Courtesy of Cornell University

March 9, 2020

Locally Grown Dance Outgrows Expectations

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Let me start by confessing that I’ve never danced in my life. My grandparents sent me to Ballet classes when I was five or so but I sneaked out to join the Taekwondo kids downstairs every single time. Yet I do enjoy watching people dance. I remembered walking out of Mini Locally Grown Dance at the end of last semester absolutely blown away, and regretted not having taken advantage of my department’s dance division. This year’s Locally Grown Dance was no different, and I feel like I have to put at least some of my thoughts in words so you don’t miss out any longer.

Unlike Mini Locally Grown Dance, which featured a range of short dances from different choreographers, this year’s LGD consisted only of four large pieces, each driven by a specific theme. The first piece of the night, titled “Tunneling,” was about “subversive transformation or transgression.” A tunnel links two spaces that are divided geographically, politically or culturally; it can also be created on a personal level where one transitions out of one’s internal struggles towards the light.

What was also particularly interesting to me was the director and choreographer Byron Suber’s choice to include video projection in the performance. Frankly, “Tunneling” appeared as a video art show more than anything. Coming from a film and installation background, I found the use of projection utterly captivating, but my friend felt like there wasn’t nearly enough dance. “They [the dancers] don’t even need to be there most of the time, you know.”

While I agree that in some sections the projection and the movement on stage could’ve been integrated better, I was nevertheless impressed by the ambitious formal experimentation. The projection on layers of opaque meshy fabric created a dream-like space that immediately transitioned the viewer into the world of the dance. I also was (and still am) in love with quite a few of the videos — the opening piece of the dancers gazing longingly into the camera amongst spring blossoms and the sporadic kaleidoscopic effect imposed on the footage of women running in the woods was one of my favorites. I’d already seen the concluding dance, or at least a version of it in Mini LGD, but the addition of video elements took it to a whole other level. A dancer’s image would first appear on a small square screen upstage right, where she got out of the bulky orange jumpsuit and then the blazer and tulle dress underneath it, until she stripped down to the last layer that hugged her body gently like a ray of moonlight. One by one they then emerged from a mere image into reality, walking through the slits on the screen so seamlessly and gracefully that they really did appear as ethereal beings.

“Follow” was also a reprise of a piece from last semester. I enjoyed the costume choice of masculine suits with pronounced, strong shoulder pads, but I still wonder if it added anything to the piece as a whole.

“Atelier 320: upending” was again a collaboration between two art forms — dance and calligraphy. The piece was envisioned in response to Taiwanese calligrapher Tong Yang-Tze’s bold and delicate work, currently on view at the Johnson Museum. Choreographer Jumay Chu wrote that “the brushstrokes of the video Sao are vertiginous traces which press deeply into the mind, and they have inspired the dancers to create movements which race with abandon and yet hold stillness.” The ensemble’s movements were synchronistic yet fast-changing, and the constant making and breaking of patterns reminded me of the calligraphy lessons I took as a child. “The seemingly endless repetition was not supposed to create perfection,” I remembered the teacher telling me; “it’s about embracing each moment with grace.”

And Sharaf DarZaid’s “To Be…” was simply a tour de force by the palestinian guest artist. When the spotlight came on stage and he raised his arm with the first note of the music the entire auditorium stopped breathing for a second. DarZaid’s precise movements were so attuned to the rhythm of the music that it almost seemed like he had been possessed by the music — or rather that he had been transformed by it. The set design and costume of the piece was minimal compared to the rest of the performances, yet he had this exceptional sense of control — both of his own body and of the space — that his mere presence was enough to captivate the audience. And something about “To Be…” screamed emotions; it wasn’t just a showcase of his dancing talent, but also a story of becoming, of searching for one’s identity, of grief and bereavement and also of pride and hope. With his body, his facial expressions and most importantly his soul, DarZaid invited us into a complex story that’s nothing short of profound.



Ruby Que is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences. Escape runs alternate Thursdays this semester. She can be reached at [email protected].