Fall Dances 2014

Dec 4th, 2014 | By | Category: News

By John Sanford Friedrich

The decision to merge the departments of music, theatre and dance into a single school was not without controversy. This year’s Fall Dances, however, shows that collaborative fruit has been borne under the new arrangement. “The Globe and Cosmos: Celebrating 450 years of Shakespeare and Galileo” has been an overarching theme across the disciplines in the new artistic “superdepartment.” This includes a Japanese influenced dance-theatre retelling of Othello covered previously by Avant Greensboro.

Fall Dances is a showcase for faculty and visiting artists to display what they have been working on. Dance department director Janet Lilly began the evening with “What Seas, What Shores,” which featured its own collaborative angle – faculty musicians from the Music department performed live. Most of the Earth is water and “What Seas” celebrated this fact with a tine of blue washing across both the lighting and the costumes, which were reminiscent of the fashion during the Elizabethan Renaissance of Shakespeare’s time. A clever touch involved a delicate parasol as a guide to clue the viewer toward the central action of any given moment.

The dancers themselves flowed naturally and delicately. There was little floor-work or psychological moodiness. Instead the dancers carried themselves with an erect vertical grace. This aesthetic style coupled with the live musical performance added up to a suggestion of Contemporary Ballet.

dancer in mid-air

B.J. Sullivan, a professor who was the host of the evening, went in another direction entirely with her piece “Prism.” The rear curtain had been pulled back to reveal the white screen – a tactic chosen by many choreographers inside UNCG’s Dance Theatre over the years to indicate a lighter, happier mood is on offer. The side curtains were also pulled back entirely, showing beams, pulleys and rafters. This was necessary to fit the large active cast and also an artistic nod to the fact that such dance originated as a lived experience far from stages and professors. Costumes of street clothes were another nod to the lack of pretension.

The music began with a spacey touch but after the initial quiet interlude which began with half of the cast in fetal positions with others sitting astride them the action began coming quickly and the music turned more primal. Even half the cast at a single time seemed to require the entirety of the maxed out stage. When all were assembled there began a physical division to form the “Call and Response” of traditional African music, ceremony and dance. Indeed the timing and pacing throughout the heart of the piece suggested a heavy inspiration from African folk dancing, such as has been presented at UNCG by Robin Gee among others.

Despite this note “Prism” was not intended as a showcase or even a reconceiving of old world folk dance but rather to that nearly lost tradition of public dancing. At one charming moment the cast divided into sections with a group in the rear of the stage suggesting jump rope and “chalk games” that could be found in the concrete playgrounds of an urban neighborhood before the age of children with smartphones, when people might be expected to dance as a natural expression of life and to entertain themselves.

The most thematically on-point work under the overarching “Globe and Cosmos” was Duane Cyrus’ aptly titled “The Globe,” which was “an improvisation-based analysis of scenes from Shakespeare’s anthology.” This was an odd and original work, an irreverent retake on the famous playhouse where Shakespeare’s work debuted. At first the central focus was a long white sheet diagonally bisecting the stage and how the dancers utilized or reacted to it. An energetic male trio created the mental space of an interlude before the piece peaked with a woman, ‘the bard.’

She quoted and misquoted the bard’s famous works from Titus Andronicus to Macbeth interspersed with her throwing empty plastic water bottles at the rest of the cast. The famous scenes she and the dancers referenced “were the right scenes to convey to today’s audience” judged dancegoer Catherine Angermeier.

Cyrus offered a double-feature in this year’s Fall Dances as after intermission he revealed a further update of “Gotham.” This evolving work is an homage to Modern Dance pioneer Martha Graham. “It summoned New York in the Fifties,” mused Christopher Stella, a School of Music alum, noting the music of Dave Brubeck that accompanied the dance. Three female dancers, each clad in white, yellow or red, were the stars of this show, though a full ensemble of other dancers dressed in black filled out the stage. Each of the three colors denoted a different stage or style of romantic love.

“Gotham” began with an eerie dim outline of the “woman in white” with the dancers in black laying on the stage around her. Three not overly bright spotlights were provided to highlight the trio of main protagonists. They performed together at first but their differing styles were explored more fully in their periods of “solos.” These were not quite solos in that the ‘dancers of color’ shared the stage with those in black, at times dancing quite near each other but intriguingly seeming unaware of each other, as if locked in different overlapping dimensions. “Gotham” ended on a spooky note with the cast holding up hands like a séance.

“Company 443” is the name of the choreographer – the dancers themselves. “Company 443” is a class that aims to simulate the actual workings of a dance troupe to prepare students for a professional career in the art. At first the swollenly large cast and three spoken word interludes early on with such advice as “friends are the family you choose” gave the impression this would be a loud and cluttered experience. However as the complicated engine of the dance lumbered on it began running more smoothly though it remained complex. “Company 443”is by definition and objective amateur yet it served as a competent and complimentary base to NYC-based choreographer Germaul Barnes’ “Home.”

Props were key throughout, including a curious passage with a large blue construction tarp. This was lifted over a number of dancers with one who slipped out of the middle to occupy the viewers’ attention while machinations went on below, tempting us to expect that some odd creation would be displayed. Yet when the tarp was lifted there was nothing to be revealed for the moment. Later the tarp returned but with a dancer wrapped inside it like a body was being disposed of.

Bricks became the obsession. Each dancer brought one or two bricks at a time and began assembling them into odd little structures. These bricks kept proliferating to the point it became difficult for the dancers to navigate the stage. The answer was simply to begin dancing on the bricks themselves. One dancer remained on the bricks as they were removed, leaving an ever shrinking oasis for her feet. The final piece of the ending ended on a cheery note with a cheeky male burlesque solo and pop music.

The dance season may have ended for 2014 but expect quality work when the solstice passes and the days grow long, including the Greensboro Fringe Festival.

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