March 12, 2012

Expecting the Unexpected

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This is what the Locally Grown Dance Festival offers: five days of dance including performances from solo artists and dance troupes hailing from both Cornell and Ithaca College, as well as some out of town dancers, and some manner of cohesion to tie it all together, at least this is what the festival pamphlet advertises. Cohesion is difficult thing to promise when you consider that performances included a mixture of classical and modern dance, salsa, hip-hop, belly dance and abstract dance. The festival’s tagline is “Expect the unexpected,” which would be the natural frame of thought considering the vast array of performances and artists at different mastery levels. Unfortunately, this is only a review of one night of performance, therefore I have not benefited from witnessing the true cohesiveness of the festival as a whole, and the element may have eluded me entirely. One night however should suffice in giving you a taste of the kinds of performances that Locally Grown has to share. This past Friday’s performance showcased the intermediary act of the Breaking series, a three-part performance from a Cornellian dance troupe which incorporates the same live-playing classical music of Olivier Messiaen, Arvo Pärt, and Astor Piazzolla with occasional “breaks” of recorded music to add a totally new style of dance into the performance. This week it was Breaking Bette, and the soft, fluid motions of classical music were broken with the fast and severe sounds of the Street Beat Drum Corps, the likes of which inspired refreshingly young and energetic hip-hop-inspired dance moves. Bryon Suber, Festival Director and Senior Lecturer, Dance, told me that each segment of the Breaking series integrated the same live classical music but altered the recorded music for each subsequent show. It’s a great way to spice up each performance and add variation to the sounds of piano and cello.The next performances followed a similar route of briefly mixing musical genres and songs. It was a showcase of binary oppositions: classical and modern, fast and slow, constructed and deconstructed. The most peculiar was the Groundwork performance by Jacob Slominski, who somersaulted in the same spot for approximately ten minutes. The sound of his feet landing on the ground set the tempo for this music-less performance. Faster and faster he tumbled overhead, his frustration growing more audible with the rhythmic pounding of his feet. Finally, when it seemed he could somersault not longer, he stopped, and the audience clapped.  Visiting Korean dancer and teacher Bo Kyung gave us the most emotional performance in Unquenchable (thirst), a dance that definitely reflected some of the aforementioned contrasts. One minute she’d be artfully moving her body in a ballet-like arch and the next she would throw her body on the floor not ungracefully, but with a quick brusqueness that was unexpected from such a fluid beginning. Just as quickly, however, she would elegantly pick herself off the floor into a somewhat upright position, only to be forcefully swayed once more by some seemingly unseen force. Hers was a dance that signified suffering and internal torment, as well as mastery of her body’s movements in dance. While I believe that the Locally Grown Dance Festival must be viewed in its entirety in order to understand the true flow from act to act and what ties all of them together, one day of performances was enough to understand that Locally Grown is complex assortment of acts. Recurring musical numbers with remixed moves and bits of inter-genre mingling don’t really tell me what I’m supposed to understand—what is linking these acts together. I’m looking for meaning in each of these dances and trying to link them together; yet, dance is a form of communication that’s not always readily understandable to an onlooker. The process of understanding dance is almost like learning a new language. One has to spend time watching a certain dance or a group of dancers to discern their movements and understand what they are trying to communicate to the viewer. Modern dance, with its graceful and abstract movements, can be famously hard to decode. Maybe there is no meaning. Maybe the dancers just dance according to the natural response of their bodies, as I noted the dance troupe in Breaking Bette was oft to do. Whatever the case the movements and musical choices showcased in Locally Grown were definitely “unexpected.”

Original Author: Katherine Carreno