‘Dance Escape’ Captivates

Art has its way of serving as an escape from the demands of everyday life. From photography to music to dance, art in its numerous forms has the ability to let you completely immerse yourself into it and forget about everything else around you. The eight dance pieces, each choreographed by dance graduate students, in UC Irvine Dance Department’s spring concert “Dance Escape” do just that.

The chitter-chatter in the audience immediately silenced once the theater lights were dimmed. The only sound to be heard was the distinguishable clicking and clacking of tap shoes moving across the stage.

The curtains rose, revealing a dapperly-dressed male tap dancer with a glitzy entourage of four female dancers, dressed in hot pink flapper-style mini dresses and wearing tap shoes. Titled the “King of Rock,” this opening number started the show on an upbeat note as the five dancers rhythmically tapped in sync on stage to the tune “King of Rock/Sucka MCs” by No More Kings.

It was my first time seeing a tap dance number in any dance concert I’ve been to, so I thought this was a refreshing, light-hearted start to the show. Besides the ladies’ flashy costumes and the overall cheerful vibe of the piece, the one notable thing that stood out to me was how effortlessly clean the male dancer performed his multiple pirouettes every time. When he made his final set of pirouettes at the end of the number, the audience applauded enthusiastically and couldn’t wait for what was to come next.

Choreographed by Japan-based dancer Aska Sakuta, “Virga” mixes together hip-hop-inspired movements and the traditional Japanese performance styles of Kabuki and Noh. The piece began with a Zen vibe as the co-ed group of dancers sat still on a dark stage, surrounded by projections of Japanese-style doors and with only a stark spotlight shining from the stage wings. Dressed in all black and faces painted in Japanese-theater makeup, the dancers elegantly and meditatively echoed each other’s movements.

The performance’s serene energy gradually progressed to a bold aggressiveness as a booming rhythmic bass was added to the music, “Digital Momiji” by Flow Zen. The dancers simultaneously conveyed gracefulness and athleticism through cartwheels, accented kicks and the sharp, syncopated movements of hip-hop dance. One of my favorite pieces of the night, “Virga” beautifully balances tranquility and aggressiveness, modernity and tradition.

“Souvenirs” emanates elegance and soft grandeur with the ballerinas dressed in their lovely copper-toned tutus and silky blue sashes. Along with the other ballerinas, the soloist, donning a delicate tiara and violet sash, danced cleanly and with poise. The ballerinas moved under a warm-toned light, expressing a sweet sense of nostalgia. As the ballerinas gracefully danced en pointe, I felt like I was watching the turning ballerinas from those music boxes come to life.

A contemporary dance piece, “Incandescent Virtue” was wonderfully and intriguingly abstract. Performing to the song “Blind” by TV on the Radio, the stylishly dressed dancers were demure yet passionate with the choreography: slowly extending their limbs followed by quick sudden movements, mimicking each other, frequently covering their mouths or framing their faces with a sense of longing. A single spotlight from the stage wings and from above always appeared to attract the dancers, as they rarely looked directly toward the audience. “Incandescent Virtue” left an imprint in my memory with catchy music and its distinct aesthetics and choreography.

Communicating the “global environmental issues of excessive pollution, resource consumption and corporate avarice” through its choreography is the heart of “Cultivnation.” This particular number featured four female dancers wearing white tank tops, asymmetric peach-colored chiffon skirts and neon body paint that glowed under a blacklight during certain parts. As the lights changed from blacklight to spotlight, the dancers transitioned from looking creature-like to human. The music “Clear,” an original composition by WVM, gave a foreboding tone, which transitioned to hope and renewal at the end.

The second half of the show began with “Et Lux Perpetua Luceat Eis (And Let Perpetual Light Shine Upon Them),” the piece’s concept based on Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s “Epitaph on an Infant.” Poetry comes alive in this lyrical narrative, with one of the male dancers taking life away from the others while another tries to save and revive them. The dancers moved wistfully and delicately, yet with power and control, sometimes as a whole group, and other times as duets or solos. While a somber piano tune filled the theater, the dancers expressed the poem’s theme of breathing life into death.

On the other hand, “Madhattan Swing” revved up the theater with its mixed style of Broadway-meets-ballet. The suave men and the sassy women, who were en pointe, let the good times roll as they all hit up a night in the city while dancing to an original Broadway recording of “Sing! Sing! Sing!” from “FOSSE.” They zoomed across the stage like taxi cabs, and performed the dynamic Broadway-ballet choreography with high-energy fun, flirting, and lots of spunk and attitude. Everyone in the audience let out a “Woo!” as the dancers struck their final pose.

It’s springtime, and love is in the air in “Frosted Dolly.” Focusing on the fickle nature of relationships — breaking up, making up, hooking up, marriage proposals, regret, etc. — this last piece had audience members laughing and “aww”-ing the entire time. In addition to showing their amazing dance technique, the dancers put their acting skills to use. This charming, saccharine performance made light of how romance is both bitter and sweet.

As expected, I left the Claire Trevor Theatre feeling inspired. Each compelling performance brought to the stage a multitude of talent and passion that makes “Dance Escape” a captivating getaway.