March 14, 2010

Students Bring Contemporary Dance to Stage

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This past weekend’s spring dance concert featured student choreography to an unprecedented degree, sampling from a wide array of popular dance styles, many of which are more often seen on the street or in clubs than on the Schwartz Center’s main stage. The first section featured a mock dance-off between four separate dance ensembles, each suggesting a different style of hip-hop. One ensemble wore funky stripes and bright primary colors, perhaps suggesting krumping clowns, another group with jean jackets looked like steppers or ‘90s B-boys and fly-girls; one team with pastel bowling shirts popped-and-locked and another sported athletic gear and reminded one of the Laker Girls. The groups’ styles didn’t always remain distinct, but that may have been beside the point since hip-hop sub-genres are continually evolving as they blur and borrow from one another. The music accompanying these different teams was, likewise, remixes and mash-ups of snatches from pop tunes ranging from “Kids” by MGMT to “Genie in a Bottle” by Christina Aguilera to older tunes like “Over and Over” by Sylvester.Though there were a couple choreographed jeers and taunts between the street dancing groups — as well as what may have been more spontaneous, playful gestures exchanged — the groups each shared time equally in center stage while the other groups observed from the wings. In fact, every individual within each group had their chance at a solo star-turn, too, with somewhat varying success. Some of the dancers belonged to Cornell’s dance troupes, such as the Absolute Zero Breakdance Club, but I felt the very talented members of that group were constrained in the more formalized, stage format than in other performances I’ve witnessed them in. On the other hand, they may have been holding back since the dance aimed at creating a feel-good community rather than a genuinely fierce competition. I had hoped that the conclusion of the dance would include more interaction among groups instead of simply several rotations between them. Though no group was declared a winner in the dance-off, and each group had its moment to shine, my money was on the sporty troupe led by the insouciantly campy Sam Keller ’10. Keller’s group wove in high-kicks, balletic spins and splits while also showing lots of spunk and playing it up for laughs in the spirit of the piece.The second section of the program, beginning with a dance called Dreamscape choreographed by students Debbie Schneider ’10, Emma Schain ’11, Alexandra Harlig ’10 and Virginia Cromwell ’10, was my favorite, though I must admit to a bias in favor of modern dance. A staircase platform stenciled with silhouettes of showgirls’ legs was centered upstage while dancers walked up and down the steps or strode by on the floor level. In the foreground, Evelyn Chan ’11 twisted gracefully and then jerked her limbs to create a contrast. A bevy of spastic pink creatures flung themselves from the wings, twirling and diving in the middle distance, while another troupe of four dancers slowly moved around, at one point draping their folded torsos over each other. Although the movements of the dancers remained fairly simple, the choreography created an energetic stage picture that layered several types of motion, balancing a large cast to keep the eye enthralled.The second dance of this section, B-boy World, likewise entertained, using a narrative about a rebel dancer who, picked on by the more veteran members of a pinstripe and fedora wearing mafia of B-boys, splits from his dance gang to eventually come back and defeat them. While in exile, he discovers his break-dancing doppelganger in the mirror. In a clever Duck Soup-inspired mirror scene, every time the rebel dancer looked away to wash his face, his reflection would bust some moves. The two then team up to have a dance battle with the gang in which each member gets to show off their individual skillz in a dance circle, executing spins, stabs and freezes, as well as several flares (circling the legs while balancing on the hands) and one-handed handstands. The differences in the performers’ ability levels were used to good advantage here: The pinstripe mafia lost the dance battle to the tag-team of talented, triumphant upstarts.The transition to the next section, The Disco of Desire, utilized the mirror again as the cast dolled-up as if they were about to go out on the town before stepping through the mirror’s doorframe, presumably into a wicked wonderland. This section, however, featured the least inspired choreography and went on far too long. There were two different numbers that featured pole-dances by both males and females; however, while the pole-dancing itself was competent — even quite good at times, the dancers hanging topsy-turvy with legs spread then sliding slowly down the pole, for example — few if any clothes were removed despite dollars tossed at the performers by other dancers posing as the audience. What’s a strip show when it’s all strutting and no stripping? The sexy dancers were anaesthetized by the decidedly PG-13 kitsch, much like a lad mag such as Maxim is for homosocial schoolboys who don’t actually want to look at any T-and-A. The last song, James Brown’s “Get on Up,” was emblematic of how this section of the performance had its good intentions go awry. The dancers invaded the aisles while the audience was encouraged to dance in the tiny area beside their seats; by the time the audience members managed to awkwardly stand up, however, the song — as well as the show — was over.

Original Author: Will Cordeiro