Natasha Carlitz Dance Ensemble

Tempus Fugit

The feminist in dance

Rania Khallaf has been caught up in the message and magic of dance choreographed by women

The Egyptian International Modern Dance Festival is in its second week and is getting more exciting as it gets underway. Three consecutive dance shows, all distinguished in their own way, were choreographed -- and mostly danced -- by women and proved that women from both East and West have managed to cross the gender limit, or let us say the red line, more effectively than ever before.

Last week the Natasha Carlitz Dance Ensemble presented a breathtaking show. A choreographer and dancer, Carlitz imbued the stage with a spirit of enthusiasm, romance and joy. The ensemble of eight dancers, all women, resonated with a sense of ecstasy and challenge.

Established in San Francisco in 2005, the Carlitz ensemble specialises in modern dance choreography addressing themes ranging from abstract mathematical concepts and verbal games to physical puzzles posed by unusual spaces. The programme presented at the Goumhuria Theatre last week, however, was a repertory of works choreographed by Carlitz over the last decade, and retained a hint of neo-classicism.

The dances included Tempus Fugit, a celebration of life danced to the beautiful Beethoven Violin concerto in D and a set of three haunting solos set to arias by Carl Orff; and Time Running Out, an altogether gloomier work in which dancers are driven to the edge of endurance in a rebellion against the inevitably predetermined and limited nature of time.

The second half of the programme was rather brighter. The costumes were vibrant and the performers danced with energy and that belied their light steps, especially in the one dance with a sportive theme.

Heba Fayed, an Egyptian artiste who joined the company two years ago, is the only non-American member of the ensemble. The audience applauded warmly at the end of the performance when the beaming Fayed sat on stage along with the other dancers and told the story of her unique experience with the ensemble. Fayed worked with Walid Aouni's contemporary dance company for seven years, and was the lead dancer in such performances as Moving Sands and Scheherazade. She won a scholarship to study modern dance in Europe, and later flew to the United States to join the Natasha Carlitz Dance Ensemble.

© Rania Khallaf, Al-Ahram Weekly, July 1-7, 2010 [article on]

Review of Natasha Carlitz Dance Ensemble

by Michael Phelan

A dance performer since childhood, Natasha Carlitz' credits include performing for several Bay Area choreographers and with High Release Dance. Her choreography has been performed by ODC San Francisco, Dance Visions, sjDanceCo, Dancin' Downtown in San Jose, the Retail Dance Festival, and San Francisco's Dancing in the Park. In a natural progression, in 2005 she founded her own company, the Natasha Carlitz Dance Ensemble. However, despite her experience and accomplishments, Carlitz supports herself not as a full-time dance professional, but in a hi-tech job at Google. You wouldn't know it by watching her choreography.

The Ensemble's performance on Saturday the 30th consisted of an ambitious collection of seven works performed by ten barefoot young women. In "Time. Running. Out," six dancers' rapidly pulsating and rigid steps mark the passage of time. Arms sway and reach, as if for a goal. It took me a while to get in touch with this work, I think because the beginning is overlong. After awhile I found it engaging, although it could have benefitted from costuming, rather than dance workout attire.

In "Tightrope," dancer Tiffany Glenn dances on an imaginary tightrope, costumed with a whimiscal skirt and parasol, to the song "Heatwave." It's a brief, but enjoyable fantasy.

"Context" is a thought-provoking piece. Melissa Gordon-Wollin and Annie Thatcher-Stephens sit on chairs, one chair from a 1950's chrome and vinyl dinette set, the other a straight-backed, traditional wooden chair. The dancer on the vinyl chair rises and dances to Suzanne Vega's voyeuristic "Tom's Diner." From the wooden chair, the dancer performs to Andrew Lloyd Webber's piously-toned "Pie Jesu."

"Linear Transformations" was one of the most creative and enjoyable works of the evening. It is dedicated to a mathematician, and may have been inspired by Carlitz' hi-tech career. Divided into four parts, with names such as "Solid Geometry" and "Matrix Theory," the work features ten dancers in jump suits of various bright colors (not unlike the Google logo?). ["Finite Fields"] opens with four dancers spinning out of their wrappings of brightly colored sashes. When unwound, the sashes stretch across the stage, roping it off.

"Catulli Carmina" was serious and stately, with the dancers performing lifts that are usually done by men in both modern and classical dance. A repeating movement was a gesture with the right hand moving first slowly in front and then quickly behind the back. With no apparent meaning or purpose, this gesture gradually became a distracting annoyance. In all fairness, I've seen something like this in one of Mark Morris' works; I didn't like it there either.

"Current" is an easy-going, pleasant work performed by three limber dancers to the song "Reef Surfing."

The evening closed with "Tempus Fugit," with music by Beethoven. In a creative use of props, the work opens with legs and arms protruding into the air from behind black boxes. Later, the boxes are moved about the stage and turned around to reveal dancers inside in various positions. This is a serious and graceful work.

