“Dance Visions”

Courtesy of Rose Elchenbaum

I was excited to have the opportunity to watch “Dance Visions” at the Claire Trevor Theatre this past Thursday evening. The five dance pieces choreographed by students and faculty of the Dance Department each have their own unique story to tell. Featuring collaborations with the Music and Drama Departments, “Dance Visions” brings together the performing arts for an evening of powerful artistic insight and innovation.

Once again, I sat in the velvet seats of the Claire Trevor Theatre. A cacophony of classical instruments rehearsing filled the theater. Some audience members nearby asked others, “What is this noise?” For me, hearing the Symphony Orchestra prepare only brought anticipation for the show to start. Soon, the lights dimmed, the audience became silent, and the orchestra played a single sustained note, indicating that the performance was about to begin.

As the curtains were raised, a coed group of dancers stood in perfectly even rows encased by a “cage” against a violet backdrop. The first piece, titled “Mein Zimmer” (or “My Room”), focused on the emotional aspects of containment as described by the Virginia Woolf quote: “I thought how unpleasant it is to be locked out; and I thought how it is worse, perhaps, to be locked in.”

Dressed identically in long, silky violet ombre skirts and nude-colored leotards, the dancers moved one by one as pianist Alice Li began to play. Many elements changed throughout the piece: some of the dancers performed en pointe; some would remove the long skirts or put them back on; the “cage” was raised and lowered; and sometimes the dancers would move rhythmically to the Symphony Orchestra playing a violin concerto by J.S. Bach or in complete silence. The mood of each part of the piece changed dramatically as well.

The highlight of “Mein Zimmer” was when countertenor Bryan Pollock and tenor Hideaki Beppu walked on stage and performed a beautiful, almost heart-wrenching vocal duet. (I may or may not have gotten teary-eyed.) As Pollock and Beppu sang, a male dancer and a female dancer en pointe gracefully performed a duet. As a whole, “Mein Zimmer” passionately expressed Woolf’s quote in a 15-to-20-minute performance.

“Copy, Right?” was a riveting two-part piece that jazzed up the night and featured Professor Kei Akagi and his jazz composition students providing the music. Emphasizing the themes of “what connotes original and what happens to that which is original,” this piece was all about improvisation from the musicians and the dancers. However, the piece also seemed to include energetic group choreography. The costumes varied as much as the styles of dance. Black leather and fringe, black pointe shoes and flowy fabrics with hints of purple and teal all gave the dancers even more personality.

The music slowed down in the middle, but that didn’t stop the dancers having the time of their lives onstage. Some dancers performed short solos while others danced in small groups. Akagi and his students picked up the pace once again toward the end of the piece, with the entire group dancing their heart out on the stage. Just by hearing how loudly the audience cheered, everyone definitely had a good time.

A charming ballet piece, “In the Krapfen Woo” was a storybook-friendly tale about handsome cadets and beautiful debutants having a secret gathering in the woods. With the Symphony Orchestra playing once again, the piece began with two ballerinas portraying birds flitting about onstage. They were soon joined by the rest of “the birds,” who wore blush-colored tutus and sleek elegant feathers in their hair. As they danced against a forest backdrop, the cadets and the debutantes entered the scene. The cadets looked princely dressed in all black and military-style jackets while the debutantes looked lovely in all white, their long tutus made of tulle and filled with flower petals.

All the other cadets and debutantes socialized and flirted, except one of the debutantes, who had her hair styled in pigtails, and her counterpart cadet who wore thick-rimmed glasses. All kinds of cute awkwardness and humor ensued when they had no choice but to dance with each other and tried to fit in with the others.

More comedic chaos followed when the group encountered a thunderstorm. The cadets tried to act heroic by protecting their debutante partners from the rain, but most of them failed to do so. Additionally, the dancers were able to show off their ballet skills, which brought on many cheers and applause.

After the storm, the pigtailed debutante and her bespectacled cadet end up alone in the forest. As the pair slowly realized that they were compatible while dancing a duet, plenty of “aww”-ing and laughter was inevitable. With a delightful plotline full of comical acting and impressive ballet skills, this piece warmed up everyone’s hearts.

Following the intermission was “Slipstream,” a contemporary piece that explored the theme of going against the grain, freeing oneself and the process of being reborn. The piece began with the dancers, dressed in jumpsuits, rigidly marching in sync across the stage. The pounding bass of the music, “Wasabi, Spin Cycle, Paranoid Droid, and Strut,” shook the theater. The dancers moved intensely in unison. By the second part, a translucent screen was lowered in front of the dancers. An image of bubbles was projected onto the screen and the dancers looked like they were dancing underwater in an aquarium. Along with the music, their movement grew more fluid and individualized as they tumbled on the floor and extended their limbs with almost every movement. The dancers also slowly began to “shed” their outer shell by removing their gray jumpsuits, revealing the white clothing they wore underneath.

After a quick blackout, the end of the piece was rejuvenating with the dancers, now dressed in flowing white clothing, moving freely and with high energy. A projection of a waterfall was then shown as a group of dancers acted out jumping from the top of a waterfall, perhaps to represent renewal and the freeing of oneself.

The final piece, “Continents of Humanity (Part II),” ended the night with celebrating different cultures around the world with dancers represent particular countries. The piece began with the “Australia” group, which showed the cultures of the European settlers and the native Australian tribes encountering and influencing each other. “North America” was performed by a female soloist, who was luxuriously dressed in a sleek, bright yellow dress and a floppy hat. She conveyed an Americana sense of poise, extravagance and pride as she danced elegantly and confidently against a violet background. The “South America” group was performed by the colorfully dressed UCI Etude Ensemble. The group ended the piece with a fun, festive party vibe onstage and just letting the good times roll.

Each piece of “Dance Visions” tells its narrative profoundly and imaginatively. When acting, dance and music work together in this inspiring dance concert, it becomes a masterpiece and truly expresses the value of art.