Last weekend at the ’62 Center, five dance department groups pulled back the curtain and allowed the audience a peek inside the rehearsal process during their appropriately titled show, Sneak Preview. Transposing their concepts from studio to stage for the second part of their “Milestones” series, Contemporary Dance (CoDa), INISH, Kusika, Sankofa and Zambezi teased their audiences with new developments to their works-in-progress and the promise of final shows this spring. To adapt their studio performances to the MainStage, the dancers incorporated elements absent in the studio, yet vital to the overall performance, such as lighting, sound and video clips from actual dance group rehearsals.
The Irish step troupe, INISH, kicked off the show with choreography representing various stages of life, moving from their crouched positions on the floor to a simple waltz, then a full out chorus-line jig. A soothing environment enveloped the show as the dancers, the set piece and the eight-member band were all saturated in a calming blue light. Although the band, which showcased a four-person Irish chant, took up a quarter of the stage, the dancers had no problem moving around the available space. “The Rocky Road to Dublin” brought dancers and musicians together for a high-energy jig. Five female dancers circulated fluidly, creating dynamic and geometric formations reminiscent of ducks swimming in a pond.
The INISH dancers left the stage to the loud, percussive drumming of Kusika. What began as a vocal call and response between the drummers and dancers quickly turned kinetic as the dancers quickened their pace in time with the drumming. Clarissa Andre ’12 set the tone, dominating center stage with her evocative solo and answering every beat that the drummers threw at her with both flair and spice. Both her and the other dancers’ bodies became a dynamic explosion of kicks and jumps, their movements suggesting the labor of farm work as if Kusika were harvesting the energy and spirit of dance.
Following Kusika, CoDa opened its performance with a monologue and a single dancer on stage in a haunting black robe, abruptly forcing the audience to readjust their perception. The rest of the company was dressed in a similar manner: The dancers (all female) defied the “pretty ballerina” stereotype as they angrily entered the stage with dark-colored hooded sweatshirts, pulling up their hoods and kicking the floor. A lone dancer, wearing an obnoxiously pink feather boa, entered the stage in a naive Snow White-like fashion to cheer the girls up but failed and proceeded to follow the dancers around instead. Yet she struggled to hide her cheerful energy and, while all the dancers were lying on the floor, took off her mask and performed an intimate duet with another dancer. All too soon, the other dancers arose and swiftly placed the masquerade back on the couple.
CoDa carried on this tension in the next piece, choreographed to the music of Radiohead and placing three dancers in three distinct spotlights; the dark black space between the dancers fostered a feeling of anxiety. This uneasiness was pushed even further as the dancers performed ticking, tense gestures with their hands followed by speedy sporadic movements, emphasized by the hot redness of their shirts. However, the last piece CoDa performed brought some tranquility back as dancers moved fluidly, rocking back and forth to the music of Sigur Rós. The dancers would allow themselves to fall back until reaching the edge of control, then regain their balance. The dominant blueness of the stage also helped establish the feeling of ocean waves that their bodies emulated.
Sankofa soon brought on the fire. Their dancers overwhelmed the stage with the entire co-ed ensemble as Quaneece Calhoun ’11 demanded attention from the audience. The male dancers began with a step routine reminiscent of a James Brown performance and ended with their acrobatic jumps, sharp exploding angles, smooth slides and spins, tight formations and smooth criminal attire. The “Q-Axis,” chroreographed by Johannes Wilson ’11, led the men in a riotous expression of rhythms and clean geometric lines. Yet the Sankofa women hardly let the men take all the glory and combined difficult steps with sensuous and seductive movements, blending hip-hop into their routine. Their closing took it to still another level as the dancers finished intricate steps on their knees, ending with a fierce elbow pop.
Kusika reprised its blend of dance and music for another round, now with wands clashed together rhythmically by the dancers. Then African marimba band Zambezi assembled onstage to perform the bluesy “A Pedir Su Mano.” For this show, the Zambezi performers showed off their versatility, adding new instruments such as the Cajon box that provided a momentous boom to the appealing harmonies played by the marimbas. Moving around the stage and switching instruments heightened the excitement of their already energetic show.
All in all, Sneak Preview was an array of well-performed but short and unsatisfying excerpts. Though some transitions between groups felt smoother than others, the overall performance was fragmented and lacked both organization and a coherent overarching theme. Although interspersing video clips within the performances provided a refreshing look at the process and personal inspirations involved, there were an excessive number of clichéd messages. Often, these seemed to be desperate attempts on part of the dance department to regain wider appreciation among the campus at large. This was simply preaching to the choir: Who would attend but those with an appreciation for dance, or at least a willingness to support it? The final shows this upcoming spring will perhaps afford the talented ensemble members another chance to show off the importance of dance.