One of the really successful features of Carlitz' work is that the selected music and choreography fit so well together. Another is Karen McWilliams' creative costuming. It is too bad that some of the evening's works did not make use of this creative advantage, instead using ordinary workout clothes and sports bras, which seemed to give the works a feeling of ordinariness. Maybe I'm just missing the point.

Despite some small rough spots, Natasha Carlitz Dance Ensemble displays creativity and talent that are worth seeing. Upcoming performances are listed in the February and March calendars.

January 30, 2010 [article on]

Dance preview: Need for movement

by John Orr, Daily News Arts and Entertainment Editor

Her need to create movement, says choreographer Natasha Carlitz, is "almost like a compulsion. If I am not choreographing, I get very grumpy to be around."

A multi-talented person who holds a degree in English from Amherst but who pays the bills by working as a user-interface designer for Google, Carlitz runs the Natasha Carlitz Dance Ensemble, which performs Friday and Saturday at the Cowell Theater in San Francisco.

Choreography, says Carlitz, who was raised in Palo Alto and who now lives in Menlo Park, "is the most important part of my life. It makes me feel I have a reason for being."

"It's basically selfish. I love to create movement. And dance is a performing art. It's not complete until it is shown to somebody."

Hence the performances Friday and Saturday, of her 10-dancer troupe. On the program will be premieres of "Catulli Carmina," "a dramatic rendering of anguished Latin love poetry" set to music by Carl Orff, and "Current," a "charging, flowing trio" with guitar music commissioned from Bert Lams and Tom Griesgraber. Also on the program are repeats of other Carlitz dances, including "Time.   Running.   Out" and "Tempus Fugit," seen in 2009, and "Linear Transformations," a piece Carlitz choreographed 10 years ago in honor of her grandfather, mathematician Leonard Carlitz, who'd been a professor at Duke.

Carlitz was born in London, England, when her father, Michael Carlitz, was working there for IBM. The family moved to Palo Alto when she was a few months old, and stayed. Mother Barbara and her father divorced when Carlitz was 13, but lived only three blocks away from each other. After college at Amherst, Carlitz has lived in Menlo Park.

Carlitz started dancing when she was 5, under the tutelage of Grace Butler at the Palo Alto YMCA.

"Probably 30 years of children in Palo Alto danced with Grace," Carlitz says. "I credit Grace with getting me started with dance classes that would keep me going. If I had started with a different teacher, I might not have remained so enchanted with it."

She was a member of High Release Dance in Palo Alto for seven years, but left that troupe because she wanted to do more choreography.

"It's a collective, they take turns. Once every two years was not enough for me. I wanted to go whole hog with choreography, so I made the break and started my own company."

She still ushers for High Release shows, though, she says.

Carlitz, 38, has stopped dancing in her company's shows.

"I love to dance, but have a stronger performance overall if I am watching and correcting. So I haven't danced in the last few shows we've done."

"What I find most appealing about modern dance," Carlitz says, "is that it is a form entirely created by the choreographer and the dancers, as opposed to ballet or jazz, which have fixed vocabularies."

In those forms people might push the boundaries "... but in modern dance you create every movement. This liberty does not exist in other dance forms. Modern dance is the most expressive dance medium."

January 27, 2010 [article on]

No Farewell to Arms at Carlitz Dance

by Paul Hertelendy

The word hasn't gotten around on the elusive Natasha Carlitz Dance Company. But it will, it will.

The opening night at the Cowell Theater Jan. 9 drew too small an audience—a smattering of about 100—but the fully committed performers, if they took note, were no less committed to their mission.

Carlitz created all seven of the dances, most of them recent or new. Her style features nine bare-foot women in bright, form-fitting outfits showing off—no, not legs! It was arms, swaying captivatingly like willow limbs in the wind, unlike any other troupe around.

This is a trim, well-drilled modern troupe with fluid lines, even when dropping to the stage in a springy corkscrew fashion. The NCDC has the usual limitations of single-gender ensembles to be sure. But the sense of ensemble unity is extraordinary as groups come and go to the wings with aplomb, at times leaving difficult numbers like a quintet forming smooth formations on stage. Clearly, this mysterious four-year-old company that provides neither address nor phone number is poised to move up to the next step, whether in transparency, virtuosity, choreographic variety or gender diversity.

The overall theme for the weekend run was "Time Flies (when you're having fun)." But the focal dance "Time. Running. Out" was the least consistent all night, often looking like a high-energy aerobics dance class. (Running in place? Sports bras? Please, give me a break!)

Carlitz created the first science-inspired dance I've seen since Margaret Jenkins' "Strange Attractors" in the 1990s. "Principles of Magnetism" played out dual polarities and attractions, as well as dancers' circular lines suggesting magnetic lines of force around the Earth.

There was daring in "Triptych," three different devotional solos showing off, improbably, the dancers' backs (Jetta Martin, Tiffany Yee, Christina Chelette) more than the front.

