Celebrations of a Man’s ‘Visions’

The Irvine Barclay Theatre came alive with a celebration of performances new and old, covering standout pieces in a variety of genres in “Dance Visions 2009.” A showcase from the UC Irvine Department of Dance, “Dance Visions” was a tribute to Donald McKayle, a Claire Trevor School of the Arts professor of dance. Although this show celebrates McKayle’s 20th anniversary here at UCI, his career has spawned creative genius in the dance world for more than 50 years. A video tribute in the opening of the show embodied McKayle’s incredible spirit and set the tone for the spectacles of the night.
First was the brightly colored “Games,” first premiered in May 1951 by McKayle, himself. The musical accompaniment consisted of nothing but two live singers and the rhythms, beats and chants set by the dancers. With this intriguing aspect and the universal theme of “the serious business of being a child” through three interconnected stages, this was a yearning and unique opening piece.
Next was everyday clothing and a bare backdrop in the restaging of Yvonne Rainer’s “Trio A in 10 Easy Lessons,” originally titled “The Mind is Muscle, Part I.” To a silent stage, each of the seven dancers individually performed the same set of moves at different times and tempos. The vulnerability of this piece, restaged in many ways since its premiere in 1966, was thought-provoking and intense.
Life and soul filled the stage with Jane Dudley’s short piece, “Harmonica Breakdown.” In this solo, new Department of Dance Assistant Professor Sheron Wray felt the blues down to her toes in a flowing blue skirt, the upbeat music bringing a different but welcome tone from the last two pieces.
An excerpted version of William Forsythe’s neo-classical ballet “Artifact Suite” was next, as presented by Jodie Gates. As a small army of 25 dancers took the stage, their fluid unison and strong movements were spellbinding. Dancers clad in baby blue seemed to move like water flowing in a turbulent storm before ending in graceful poses. A powerful piece, these excerpts showed how beautifully precise dance can be.
Following a short intermission, the UCI Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Stephen Tucker, entered for the last two dances of the show, the first of which was Molly Lynch’s new piece “Starry Night.” Based on the painting by Vincent van Gogh, this light-hearted ballet lifted the audience into a dream-like state as the on-stage van Gogh contemplated the night sky through a hanging window. Dancers wearing the hues of the painting elegantly swirled around him in this delightful piece.
The much-anticipated finale featured a world premiere from McKayle titled “Noir.” The original music by Kei Akagi and Alan Terricciano was truly exceptional, featuring alternating sequences between the UCI Symphony Orchestra and The Tokyo Trio, with Akagi on piano, Tamaya Honda on drums and Tomokazu Sugimoto on bass. Employing the UCI Etude Ensemble, McKayle’s fiery choreography created characters and scenes that were both sexy and classy.
In the opening scene, Femme Fatale Shannon Kurashige, wearing a wide-brimmed, tilted black hat, mesmerized as she seduced camp followers Randall Smith and Bobby Amamizu and the audience. A pool table scene with Kurashigie and two pool sharks, Stephen Diaz and Will Johnston, heated up the stage and the Women’s Modern Community League and Wannabes provided sass and humor to balance out all that steaminess. “Noir” was a fantastic piece that closed the night with a bang and a little sizzle.
Sara Ross, a fourth-year dance and psychology and social behavior double-major and now four-time performer in the “Dance Visions” production has enjoyed her time learning from McKayle.
“He’s an amazing teacher, choreographer, mentor and human being. I always enjoy seeing him around the dance department; he is so funny and always in such great spirits,” Ross said.
In celebration of such spirits, “Dance Visions 2009” was a night of passions put on to stage, a reflection of choreographers and dancers both this year and in years past.
Regardless of a long two-and-a-half-hour show, the result was a vision worth seeing.