Spring Dances / Cedar Crest College | Samantha Burns (April 2016)

Spring Dances / Cedar Crest College
Friday, April 1, 2016
Samuels Theater

By: Samantha Burns

This past weekend, Cedar Crest College hosted Spring Dances, a faculty choreographed show with special guest performances from Continuum Dance Theater, DANCELINK, and Vendata Dance Academy. The show was filled with multiple dance genres: ballet, jazz, modern, tap, and improvisation were all explored. The choreographers and performers all contributed a fun energy throughout the course of the evening, making it a perfect way to welcome the new spring season.

The opening work, entitled Posted Stories, was choreographed by the artistic director of the show, Robin Gerchman, and her dancers. Four black boxes acted as a platform for the dancers to interact with one another in silly and lighthearted ways. They would chase one another around them, push each other off them and so on in a playful manner, interacting with one another through vibrant facial expressions and common gestures. I was thoroughly entertained watching the piece, particularly when the performers would fully commit to their characters.

Coming Into Focus, choreographed by Sarah Carlson, was performed by three members of Carlson’s company, DANCELINK. The piece began with an extremely evocative image: the three performers, wearing sheer black costumes, had their backs to the audience. Soon it became clear that the dancers had their eyes closed, making their serpentine movement seem very tactile. Throughout the work, the choreography appealed to multiple senses; it was visually as well as viscerally inviting, due to the dancers’ loss of sight and use of breath. At the end of the work, the dancers move completely downstage, where I felt like I could “see” them for the first time. The progression of the piece reminded me of the split second before one’s eyes are able to see something: everything is blurred and soft-edged, until the eyes can actually see the object in focus with clarity.

The third piece, Valse and Viva, was a ballet choreographed by Pattie Bostick-Winn. The choreography was straightforward and simple, with a lot of emphasis on footwork. Due to the simplicity of the choreography, the music was celebrated in a way that is not often present in dance, particularly ballet. The costuming was bright and classic – long pink romantic tutus – and added to the sophistication present in the music. The choreography called for a clean line of energy from the legs and arms, but I felt as if the movement ended before it was fully completed. I encourage the dancers to continue to dance past their bodily limits, and attack the choreography with a clear intention.

I was not present on the night that the Vedanta Dance Academy performed Brahma Dance/ Nataraj Kautavum, so the fourth piece in the show was Daring Greatly, the second work choreographed by Carlson for this show. Like her first work, Carlson created immediate intrigue with the opening image of an ensemble undulating in unison on stage right. As the piece progresses, the group begins to explore daunting tasks, such as overhead lifts and “death spirals” to the floor. The dancers are dressed in a suit jacket, a white button down shirt, and a tie; at one point, all the dancers remove their jackets, and explode into a series of lifts, weight shares, and counterbalances. I felt the dancers shed their fears as they were shedding their jackets, embracing their vulnerability, and finding freedom in their inhibitions.

Next up was a duet entitled Who am I…Who are you… choreographed by Sarah Parker, and performed by members of her company, Continuum Dance Theater. Immediately, I was drawn in by the opening image: the two performers emerging from a large pile of hats. As they moved around the space, the dancers would pick up various hats and try them on in various ways: covering their faces or their bodies, placing them on their heads, and so on. The piece had a jazzy feel, and the choreography was very sensual yet athletic. Parker’s attention to detail in the movement is abundantly evident, and her transitions were intelligently designed. I saw the hats as different personas that people “try on” throughout their lives, trying to find the one that fits them well.

The tap piece, Playful Rhythms – The Ladies of Jazz, was choreographed by Jill Fitzgerald. Out of all the pieces in the show, I felt that this was the most fun and upbeat performance. Between the music, costuming, and the smiles from the tappers, I was having fun just by watching them! The tap sounds were clear and audible, particularly when the group was tapping in unison. I felt that some of the performers were more confident in their tapping abilities than others, and I enjoyed when a dancer attacked the choreography with gusto and purpose. Even though the choreography was mainly footwork, most of the dancers performed it in a full-bodied way, which elevated the caliber of the performance.

The closing piece, TRIAL, was a jazz work created by Parker. I found the program note – “a whodunit quartet including four scenes in a story of mystery and murder” – to be an attention grabber. The piece opened with a series of small vignettes, with dancers dressed in clothing reminiscent of the 1940s. The choreography was big and brassy, as expected in a classic jazz piece but suddenly, there was a shift in tone, when gunshots sounded and lights flashed. The second section of the work amounted into mass chaos, where the murder mystery truly began to come to life. Parker used the space brilliantly, with various formations hurling themselves across the stage at near-colliding speeds. The ensuing section acted as the eye of the storm, where the six suspects were lined up for mugshots; this reminded me of Pina Bausch’s work, Kontakthof. Each suspect had a specific demeanor that was easily read due to the performers’ facial expressions and postures. The dramatic commitment of the entire cast breathed through every scene of this complex dance and ended the show with a real “bang”.

Overall, the show brought a fresh energy to the incoming season. With the various genres of dance included, the energy on stage was constantly shifting, but all had the same vibrant nods towards the fresh springtime ahead. Spring Dances was a refreshing take on collegiate level dance performances, and left the audience feeling breezy and rejuvenated.