Art in Motion: Dance Escape

Claire Trevor School of the Arts’ Department of Dance brought their annual program of original graduate student choreography, Dance Escape 2018, to the Claire Trevor Theatre April 19 through April 21. The program showcased nine premiere routines from candidates for the Masters of Fine Arts degree in dance, and there was no shortage of novelty as every act stood on its own with different costumes, new lighting and unique style so when the curtain fell and rose between each dance, there was a tangible excitement in the audience, ready to escape into the experience.  

By the time all nine dances were wrapped, more than 50 dancers would glide across the stage, but to start the show, 12 dancers in elegant, sheer, all black dresses commanded the room with their performance of “Undercurrent.” Choreographed by Waeli Wong, this opening number was intensely fluid and desperately dramatic. Cascading patterns unfolding in complete synchronization proved to be the perfect movements to demonstrate the power of a body in motion. The piece was highlighted by breathtaking lighting (designed by Morgan Embry) that made purpose out of darkness and significance out of shadows.

The following choreographer, Robyn O’Dell aptly named his work “Hackneyed,” which by definition means “To overuse or make too familiar.” A cityscape illuminated on the backdrop and dancers emerged wearings suits, ties, slacks and other business apparel. Their movements were nearly primordial, miming a malfunctioning robot to hyperbolize the wear and tear of a life spent working. The hunched-over, clunky steps soon picked up as the music turned playful and curious. The newfound joy in the dancers captured the rhythm of the city.

A solemnly peaceful sound of wind began the next dance “do not go gentle,” choreographed by David McMahan, as four dancers (Carrie Cox, Hazal Gurcan, Gabrielle Pariseau and Rachel Wu) moved with each gust. It is impossible to compare such unique dances, but “do not go gentle” was undeniably stunning.  There has never been a more graceful heartbreak or a more irresistible release of pain. The stage was beautifully lit with a smoky, heavenly spotlight this time by the second lighting designer Avery Reagan.

The last two performances before intermission, “but is it affective?” (choreographed by Kira Bessey) and “Primed” (choreographed by Chelsea Asman) were exhibit A and B of the “wide spectrum of choreographic explorations,” in the words of Artistic Director Kelli Sharp, that Dance Escape 2018 had to offer. Loud crashes of what sounded like breaking plates, horizontal flashing street lights and eclectic flowy pants characterized the fun tiki-taka movements of “but is it affective?” while “Primed” was defined by formalized athletic maneuvers and leaps made possible by the impressive strength and endurance of the duo of Lexington DeMark and Rachel Wu.

Classical score met modern movement in the choreography of “Overcome” (Jacob Machmer).  Ten dancers all dressed in black relied on each other through every compelling, divine movement. The inspiring group effort in “Overcome” was contrasted by the capability of the individual in the following solo “Dancing in Madness” choreographed and performed by Sukanya Kumar. Kumar’s traditional Indian dance was perfection, from her delicate hands in beautiful shapes raised above her head right down to the  bangles around her ankles shaking with every tap of her feet. “Eyes for Eyes” choreographed by Andrea Ordaz featured seven performers in contemporary outfits dancing to a heavy drum beat. Something about the dance felt deeply ritualistic, and perhaps these seasoned dancers were trained to have it seem as though they were all meant to be together. The ceremonial way in which they shared the stage evoked an incredibly powerful energy throughout the audience. The final work of the night “Beats on beats!” choreographed by Robert Laos, was a grand celebration of all dance forms, drawing inspiration particularly from hip hop, jazz, and Western African dance. Its cool, urban energy was a blissful end to a remarkable program.

It’s no surprise that Dance Escape is a student favorite every year, and the 2018 show continued the tradition of groundbreaking choreography that has become expected of the UCI dance department.