March 30, 2007

The Fu Cha Cha of Dance

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Beauty comes in a variety of forms. Sometimes it is merely pretty: simple, aesthetically pleasing and easy to understand. At other times though, it can be frightening: jarring, mysterious and captivating, it forces its way under your skin and doesn’t let go. N2 Da Fu Cha Cha: Dance Concert 2007 was the latter.

N2 Da Fu Cha Cha (Into the future) was performed in the Schwartz’s Kiplinger Theatre last weekend by the Department of Theatre, Film and Dance. Directed by Jim Self, Senior Lecturer in Dance, the show was made up of three experimental pieces that explored the movement of the human body and questioned the direction that dance would take as it moved into the future.

The first, “Planes,” was choreographed by Jumay Chu. The piece at first felt shocking and disjointed. The dancers, a clash of yellow, blood orange and red, moved jerkily in their separated isolated bubbles. As the piece moved on, though, they came together, creating a unity out of the discord. At times they seem alien and almost inhuman, until certain moments where one or two came together, moving in synchronized forms across the stage. The music wasn’t music in the comfortable sense of the word; instead it was pure, elemental sound: dripping water, discombulated tones, or complete silence except for the dancers’ breathing.

On the back wall of the stage, abstract paintings by Amaechi Okigbo (associate professor of landscape architecture) were projected, filling in the negative space between the dancers bodies. Each movement, each aspect was a series of contradictions; both distant and personal, both minimalist and cluttered. At times, dancers were hidden behind screens and then later revealed; in the back of the viewer’s mind was the knowledge that there was something hidden and not entirely accessible, something that they can’t always see. The effect was disturbing and breathtaking; one didn’t have to like the form to appreciate its beauty. Unlike the trancelike effect many forms of dance may have on an audience, Planes forced you to be constantly, always aware as you tried to grasp for meaning.

The second piece, “Hi Pop,” a collaboration between Self and his student, Jon Wong, was a medley of recent dance styles and an exploration of newer ones. The entire piece was a colorful, joyous anthem to the history and future of pop: funk, hip, projections of pop icons dancing in the background, polka dots and squares and so many colors, even on the dancers themselves. The joy was present on the dancers’ faces as they jived, popped and heel-toed, inviting the audience in with them. There was a sort of ironic humor to it, as the dancers teased the audience and laughed at themselves. Where the first piece was unified through its discord, “Hi Pop” was always a collaboration between leaders and followers, between different dance movements, between the past and present and future, between human beings.

The last piece, “Open Portal,” was an ambitious experimental interaction between the dancers and the audience. It was not a dance so much as a game: the emcee, best described as a cross dressing ballerina clown, passed out iClickers to the audience. During each segment, a group of dancers would come on stage and perform a style of dance, and the audience would vote on who the dancers were, what they were doing and finally, what they wanted the dancers to do later (much like iClicker quizzes in lecture, but without the stress of being wrong). Because of this, each performance was different, suprising to both the dancers and the audience as it changed from moment to moment, complimented by the spontaneous style of Adam Matta’s beat boxing. Both his accompaniment and the audience’s participation gave the work an animated fluidity, allowing it to change and remold itself in ways most set-in-stone performances couldn’t.

On the stage was a white cylinder opening, a portal into the dancer’s world. Though the fourth wall between performers and audience was still there (the emcees were the only ones who actually interacted with the audience), the portal gave the audience a glimpse of what it looked like within the dancers world, so that they were an active part of the performance instead of distantly observing it through the outside of the fish bowl.

Though there were moments throughout the show that stage became too busy to focus on the really beautiful movement that was occurring, overall the performance was a bold, ambitious statement about the mutual dependence of performers and audience. At the same time, it took past dance forms and remolded them, asking the unsettling question: what is dance’s Fu Cha… Cha?