Dance Escape 2013

“How can we know the dancer from the dance?” William Butler Yeats once said.

During week seven of winter quarter, nine graduate students from the Dance Department auditioned their pieces. Since that time, there has been numerous brainstorms, rehearsals, costume fittings and tech work, but the end result was finally unveiled on April 18.

Performed by both undergraduate and graduate students, the nine pieces performed ranged from technical pointe to high energetic hip-hop fusion. Dance Escape 2013 was housed in the beautiful Claire Trevor Theatre, and with each unique performance, the length and height of the stage was utilized with alluring lighting and purposeful props.

The length of each exhibit varied, but never once did I feel that the show dragged. The choreographers displayed mature constraint in this choice; a remarkable piece of art leaves you hanging on the edge after the lights dimmed. I felt this yearning every time when the music came to the end. After every piece, the sweeping red curtain was brought in and the house lights came up. This gave the audience a special opportunity to really react and discuss the dances while thoughts and emotions were fresh.

At the end of a more serious piece such as “I Want You. I Love You. I Need You,” a breathtaking pointe piece between two couples choreographed by McKree O’Kelley, a respectful silence hung the air before discussions began. With a high-energy piece such as “Fool,” choreographed by Ali McKeon, the audience seemed almost electric with energy. The performances clearly moved the seated audience, just as the music moved the performing dancers.

Strength in numbers does not always mean strength in more numbers. Similar to the length, the number of dancers varied, from an intense solo performed by Robert Olivares to a production like a pointe piece with over 10 dancers. While every dance presented had its own unique style that matched its movement, there was also an underlying theme or story that was reflected in the dance’s title.

Often, it was the size of the group and their unique props that really emphasized these themes. This was especially displayed in a piece called “Moving Past,” choreographed and performed by talented graduate student Jessie Ryan. Ryan was not alone on stage; with her was her partner Grant Lancaster, and strewn across the stage were Fed Ex boxes and a table with a frame that gave the audience an illusion of a box.

The piece began with Ryan in the raised box-like prop and her partner Lancaster sitting nearby, but as I waited for the music to begin, I was taken aback to hear Lancaster beginning to rap and speak, and Ryan’s movement begin to match the story he was unfolding. Ryan’s background in acrobatics and skills were clearly displayed, as her long fluid movements, walkovers and floor work accentuated the poem. Speaking to Ryan about this outstanding piece and its origin after the show, she explained to me that the poem was written by Lancaster.

“It was a true collaboration, 50/50 effort, and it makes the outcome even more rewarding,” he said.

“Moving Past” was not the only innovative collaboration. At the halfway point in the show, the curtain opened with a drum set and grand piano centered in the middle of the stage, and as the musicians began to play, dancers charged the stage with rhythmic stomps, shuffles and heel drops. A tap number with live music had begun. Many other props, such as chairs, ladders and oragami cranes, were used throughout the show, but UC Irvine’s Dance Department continues to take innovative steps to bring new depth to their movement.

The contemporary, technical dance “Contours,” choreographed by Stefanie Maughaun, utilized the shadow screen; as the dancers moved, their shadows became beautifully distorted and at times they seemed to disappear. Performer Andrea Ordaz, a second-year undergraduate, said, “It was my first time using the shadow screen, and even though you cannot see the audience, you have to dance even longer and more extended in order for the picture to be clear.”

I was also impressed with the music choices and the beautiful costuming. From scores composed by students to well-known artists such as Cinematic Orchestra, the emotion and tone of every eight count  seemed to dictate the music, and not the music dictating movement. Some dances displayed the athletic qualities of the dancers, with their grand leaps, frantic running and complicated floor work. With slower performances, muscle control was clearly displayed as the dancers elongated and articulated their choreography. Quirky movements were crisp and pictures were clear. The groups were clean and moved seamlessly in unison sections.

Perfectly executed dance technique makes for a good show, but it is the performance, passion and energy of the dancers that make for a great show. The closing number, “Bodies in Art,” choreographed by Sakina Ibrahimm, displayed a crowd-pleasing, electrifying hip hop-esque number. It was a fresh, contrast to the pointe, modern and contemporary that the UCI Dance Department is known for, and it exposes the Dance Department’s willingness to expand their scope and art.

“Full Out” is a term used in the dance realm that asks the dancer for 100 percent. Dance Escape 2013 was a “full out” show, from the creative costuming, the mood, setting, lighting and the uncommon props to the thoughtful choreography, unique music and — of course — beautiful, strong dancers with commanding stage presences.