Dance Ensemble moves together through change of dynamics

Dancing as an ensemble challenges members to create collaborative as well as creative movements. The UAA Dance Ensemble in Concert defies expectations of how a modern dance piece is created in the first place, including the process of creating the choreography and defining meaning toward each piece.

The concert is the debut of new material performed by the four men and four women in Ensemble. UAA Theatre and Dance faculty members Brian Jeffery and Katya Kuznetsova choreographed individual pieces. Typically, student choreographers are invited to contribute pieces in the spring, but the instruction of Jeffery and Kuznetsova provides an intimate and innovative concert.

Also featured in the program are alumni Ensemble members and UAA students Walter Barillas and Irenerose Castillo, who will be performing a duet called “Perfect Strangers.” The pair has been dancing together since high school and have developed a sense of synergy, Kuznetsova said. The piece can be associated with a relationship between a man and woman, but Kuznetsova isn’t labeling “Perfect Strangers” with one meaning.

“To me, the title is open enough for people to make their own connection to what they see, which I’m always interested in people finding their own story in the piece,” Kuznetsova said.

Kuznetsova, who choreographed the duet, will be debuting her first solo, “Salida.” The name is inspired by Argentine tango terms and means a foot pattern, or to enter and exit. She said the piece is a nontraditional tango that invokes a feeling of surrender without overthinking.

“It’s a very vulnerable experience. It’s like I am reading a page of my journal, and I have to be very generous with how I share my experience or else it’s a lie,” Kuznetsova said.

Jeffery’s piece, “The Distance Between Us,” demonstrates a nonliteral interpretation of distance through movement. The piece features an electric mix of music by Mice Parade, Broken Social Scene, Bonobo and more.

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There is a suggestion of a level of theatricality even though there’s not a specific narrative that carries throughout the piece, Jeffery said.

Jeffery was a director of a professional physical theatre company for 15 years and often brings innovative forms of expression to the stage. He has utilized every form he can with both film and video on stage, live music, actual theater and the use of voice whether it’s with narrative text or vocal soundscapes. He said he’s always looking for new ways to reinvent those techniques.

In regards to how he conceptualizes his choreography, Jeffery said that the content or narrative of the piece comes to mind first and is followed by his search to find music to support his idea.

“I try to look at the assets of the individual performer and capitalizing on that instead of trying to fit into a role,” Jeffery said. “I enjoy looking into what the individual does well.”

He said inspiration for the piece comes from the quantity of years he’s existed.

“The Distance Between Us” stems from positive and negative experiences he’s encountered, whether it’s sharing in the joy of friends or losing a relative, which can be tragic and unexpected. The piece is also relative to distance, such as the physical and emotional proximity of a relationship.

Similar to Kuznetsova, Jeffery doesn’t have a single interpretation of the piece. He compared modern dance to abstract paintings. It’s to be appreciated for its qualities which can also be found in dance, Jeffery said.

“That’s a misconception that a lot of people have, that there is a specific literal meaning behind dance,” Jeffery said. “And if people don’t see it, they don’t get it. That’s not always the case.”

This is the first semester that Dance Club President and pre-nursing junior Josh Lee has been performing with Dance Ensemble. He said that while his other dance classes focus on solitary movement, working as a group in Dance Ensemble challenges him to do something different.

“Everybody has different levels of techniques,” Lee said. “Sometimes it’s challenging working with everyone in Ensemble, but when we do get together it’s fun. It’s rewarding.”

Lee, who will be performing in “The Distance Between Us,” said it began very randomly as Ensemble members developed phrases and movements that are now formed into a cohesive piece.

“The piece is about communication, and each of the Ensemble members have to communicate with each other,” Lee said. “And it might not be verbal, but we have to sense what each other is doing, so we give our fullest commitment to excellence while dancing the piece.”

This year’s Dance Ensemble in Concert is journalism senior Stephanie Griffin’s thirteenth production with the group. Griffin was part of the selection process of new Ensemble members this semester. There’s something individually unique and interesting to watch with everyone in Ensemble, Griffin said.

She said “The Distance Between Us” deals with relationships in several instances. Her husband was deployed to Iraq, which makes the piece significant to her in ways that are different from other members of Ensemble. Griffin added that the piece is about the highs and lows of life, and that it’s not good to dwell on endings but focus on the possibilities of all things new.

The piece is formulated with constant changes of dynamic. There’s a feeling of ease and then there are moments of intensity, Griffin said.

She praised Jeffery as a choreographer for Dance Ensemble as someone who is able to create pieces that are interesting to observe or to be a part of.

“A lot of the pieces he works on tends to deal with such a matter that we’re not always open to talk about as human beings,” Griffin said. “He brings out the beauty of those things through dance and through text but mostly through movement.”