Courtesy of Cornell University

March 27, 2023

Locally Grown Dance Takes a Bold Leap

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American modern dancer and choreographer Martha Graham once said that “great dancers are not great because of their technique, they are great because of their passion.” While watching the Performing and Media Arts Department’s recent production of Locally Grown Dance, I experienced the dancers’ visceral joy and passion for the work they were showcasing. 

Held in the Schwartz Center for the Performing Arts’ Kiplinger Theater on March 9, 10 and 11, Locally Grown Dance featured a series of student dance performances choreographed and spatially organized by student, faculty and guest choreographers. These nine pieces were comprised of four longer performances, Ariadne’s Noose, Beautiful Monsters, Unraveling and CRICKET, that were interspersed with five shorter pieces or interludes. All of these works were supported by live and pre-recorded music, beautiful costumes, vivid lighting and scenic design. 

Although all of the performances were captivating to watch, some of the standouts of the night included Ariadne’s Noose, Beautiful Monsters, CRICKET and the interludes that introduced the audience to the atmosphere of the pieces following them. Starting off the production, Interlude No. 1 (Prelude) drew the audience into this bold world of dance. Dancer Annika Deutsch ʼ24 delivered a performance that contrasted flowy yet heavy movements. The audience witnessed a person’s struggle to rise as emphasized by Deutsch’s shadow being cast onto a yellow screen behind her, looming over and almost swallowing her throughout the piece. 

Following the first interlude, Ariadne’s Noose, the longest and most resource-intensive performance of the production, continued to build on the theme of struggle and the overwhelming feeling of being lost. Taking inspiration from the Greek myth of Ariadne, who helped guide her lover Theseus out of the Minotaur’s Labyrinth with a thread, the piece metaphorically represented the many mazes we face in our own lives. Guided by the thread of the soaring sopranos Sarah Lynch ʼ25 and Jenny Park ʼ23, the dancers portrayed the complicated reality of overcoming obstacles while still feeling lost – a relevant theme given the collective confusion and feelings of lostness precipitated by the pandemic.  

The next performance piece, Interlude No. 2, showcased stronger group movement. Bathed in green light and wearing stunning chiffon costumes designed by artist Kumi Korf, dancers Annika Deutsch ʼ24, Charlotte Hee ʼ24 and Anna Rose Marion ʼ25 captivated the audience as they reached out to us and their fellow dancers, echoing each other with synchronized circular movements that, along with the verdant lighting and costumes, artistically portrayed the natural world. 

Although short, this sharp and dynamic piece acted as the perfect introduction to Beautiful Monsters, the second longer performance piece before intermission. Featuring unique video design by veteran dancer Olive Prince and Schwartz administrator Steven Blasberg, Beautiful Monsters saw smoke overwhelming the scrim and the dancers trying to find each other, pushing through the projected smog and fumes. Incorporating the circular, synchronized group movements of the prior interlude and supported by static, intense electronic music, Beautiful Monsters highlighted the erosion of nature and relationships in a seemingly dystopian world that, thanks to climate change, may not be so far from our own. 

After intermission, the pieces took on a livelier, lighthearted tone, directly contrasting the increasing darkness of the prior performances. For instance, Interlude No.4 featured a group of ten dancers twirling and running onstage to the upbeat score of Steven Reich’s “Drumming.” Wearing similarly vivid chiffon costumes as those seen earlier during Interlude No. 2, the dancers whirled across the stage like monarch butterflies, creating a tornado of colors in their flight. Besides creating an aesthetically pleasing piece, the interlude succeeded in lifting the spirits of the audience and adequately transitioning into the high-energy, group focused Unraveling and Interlude No.5

Ending the night, the performance culminated in another long piece, CRICKET. Through dancer and choreographer Miles Yeung-Tieu’s choreography, dancers Annika Currie ʼ25, Trent Edwards ʼ23, Colton Edwards ʼ23, Charlotte Hee ʼ24, Austin Johnson ʼ26 and Anna Rose Marion ʼ25 showcased the beauty of specific, minute movements amidst the complexity of larger ensemble choreography. Further supporting the choreography and highlighting the dancers’ talent, the set and lighting slowly faded throughout the piece, transitioning from a white backdrop with colorful lighting to a bare stage with minimal lighting. As more design elements were stripped, the audience was able to focus on the dancing as the performers were left with lots of empty space and, eventually, no music to inform their movements. Although striking and perhaps confusing for some audience members, the final image of the six dancers moving through space and embracing the rhythm of their breath and heartbeat demonstrated how dance is enough of a spectacle on its own. 

Sitting in the Kiplinger Theater and watching the beautiful, bold and abstract performances captured onstage in Locally Grown Dance, it became clear that the goal of dance is not to be understood or to give answers, but to be experienced. The united passion of the musicians, designers, choreographers and dancers created a work that was truly great.   

Emily Pugh is a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at [email protected].