I have absolutely no idea what to expect. Like, really, none at all. Not only is this my first time at a dance performance, but I have little to no knowledge of what “contemporary” dance is. The Wooden Floor is putting on their yearly dance performance — this year called “Tuned In” — at the Irvine Barclay Theater. It’s a pretty rad concept: a dance company takes underprivileged youth and teaches them not just how to dance, but how to do well in life. They provide tutors and college scholarships. They offer family counseling and social support. They’re like “Step Up” superheroes.
The lights dim. The introduction starts. A lady is telling me about tonight’s four dance pieces. Some sound more interesting than others. Others seem pretty … uh, out there. A piece where I’m expected to pretend I’m falling asleep in front of the TV? Alright, then. I do appreciate the artistic director telling me how I should feel during each piece, though. It was nice to have my own feelings dictated to me. I still don’t know what contemporary dance is.
The curtain rises. There are a lot of people on stage. Close to 50. And they’re all dressed like they live on Tatooine, which makes me just the happiest person here. They start dancing. Or, I should say, they start moving their bodies in a somewhat aesthetically pleasing way. Really, most people are just walking across the stage. Some people hop. Some crawl. Most just march. Every once in a while, everyone grunts or claps. This is strange. Is this contemporary dance?
A little brunette Anakin Skywalker-looking child runs circles around everyone else. He’s great. I like him. I’m confused, mostly by the awkward silence. Silence was used throughout the show to bring more attention on the moves being performed on stage. While at times this worked, for most of the show, it just felt empty.
But then, music destroys the silent sounds of dancers’ soles stomping on the stage. It’s a series of clicks and beeps and air-traffic controller sounds. This pattern (if you can call it that) continues for about 25 minutes, while music cuts in and out of the background.
It’s nice music, and I’m starting to really enjoy this. And just like that, the curtain drops.
The second number is very short. All I know is that everyone looked like a snowflake, and I really enjoyed it. I can’t tell whether everyone’s timing is a little off, or I just don’t understand how time works in the world of contemporary dance. I wander off to the green room to talk with a choreographer to figure this out.
I’m sidetracked by injured children, proving me wrong that tonight is much more physically demanding than I thought it was.
The choreographer of the first piece, Chris Yon, tells me about how the piece was created.
“It was like a dance Rorschach,” he begins. “I gave students a prompt, and then responded with a move or a dance.”
Neat. He goes on to talk about his want for the audience to walk away compelled to try a new move, or to look at an old action in a new light.
The third piece starts, and I’m instantly liking it. It has a really neat set and very tight choreography. There are humorous parts, and a classical Spanish guitar that matches the mood perfectly, and everything seems very fluid. Until they get to the awkward part where people climbed on each other. This just looks like bad improv. Then, a girl comes out and does a solo. She dances beautifully, and I’m stunned by how amazing she is.
Now, the dance is over.
The fourth piece starts out with five straight minutes of clapping. Then, what happens next may be the best piece of the night. Everyone is doing their dancy thing, and it’s just great. And then it ends like “Stomp” … amazingly. And with a lot of noise.
And now I get it!
I finally understand what contemporary dance is. It’s like a Jackson Pollock painting. Or better yet, it’s a painting of two lines and a dot, followed by five pages of hyper-analytic text about existential symbolism. While it isn’t for me, I can see why some people would enjoy it.
Tonight’s performance was not the best of all time, but it was definitely one of the more interesting ones. If you ever have the chance to see Wooden Floor, take it. Take that chance, indeed!