The ensembles jelled in "Tempus fugit" (2008), using the last two movements of Beethoven's Violin Concerto. The slow movement was a bit of slow motion, satin-smooth, reminiscent of choreographer Antony Tudor, with dancers casting coy and enigmatic glances out toward the house, and making effortless falls and rises to the stage. Movable platforms not only spotlighted solos, they also revealed dancers in angular positions hidden within, like 19th-century mechanical dolls come to life.

Engaging symmetries pervaded the new duo "Figment." But I couldn't help thinking during the lifts that this was an obvious boy-girl concept that had to be executed by two women, Annie Thatcher-Stephens and Christina Chelette.

Carlitz, who took a final-curtain bow with her San Francisco-based company, explains that the recent "Time" works were done during her father's terminal illness, when the passage of time, and the optimum use of it, became a paramount issue.

Her company is something close to a one-woman band, wherein she takes on all the related tasks short of flying scenery.

All the music, which was both popular and classical, was prerecorded and neatly amplified in the inviting, intimate San Francisco theater.

©Paul Hertelendy 2009, artssf [article on]

Moods in motion

Dance program mixes grief, courage and whimsy

by Rebecca Wallace

Three dancers sit with their backs to the audience. They all cast long looks over their shoulders, then gradually turn away.

This is the point when Natasha Carlitz always gets choked up. Her choreography is often light-hearted, but this moment in her program "time flies (when you're having fun)" makes her think of her father, longtime Palo Alto resident Michael Carlitz, who recently died of cancer.

"It's like you're looking for someone, but they're not there," she says. "So you slowly look away."

Much of the program, which the Natasha Carlitz Dance Ensemble will perform in San Francisco next weekend, is a tribute to its creator's father. In a way, it's also a salute to her first dance teacher, Grace Butler, and her years growing up dancing in Palo Alto.

Carlitz says Butler, who ran a local YMCA program for many years, helped her become not only a strong dancer but also someone with a penchant for movement of all kinds. Carlitz enjoys improvising and mixing styles; she could be inspired by a mathematical formula or by equipment swinging on a construction site. She's less into heavy layers of meaning and more into playfulness and musicality.

Take, for example, her 2006 work "Off Your Rocker," part of the "time flies" program. Carlitz puts four dancers in colorful unitards and sets them in motion atop IKEA toys — curved pieces of plywood that serve as minimalist rocking horses. Meanwhile, two pieces of music overlap: a bright British composition by the Penguin Cafe Orchestra, and a moodier piece by Japanese musician Shin Terai.

"It's hard for the dancers because they are two different tempos," Carlitz says during an interview, her hands describing the rocking motion. "I wanted something wacky, maybe circus-y."

With its whimsy and color, "Off Your Rocker" is Carlitz's piece that was most directly influenced by Grace Butler, she says. Her dance vision has also been shaped by other teachers and dancers over the years, including Judith Komoroske, with whom Carlitz studied in Menlo Park after graduating from Amherst College in 1992. She also did workshops with Jonathan Wolken, one of the founders of inventive dance troupe Pilobolus; and worked for several years with the Bay Area collaborative group High Release Dance.

With High Release Dance, Carlitz was able to work on all aspects of producing a show, such as marketing, organizing rehearsal schedules and securing performance spaces. She found the experience invaluable, and three years ago decided to strike out on her own.

The Natasha Carlitz Dance Ensemble is based at The Ballet Studio in San Francisco, where most of the group's dancers live. Carlitz lives in Menlo Park, balancing running a dance troupe with life as a web designer at Google.

In "time flies," Carlitz won't perform, which is unusual for her. But she wanted to focus on choreographing and directing, taking a big-picture view of the show.

The program is a mixture of moods and music, with many works dealing with the theme of time and how we use it. Two pieces, "Time.   Running.   Out" and "Tempus Fugit," are the most about Carlitz's father.

In May 2007, Michael Carlitz was diagnosed with liver cancer and given six months to live. Instead, he lived until September 2008, and his daughter said he made remarkable use of the time. She often felt like a "time bomb" was hanging over the family. But she also saw how her father appreciated every day: his friends, his relatives, the weather.

Carlitz set "Time.   Running.   Out" to pulsing techno sounds from the German film "Run Lola Run," music that her father particularly liked. She calls her choreography here "edgier," filled with the anger and desperation she felt. She stands up to demonstrate some of the piece's sharp moves: a hand hitting a leg, her neck held at an angle.

In contrast, "Tempus Fugit" is set to two movements from Beethoven's Violin Concerto in D Major. The slower part, a relatively minimalist work, is about "remembrance, looking back," and contains the moment that always makes Carlitz choke up. She just finished crafting this section a few weeks ago.

Then there's the faster part, which she dubs "Movement in Present Tense." It's a joyful section filled with jumps, saluting her father's courage. That upbeat mood closes the show.

Carlitz points out that the Beethoven piece has a third movement. "To be complete, I guess I would have a movement about the future." She smiles wistfully. "But I'm not there yet."

January 2, 2009 [article on | PDF]

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