Last Friday and Saturday, the Williams College Department of Dance presented the promising beginnings of larger works by all five companies, showing how hard they have been working since the start of the year. The occasion also served to introduce the three guest artists, Alison Fippinger, Visiting Artist in Residence Nia Love and Visiting Artist in Residence in African Music Performance Tendai Muparutsa, who have been assisting with choreography and teaching all year. The performance began with a short introduction of the entire Dance Department faculty, each of whom has a close role with one of the five companies.
The first company to perform was INISH, which specializes in traditional Celtic dance and song. Their first dance, entitled “The Crossing,” was the most modern of their pieces. The choreography consisted of all of the INISH dancers slowly entering the stage, each carrying a suitcase. They lunged across the stage with great care, often pausing to lay down in a delicate pose before beginning their journey again. Unlike most of the dances performed, the movements were not at all synchronized between the dancers, each of which seemed to exist in her own world. The next dance, “The Pier,” was closer to expectations, with the performers staying light on their toes as they leapt across the stage.
An all-male band called The Kellys then performed an Irish folk song, singing with equal measures of musical talent and humor. Piper Kevin Eagan ’15 then entered the stage, providing the main background music for “Scottish Fling” on the bagpipes. The dancers remained totally synchronized in their movements, moving from a grid form in the beginning into a diagonal line across the stage. After this upbeat number, INISH’s performance took on a more somber tone with “Maid of Culmore,” a folk song about lost love. The entire company was once again reunited in the finale, for which they all wore heavy tap shoes that added a new musical element to their dance.
Next up was the Contemporary Dance Ensemble (CoDa), a group that has its focus in modern dance, with specific interest in experimentation and kinetic feeling. Their portion of the show began with a short film entitled LeWitticisms: CoDa at MASS MoCA. This video showed and explained a recent performance in which they danced in front of the Sol LeWitt murals on display at the MASS MoCA (“CoDa takes show to MASS MoCA,” Nov. 7).
The first two dances did not feature the entire company, but rather each had four specially chosen dancers. The first, set to jazz music, had a playful and mischievous quality; the second, set to dubstep music, was much more innovative. The combination of hard and soft movements made the dance very interesting to watch and allowed for a greater variety of expressions. CoDa’s finale, which featured the entire company, was divided into two distinctive parts. Set to classical music by Igor Stravinsky, the movements were grounded in nature, giving the performers a natural, often animalistic feel. Occasionally, one dancer would break away from the group whilst the rest reclined in fixed poses.
In a stark contrast to the precise, formal performance given by CoDa, Sankofa brought its unique flavor to the stage. As members of a step team, Sankofa dancers does not rely on music, but rather create their own rhythms by stomping, clapping and slapping their bodies in a variety of incredibly synchronized movements. Each of the dances, often divided between the ladies and the men, was rather short in comparison. The audience was not only allowed, but even encouraged to be as vocal as they pleased, with constant encouragement being directed at specific group members as they performed.
“Mac n’ Cheese,” performed only by the Sankofa women, was playful and humorous, as they sang child-like lyrics to accompany their dance. The men performed the finale, “Falcon Punch.” The dance was extremely powerful, with by far the fastest and most intense movement the performance had seen so far.
The final two companies to perform were Kusika, a traditional African dance group, and the Zambezi Marimba Band, which often provided musical accompaniment. Zambezi started out on its own, performing two songs whose tempos, moods and melodies were entirely distinct. The first, “Tora Uta,” had a very slow and deliberate beginning that suddenly exploded into a frenzy of noise and color. The upbeat tempo and informal atmosphere prompted almost immediate audience involvement, with clapping and cheering becoming a part of the music. In the second song, “Angola,” a piano, two violins and a guitar joined the traditional Zambezi instruments to provide a very distinctive Latin flair.
Kusika then performed “Lamban,” a West African dance intended as a performance for kings or during ceremonies for important life events. This dance had a large oral component, with many of the performers chanting along to the music. The loose, colorful costumes almost seemed to dance independently of their wearers, as they jumped and leaned in time with the music. Zambezi then joined Kusika for “Nhemamusasa,” in which the dancers used wooden bowls as props, stooping as if to collect water. The movements in this dance were particularly feminine, and eventually the bowls were overturned into colorful fabric pads and were used as drums. The final dance of the night, “Tiriba,” was performed by Kusika alone. The movements were extremely fast and vigorous, with the dancers throwing their heads and arms up and down at a furious pace.
Each of these companies represented a unique perspective, yet all presented the highest standards of quality in their own way. These performances were not just impressive in their own right, but were also exciting as indications of the work to come from each of these groups.