Courtesy of PMA

December 6, 2021

In Mini Locally Grown Dance, a Joyful Return to the Stage

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Dance is inherently about connection, moving, breathing and feeling the physical weight of one’s fellow dancers. In the almost two years since the pandemic began, dancers and choreographers have had to continuously adapt to new restrictions and guidelines. Students in dance courses in Cornell’s Performance and Media Arts (PMA) department have experienced the whole gamut of these changes, adjusting to hybrid dance classes over Zoom, virtual concerts and performing in masks. 

So with a sigh of relief and return to a new normal, PMA held its first live student dance performance in the Schwartz Center from Dec. 2-4. This Mini Locally Grown Dance exhibition featured four works which will be featured again in their fully-realized capacity at the end of the spring semester in the annual Locally Grown Dance show.

Mini Locally Grown Dance promised to “surprise and, in some ways, comfort both the performers and the audience.” Having not attended an in-person dance performance since pre-pandemic, I certainly found comfort and exhilaration in seeing bodies move on stage just a few feet away. The intimate setting of the Class of ’56 Dance Theatre, where the audience is seated on risers directly above the stage, was the perfect way to return to dance. To see the sharp lines and muscles of the dancers and hear their breathing as the lights dim is to experience a snapshot of time existing solely for the dancers and audience.

The first of the four pieces was choreographed by the Dance Composition class in collaboration with PMA Senior Lecturer Byron Suber, who served as faculty mentor. The most casual of the four pieces, with dancers dressed in colorful athleticwear and masks, the mixture of dynamics and intentions shined, with each of the 13 dancers having an opportunity to perform outside of the larger group. The interesting use of venue and unexpected synthesis of music kept the piece engaging.

The second work, choreographed collaboratively by Suber along with the four dancers, Hayden Garniewicz ʼ23, Hannah McManus ʼ22, Madeline Silva ʼ22 and Naomi Wang ʼ22, was entitled “Belucid.” Performed to fast-paced percussive instrumentals, the piece was precise, strong and geometric. Seeming to relish the ability to perform with others, the dancers sometimes paused in lifts, hand-holding and brief moments of relief as they draped onto one another with intentionality. Suber appreciates the opportunity for closeness, saying that “[partnering] adds a lot more poignancy to it, the fact that they can be close to each other and actually make physical contact.” “Belucid” is dynamically intricate and  the dancers are constantly connected, physically or through shared intention and emotion. The multiple years the students have worked in PMA with Suber shows in their synchrony; their collaboration has produced a synthesized, grounded and captivating work. 

The third piece was choreographed by visiting artist Miles Yeung, in his second year with PMA. Last year, Yeung taught virtually, with dancers in shifting cohorts. This year, being able to teach and choreograph in person, he says, “has been so much better.” He adds, “Dance is about energetic exchange. It isn’t just about taking, it’s about exchanging.” Yeung’s work this fall is entitled “Event Horizon,” a name which came out of a conversation with one of the six dancers in the piece, an Astronomy major who shared that the term describes the edge of a black hole. The dance is based on a desire to explore, as he puts it, “pleasure as a way to resist capitalism, and how through pleasure, we have different access to time.” The piece is powerful and sometimes almost animalistic. An early motion of hand swirling and stomping brings to mind a matador enticing the audience. There’s a sense of smug urgency as the dancers peel through the space. Circular and orbital movements tie into the idea of space and black holes, with dancers wearing black jumpsuits in which Yeung calls them “space-time astronauts.” I felt invigorated by the piece, and eagerly look forward to its finalized rendition in the spring.

The final piece, choreographed by Suber, was a revival of a ballet he choreographed in 1985 to excerpts from Bach’s Solo Cello Suit #1. The maneuvering of dancers through the space was constant, in a style that felt grounded yet light. The movement was at times sharp, allowing dancers’ quick and clean technique to shine through, and at others more gentle and wistful. 

Both Suber and Yeung spoke about the different ways dancing apart from others has impacted their work this year. In some ways, ideas of loss and grief have permeated and influenced dance; in others, the relief of being able to connect and move with others has brought appreciation and reassurance. Suber reflected that “For me, there’s more joy in what’s happening in terms of the pieces that we’re making…there’s a lot more passion coming through because [we] were so restricted for so long.” Yeung added “there’s a lot of loss that happened last year, we lost a lot of time, we lost a lot of people. Hopefully through this and through the work we also learn all the things we gain.”

I am incredibly glad that my return to dance was at Mini Locally Grown Dance. The creativity and heart permeating the performance made me excited for what is to come for dancers at Cornell and PMA. 

Even when dance is heavy and dark, it reminds me of all there is to be grateful for: the ability to move, to commune with others, to create art. In Yeung’s words: “Ultimately, people now are just glad to have a stage to dance on…to take whatever they can take.”

Eliza Salamon is a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at [email protected].