As pulsating beats filled the auditorium, dancers swept across the stage with fluid and contorted movement while stage lights transitioned from cool blues to warm, golden hues.
Before the performance on Friday, the majority of the audience quickly merged to the center seats of the Mainstage Theater in anticipation of New Dances 2008. The select dance pieces showcase a collaborative effort between faculty and student choreographers of the Department of Theatre and Dance.
New Dances incorporates interpretive body movement and the use of technology in music and drop-screen visuals to present a captivating performance for two hours of modern dance.
The buzz from the audience’s chatter quickly hushed as the stage lights dimmed. New Dances opened with dance faculty member Brian Jeffery’s piece “Several Things About Spring.” Male dancers in white suits paired with girls in dresses, while occasionally holding red flowers to signify springtime. The performance was a nice way to think of spring as a time of rejuvenation while most Alaskans are groaning over breakup season and the lack of greenery.
Aurora Pease’s choreography of “Heartstrings,” set to Emilie Simon’s crooning voice, proved that one pair of dancers can capture the audience’s attention without several moving on stage. Performers Christopher Branche and Kat Cunningham dressed in black with a striking red cloth-like rope attached to their chests. The attachment kept the pair struggling from each other’s violent and sensual grasp during their performance. One often dominated the other by their “heartstring” as they would pull, kick and embrace each other until the end of the piece. Cunningham’s presence stood out that night with her ability to effortlessly create different moods through dance in several of the performances.
One of the most interesting aspects of New Dances is the use of lighting and visuals, which serves as a beneficial part of the choreography. One of these performances that utilized lighting was “Fusion,” which had a seamless transition from dull, muted gray colors with the sound and look of rain dripping from the drop screen, to warm red tones lighting the metallic gold costumes of the dancers.
After a brief intermission, the audience members were barely able to resituate themselves before the stage lit up an eerie scene with an illustrated angel dancing across the drop screen, her face covered by a gas mask. The following sequence conjoined modern dance and theatrics, in which a male dancer chased a female, pretending to violently hit and abuse her to the point of death. Two dancers in angel costumes and gas masks seemed to float about the stage while another dressed in a straitjacket sat in a rocking chair. The uneasy sound of the fighting couple and the lulling music of CocoRosie created a jarring effect. Ruby Kennell’s choreography had reached its peak when GeorgeAnne Sprinkle, her radiant red hair gleaming under the dim light, struggled to stand after being freed from the straitjacket. Sprinkle gave a startling but captivating performance toward the end of the piece. Kennel’s choreography made the most use of visuals, with help from Craig Updegrove as the animation and project design collaborator. The black and white image of barbed wire and blossoming roses was stunning, even unsettling, with the disorder surrounding the performance.
Undoubtedly one of the most memorable performances of the night was Katya Kuznetsova’s “Ruffle Shuffle.” The stage was intermittently filled with vivid colors of tulle petticoats. The audience erupted in laughter as the dancers pranced comically around the stage with the petticoats as tails and around their necks. In contrast to the performances beforehand, the women flashed their smiles and playfully danced in and out of the stage. The music accompanying the performance presented a “folk-nouveau” style with music that sounded like French lounge transitioning to salsa. In one particular crowd-pleasing moment, one dancer greedily combined all of the petticoats to appear as a gigantic ball of colored tulle as she jovially danced on stage.
This year’s performance also featured choreographer Augusto Soledad, artistic director of Brazz Dance Theater of Miami, Fla. His piece, “Divertimento,” featured eight male and female members of the UAA Dance Ensemble. Bright light flooded the stage while increasingly rhythmic movement gave the lure of the Afro-Brazilian tradition. The performance featured fast-paced, pounding movement that occasionally received a holler from the audience. In his choreographer’s note, Soledade says that “Divertimento” represents a free-spirited dance. The dancers took full advantage of this with an upsurge of movement toward the final performance of the night.
From comical routines to jarring performances that left the audience unsettled but intrigued, the student and faculty choreography and dynamism of the dancers presented a fresh variety of movement to bring in the new season of spring.
New Dances will be performed at the UAA Fine Arts Building until April 20. Show times are Friday-Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 6 p.m. General admission is $10 and $8 for UAA students with ID. Tickets are available through the UAA Theatre Box Office by calling 786-4TIX.