When the curtain rose, a huge swell of anticipation pushed me up to the edge of my seat. When the curtain rose, the whole world seemed to be poised upon the stage. When the curtain rose, I was mesmerized until the final curtain fell. Unceasingly captivating, the students of the University’s Department of Dance delivered a performance of innovation and beauty, adding their own mark to the modern dance world.
Global guest choreographers Ohad Naharin and Shannon Gillen were brought in for this special performance and collaborated with faculty members Missy Beck and Sandra Torijano to produce four outstanding and unique pieces in “Dancing Globally,” which was performed last weekend.
It began with over 20 dancers dressed in black suits and top hats standing perfectly still in a semicircle stretching across the stage. Consisting of excerpts from “Kyr” (1990), “Anaphase” (1993) and “Mabul” (1992), the piece was intimidating and powerful — all heads slightly bowed and shadows cast across their faces. Slowly sitting only to spring into action, dancers bellowed chants in sync, then jerked and twisted every which way — a wave of motion oscillating across the semicircle, ending with the last dancer plunging to the floor. This sequence of sitting, screaming, synced movement and rises and falls repeated several times, building a tension that hovered over the audience.
I felt like I was on the stage, screaming with the dancers, jolting with them. When they began to fling off articles of clothing — hats, shoes, jackets, pants — I wanted to as well. I wanted to join them in removing all that weighs me down, all that contributes to my own conformity. Starting in full suits and ending in muted tanks and shorts, they seemed free from something. I wanted to be free as well.
The beauty of modern dance is that it is made to be interpretive. I see a completely different story than my neighbor might see. Interpretations are free to move and shift just as much as the dancers across the stage. Ideas are not confined because dance is not limited to words. To me, dance is bigger than words: It is movement.
The first piece ended with a gripping duet between a girl and a guy, telling a story of a contrasting relationship. Defying gravity and logic, the two moved together as one strong entity as their bodies intertwined, separated and glided across the stage. It left me feeling conflicted, at once in awe of their fluidity and emotional over the confusing state of the relationship.
The curtain opened to the second piece, “Vox” (2018), what seemed to me to be an innovative social commentary on the working class. The stage was extremely bare, wings were open and costumes were minimalistic and monotoned. Each dancer had their own gray long sleeve shirt, used as a prop to scrub the floor, sliding it across their body and playing off other dancers.
I wish I had three extra pairs of eyes to watch this piece. A large group of dancers — many moments consisted of several story threads in small groups of one, two or three dancers. And each thread was fascinating; each one conveyed some kind of relationship between the dancers, some kind of struggle or success.
They moved like a school of fish, flowing from one side of the stage to the other, tossing up individuals to be caught in the air. Perhaps it mimics how the working class supports each other, yet watches and follows the crowd. They are the social class that scrubs floors; a class confined to itself yet also surviving by itself.
A steady thud, thud, thud, thud — that is how the third dance, “Fall(s)” (2018) began. The stage was dark, and the noise was a mystery. My eyes slowly adjusted to make out some shapes spread across the stage. The whole audience concentrated on the noise. Lights go on, and the dancers jumped in sync. The thud was not singular; the ball of the foot hit just before the heel, creating a double thudding sound that lulled one into hypnosis. Like the first two pieces, the theme of conformity was very present as the dancers started in sync and quickly fell out of the jump one by one. An Asian influence was seen in the costumes wrapped in bright colorful strips of cloth and the flowery backdrop with a shower of running water behind it.
The finale, “Minutus Luminous” (2018), had the most ambiguous storyline of the night. But I found it amusing to make up a story as it progressed, letting it shift and change to match the movement. I saw a futuristic world of people dressed in ragged clothes, giving the impression of some kind of apocalypse or era of despair. Beautiful solos, duets and groups shined in this piece. Their fluid motion carried through time and space, playing with and against the music, leaving each leap, each wide gesture, each throw suspended in the air.
Across the performances, the most pronounced style was Gaga. The way I have experienced Gaga is very meditative; it focuses on feeling of the movement through your body, hearing the movement in your bones, texturizing your very skin as soft or thick as you move. Watching the performance, I could see the dancers exercising these ideas; sometimes, the movement appearing to be coming from outside their body and other times the movement rose from the center of their body, flowing outward.
Gaga is wild, yet defined with clarity, sharply contrasted with the common theme of conformity in “Dancing Globally.” When the curtain fell, I was filled with pure admiration. Yet, I was also left with the idea of nonconformity, of setting myself apart as an individual. Modern dance is an outlet for one’s voice, for opinions, for ideas; it is anything but the same. Really, I cannot even give modern dance an exact definition. It is what it wants to be in that singular moment, making it a wonder to watch every second.