New Dances 2012 is currently in full swing, and this year’s production is bigger than ever. Sporting a cast of roughly 44 performers, 20 of which perform on stage at once during the show’s finale, it really is a sight to behold.
The show is an annual spring production put on by the Theatre and Dance departments and the UAA Dance Club, with auditions taking place every January and practices beginning in February.
“There’s a lot of late night practices and weekend practices, and each person only gets one practice a week for two hours,” said dancer Bonnie Moring, a management senior minoring in dance. “This year it worked really well.”
In years passed, a majority of the dance performances have been modern pieces, which are more expressive of feelings and more open to interpretation. This year, hip hop makes a much stronger appearance. Guest choreographer Teena Custer created a fun piece exploring the dual identity of rappers and dancers in the hip hop community, called “Braggin’ Rites.” Co-choreographers Joshua Washington and Richard Beltzer created a more lyrical hip hop piece, called “Classic Ish,” which tells a sort of love story using music from Michael Jackson, Musiq Soulchild and John Legend. “Classic Ish” opens the show.
“‘Classic Ish’ is different types of hip hop. The first is definitely Michael Jackson-influenced hip hop, and the other two are more lyrical hip hop; you go with the words and it’s a lot smoother,” said Moring. “It’s not quite the hard-hitting big stuff; it’s more intricate.”
Despite the increased presence of hip hop, there are modern pieces performed throughout the show, and they don’t disappoint in variety. Debra Johnson Blouin choreographed one piece about language and finding ways to understandably communicate. “Lost and Found: In Translation” is divided into two groups of dancers under either blue or red lighting who dance very differently from one another. The three dancers lit in red typically dance lower to the floor and with more grounded movements, while the three dancers lit in blue make leaps and gestures reaching upward. As the performance continues, both groups come to an understanding of each other through their dances. The groups converge as the blue and red lighting slowly envelops all as they dance together in one larger group.
Another piece of note is “Henry,” by Scott Heverling and Tyche Privett. This piece is distinctly different due to its grotesque feel, with dancers looking more frightening and angry than graceful. The dance is supposed to represent the monsters that can reside within people, purposefully creating a sense of confusion and uncertainty in the crowd. It is easily the most intense piece of the production, and is strategically placed near the middle of the program so that the audience can recover from the stark difference and end the show in a more cheery mood.
The finale, choreographed by dance professor Leslie Kimiko Ward, is without a doubt the most crowd-pleasing routine in the show. “Bro-down,” takes every male stereotype imaginable and has fun with it. During the preview showing, the entire audience was laughing, clapping and cheering the dancers on as they performed; no other piece generated such a large or positive crowd reaction.
Unfortunately it is the last piece that Ward will be choreographing for UAA. After this semester she’ll be leaving the university and moving to Portland.
“[I’ll miss] everything: the people, nature and the opportunity to really be a free artist and to have that feeling of ‘the sky’s the limit’ in terms of what you can create,” she said. “There’s a lot of things that I’ve learned here that I look forward to taking with me when I go.”
Students who’ve worked with Ward will miss her dearly.
“I love her; I love her choreography, and I’m really sad she’s going. I think we all are,” said choreographer Karlyn Grotts, an early education senior minoring in dance. “All of her pieces are very entertaining, and they all connect to us in some way. She’s very good at bringing out emotions in the audience.”
To her students, Ward has very specific instructions for after she leaves.
“Find me on Facebook; we’ll stay in touch.”
Her final contribution as a UAA faculty member, “Bro-down,” is both a fantastic end to a thought-provoking show, and an uplifting farewell to the university Ward has enjoyed working at for the past six years.
“Oh, this is a wonderful place, and this is a vibrant, vibrant dance community here at UAA. I feel very fortunate to have been able to continually evolve here as an artist and to see things develop,” she said. “It’s been such a gift.”
New Dances 2012 will be running until April 22, with Friday and Saturday performances starting at 8 p.m. and Sunday performances beginning at 6 p.m. Tickets are $12 for general admission, and $10 for students with a valid UAA ID.