Ever since my high school years, dance has been an art form that I have continued to have passion for: seeing the eye-catching costumes, hearing music you would never think could possibly be choreographed to, feeling the charismatic energy from every dancer as they perform under the stage lights; having had opportunities in the past to perform in dance concerts myself, I couldn’t help but feel nostalgic — but more importantly, inspired — as I sat in the audience to see the first performance night of the UC Irvine Dance Department’s “New Slate” at the Claire Trevor School of the Arts on Thursday, Nov. 17.
“New Slate” showcases and shares with its audience a pure love of dance and everything that makes this particular art form so captivating.
The first performance on the program, “La Danse Macabre,” put a twist to the familiar plotline of two ladies fighting for the same man. The ballet dancers, dressed in long, white tutus and pointed shoes, moved gracefully and jubilantly underneath a crystal chandelier to composer Gabriel Fauré’s “Quartet for Piano and Strings No. 2 in G minor – Allegro-malto” as if they were at a ball.
The piece took an interesting turn when the male lead dancer suddenly walked into the scene. He was depicted as charming and desirable, as all the girls took turns dancing with him one by one. The female lead dancer, wearing silk white gloves, and the male lead dancer then met and fall in love, and the two characters performed as a pair during certain parts of the piece.
However, the female antagonist, wearing a red silk glove, arrives and, along with the other female dancers, tries to steal him away. After much competition between the two female leads, the female protagonist believes she has finally won her man — until the final scene when her red-gloved competitor apparently “kills” him and gives a mischievous smile, while the protagonist gapes at her. Although the title translates to “The Dance of Death,” this piece was full of vivacity and charm.
With a more contemporary style of dance, “Eclipse” brought out my art-historical training in formal analysis, meaning I took into account the use of fabric and texture in the costumes and props, lighting, color palette, space, etc. — although I’ll admit that I couldn’t figure out the relation of the piece’s title. I know these formal elements are considered for just about every work of art, but considering that I have been exposed to a great amount of modern and contemporary works of art, this piece really emphasized that for me as an audience member.
Nonetheless, these “formal elements” did not take away from the choreography. The instrumental music, “Death in Vegas” by Candy McKenzie, was suitable for the performance’s abstractness. And having a personal fervor for all things modern and contemporary, this was one of the pieces I appreciated especially.
The show’s abstract tone seemed to transition into the next piece, “Measured Encounters,” but with a boost of boldness and sensuality. Throughout the performance, the dancers clapped in unison, as if they were playing castanets and showcased their style in their solos.
The costumes were definitely a statement of their own: embroidered bolero vests here, a turquoise and green flamenco-style skirt on another dancer or a sharp-shouldered blazer, to name a few.
Though the choreography appeared to be a mixture of various styles and confused a few audience members near me, the underlying sense of passion conveyed by the sharp, sensuous movements and intense facial expressions of the dancers tied the entire piece together, making this performance hard to forget and awakening to the senses.
On the other hand, the following piece, “Ariel,” possessed a softer, nostalgic mood. The performance began with only an overhead spotlight shining directly down on a dancer wearing a clean, pale ’50s-esque dress. As she gracefully danced in and around the spotlight, another dancer dressed similarly appears and the two begin to interact.
As more layers were added into the music, two male dancers dressed in muted-colored slacks and shirts began to dance with the two female dancers — all of their movements conveyed a delicate sense of longing and graceful angst.
Once the piece reached its peak, it toned down to a quiet end as the dancers moved to the rhythm of the spoken word: a recording of Sylvia Plath reading her poem, “Ariel.”
“The Way You Always Wanted It” reminded me of classy Old Hollywood glamour, but with an urban, almost morbid, roughness. A solo performer dressed in black and with exaggeratingly applied lipstick moved droningly as she sat in front of a vanity mirror.
To her left, a large group of dancers, dressed in edgy black long-sleeved dresses and exaggeratedly pouted painted lips, staggered in zombie-like convulsions. In contrast, they also moved with sophistication and passion (sometimes with splatters of blood-red paint) in later parts of the dance.
Additionally, the lack of an actual backdrop that exposed the stage’s rustiness and the choice of Telepopmusik’s “Love Almighty” for the music, emphasized the piece’s distinctive cinematic rawness.
After a short intermission, the show continued with a dynamic performance called “Emancipate.” The first part began with the dancers bound and limited in their movements as the music expressed their struggle and agony.
The performance gradually progressed in energy and the dancers eventually broke free in the second part, with the music now being a joyous and very catchy tune. The dancers leaped triumphantly in their sunset-colored costumes against a backdrop that resembled a blue savannah sky. At this point, it felt like the audience wanted to hop onstage and join the fun. When the performance finished, everyone cheered and applauded enthusiastically.
“Constellation,” the second ballet number of the night, was light and dreamy as Johann Bach’s “Violin Concerto No. 1 in A minor” filled the theater. The group of ballerinas onstage appeared almost fairy-like as they danced beautifully and effortlessly in their long blue-and-gray tutus, and smiled elegantly and warmly at the audience. Simply put, I felt happy and at ease as I watched. And like the title of this wistful dance number suggests, I easily imagined myself sitting underneath and gazing at a deep-blue starry sky.
The tone switched once again with “Kabuzosuka,” an all-female performance number. This was reminiscent of “Emancipate” with its elements of African dance and music. The performance began with a musician onstage playing the djembe as the group of dancers traveled from one side of the theater in the audience onto the stage. My favorite aspect about this piece was its expression of empowerment and strength, conveyed through the physically-toned bodies of the dancers and their invigorating choreography onstage, complementing the deep red and orange backdrop behind them.
Ending the night was “Within…” an ethereal three-part performance. The first part called “Torment” featured a solo by one of the dancers, who moved erratically on black cushions covered in what appeared to look like feathery snow. As the soloist threw herself on the cushions, her hair covered in the “feathery snow,” the other dancers stood in a horizontal line toward the back of the stage and stared at her stoically and coldly.
In “Part II: A Stream of Consciousness,” all the performers echoed each other’s movements and executed the choreography with vehemence, quite similar to that of “Part I.”
The curtains then formed a small frame in “Part III: Resolution,” wherein the dancers only moved within its perimeters, and remained consistent in its eerie quality until the end of the piece. Interestingly, “Within…” closed the night on a pensive note.
With dance performances tantalizing to all the senses, “New Slate” is true to its name. It is a multi-faceted show that is inspiring and cutting-edge.