A television screen hangs in the front of the stage while dancers in black move with intensity, skill and intent through a series of self-created movement in a piece by Willam Forsythe and the Etude Ensemble.
There is no backdrop and the wings are gone; this is simply dance freed from the context of set and stage. From time to time, the dancers move in relation to text, but the prevailing sound is one note that is distorted for the duration of the piece.
This weekend, the Barclay Theater was vibrant with innovation and creativity. For students in the dance department, Dance Visions is the one show every year in which they can work directly with faculty choreographers from the Claire Trevor School of the Arts, and the end result is often excellent.
But this year, during five shows that spanned Feb. 24 to 27, Dance Visions presented an unusual treasure that set it apart from past years: a piece that fused the talents of Donald McKayle’s Etude Ensemble with that of the internationally renowned choreographer William Forsythe.
The show’s variety was perhaps a tribute to the many different styles of dance offered in the department: Bob Boross’ ‘Diaspora’ united tap and jazz through a theme of cultural dilution.
David Allan’s ‘Pastel’ twisted ballet into a jazzy upbeat number that was initially danced by the National Ballet of Canada.
Loretta Livingston set her modern piece ‘Moon Mudra’ outside of the theater itself, and Lisa Naugle incorporated live music and interesting sets into ‘Solar Wind.’
However, it was William Forsythe’s ‘The Questioning of Robert Scott,’ staged by Douglas Becker (brought in specifically for the performance) that transcended the boundaries of a typical UCI dance performance.
Becker himself was involved with the original creation of the piece when it was set on the Frankfurt Ballet in 1986.
‘I feel very fortunate to have been working on this project’ Becker stated, adding that the UCI dancers were ‘clever with it, interesting, and hard working’ and that the individual dancer was extremely important in this case, since the dancing is primarily structured improvisation.
As Becker explained, the dancers were ‘composing, recomposing and reimagining.’
Briana Bowie has been a powerful presence with the UCI Etudes Ensemble for the past two years. Despite her vast performing experience, she found this work to be very different.
‘He [Becker] showed up with a picture of a cube, with different points on it. We’re supposed to imagine that this cube surrounds our body, so we have not only one front, but six different fronts. This way we always remember to take up negative space, space that’s not being used up,’ she said.
Bowie also mentioned that they worked on specific ‘tasks’ in order to ‘reconstruct, deconstruct and rearrange’ the choreography into personal and evolving movement.
‘It’s been a very educational experience, learning how to move differently. Not necessarily to choreograph, but to emerge through the journey. You have to be five steps ahead of yourself,’ Bowie added, explaining the creative focus that was obviously apparent in the finished product.
More familiar was Donald McKayle’s choreography in ‘Beat/Beatific: An Era Revisited’ which incorporated faculty members into the cast list.
A tribute to the beat poets of the 1950s and 1960s, McKayle explained ‘the dancers’ body language is substituted for words.’ One woman engages in a ‘conversation’ (through dance) which can ‘go on as long as she chooses.’
It is not unexceptional that McKayle uses several women in his piece since, as he explained, the beat generation was not particularly known for its female contributors.
Leslie Peck has vast experience with the Balanchine ballet technique, as well as with the Balanchine Trust, which owns the rights to Balanchine ballets.
This year, she chose to set ‘Serenade,’ a 1934 work that was initially set on the School of American Ballet.
‘It has undergone many changes since then,’ she explained. And she would know, having danced in the ballet several times during her professional career as both a corps and lead dancer.
‘UCI has a lot of strong female dancers right now,’ said Peck, ‘and this work is a perfect learning tool for them. It’s like a stepping stone into the Balanchine technique.’ She laughed and admitted that she also had the rights to ‘Serenade,’ meaning she could bypass the typical difficulties of applying to the Balanchine Trust.
All in all, the UCI performance of Dance Visions at the Barclay Theatre was insightful and exceptionally creative. It embodied the strength of its current program, and gave hope for future collaboration and artistic growth.
Filed Under: Features