Wednesday, July 31, 2013 Review by Sandra Kurtz

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    Scott Martin
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    Wednesday, July 31, 2013 Review by Sandra Kurtz

    The World Dance Alliance showcase performances during the 2013 conference were just as varied as the participating artists, educators, practitioners, presenters, and other ‘dance people’ involved were.  The programs ranged from stage-savvy professionals to young students, with work outside the western canon in between — it’s hard to talk about them all in the same context.  But as audience members we saw them all grouped together, whatever their background or expertise, representing the wild variety of the art form.

    Choreography in a college setting is a tricky business – it’s as much about creating an appropriate challenge for nascent performers as it is an opportunity to follow an artistic vision.  Sometimes those elements combine to make a significant artwork and sometimes they just stay in equilibrium.  In the Wednesday night program Marlene Skog and Jin-Wen Yu have both managed to challenge their student dancers without overwhelming them.  Skog’s “EXIT/NO EXIT” is an academic exploration of dualism, with its two performers locked in a series of mirror-balanced phrases as they orbit a pair of chairs like a desert island, but their interconnected relationship felt a bit predictable.  Unfortunately, the second half of the work was not performed – the weaknesses in the piece may just come from an incomplete view.  In “Passage,” Yu matched a sweet-natured contemporary ritual with a score from the Bulgarian State Female Choir – the familiar music reinforced the “girls dancing together” motifs.  As her young cast carried stones around the space, balancing them on their foreheads and gathering them into their skirts, they grappled with simple locomotor patterns.  The work was most affective when they were dealing directly with their props, using them as percussion instruments or making cairns as they piled them up. 

    Henry Daniel’s “Here be Dragons-Non Plus Ultra” combines movement, text, acting and animation in a film excerpt from a larger performance work investigating the idea of otherness and exploration.  Without seeing the entire project it’s difficult to know if this densely-edited mix of narrative and abstract materials is a sample of the total work, or just one more component. With multiple references and sources, it’s sometimes hard to find an overall arc for the film.  “Dragons” incorporates several immigration stories, some starting in the “old world,” and some in the new.  We hear from a Chilean artist who has relocated to Catalonia, a Spaniard who now lives in Italy, and a member of an indigenous population from Central America, among others, following both the usurpers and the dispossessed.  Movement is just one component of the film project, and the rhythm of the editing has as much kinetic impact as some of the choreography itself.  In its complex use of film techniques, “Dragon” is an example of what dance makers can do with university resources.

    “Paradox” by Melissa Rolnick and the “Straddling Trio” with Sarah Gamblin, Nina Martin and Andrew Wass were the best examples of professional level performance.  “Paradox” is a true old-school modern dance solo, alternating between interior turmoil and external focus.  Artists since Isadora Duncan have been examining this emotional landscape –Rolnick has made a nuanced addition to that part of the repertory.  Heather Klopchin gave a fully-committed and articulate performance in a work that feels like an homage to an earlier period in dance history, with great attention to details of gesture and timing. “Straddling Trio” also felt like a reference to an earlier time, but it was more attuned to Grand Union and the experiments of the Judson Church community than the early moderns.  The performers all have long histories and deep resumes of their own, as well as a genial group dynamic – there was a wealth of experience on stage in their structured improvisation.  The work was essentially serious, but laced with some light-hearted moments like penguin-styled waddling and a turn-taking sequence that seemed to take its basic materials from the Hokey Pokey.

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