s issue, and it hopefully get resolved at future performances in the festival.

Labeling the show “Earthbeat! A Journey,” Vanaver sets up a dance travelogue in 20 or so parts. It ranges geographically from southeast Asia through Africa, to eastern and western Europe, to South America, and ends in the hills of Appalachia with a rousing round of clog dancing.

As you can imagine, with such a performance, you probably are going to have your favorites (mostly based on the idea that you’d like to be doing that dance yourself), and you certainly will have some dances you don’t like – just because you don’t. If you aren’t into the tiny, highly poised and constrained movements of southeast Asian dance, you won’t have your appetite sated here.

The crowd favorites at the Friday performance were clog dancing and an Irish step dance. Vanaver Caravan ended the first section before intermission with a rousing “Hangman’s Reel,” then brought the genre back again midway into the second part, and ended with an extended, rapid, sure-fire and fast-paced clog dance at the end. The Friday night audience gave them a standing ovation.

Along the way though there were some missteps, like in the Israeli line dance and others, where some of the dancers were looking around to make sure they were still in the same dance game. That took away from the overall effect and enjoyment.

When they were on, however, they delivered impressively, like in the “Wimoweh (Mbube)” – think of the old song hit “The Lion Sleeps Tonight.” The pulsing tribal gestures, tumbles, change of direction, and small jumps made it exciting to be in for them – and to watch for the audience.

Two solos were particularly good at the performance – dancer Livia in the Chinese ribbon dance “Flight to the Moon,” 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 mid-flight. Each of these dances sparkles with the beauty of motion.

Chinese ribbon dance, Vanaver Caravan. Photo by Dale Dong

Chinese ribbon dance, Vanaver Caravan. Photo by Dale Dong