On Saturday and Friday night, Contemporary Dance Ensemble (CoDa), the oldest of the college’s five dance ensembles, delivered two rousing and sophisticated performances, titled “Postcards,” at the ’62 Center for Theatre and Dance’s CenterStage. The group focuses on contemporary dance with a distinct grounding in modern and ballet techniques. CoDa was redefined from the ‘Williams College Dance Society’ to its current company title in 2010 by Erica Dankmeyer ’91. Dankmeyer normally works with co-Director Janine Parker to train dancers, come up with ensemble choreography, infuse the company’s performances with dramatic lighting, costumes, still and animated projections and often live music. Saturday night’s performance showcased all the variety and creativity that the group has to offer. At the performance’s beginning, a contemplative “Diana” wound her way through sweaty Andalusian nights amidst “the moon’s clockwork dream.” The individual in society, romance, courtship and identity – themes which resounded throughout the night – leapt to the fore. But,there was no fore; the ensemble had many facets and no center. Everyone was Diana – even Isaac Johnson ’16 and Len’l Russell ’14, with their androgynous costumes. Some of the variations in movement distracted – the knees and ebows of Gabrielle DiBenedetto’16 were too stiff – creating a kaleidoscope of physicality to match the acoustic parade of the night.
In the second piece of the performance, fairy ragdoll courtiers splayed themselves on stage. We saw their woes, and their internalized psychic pressures. “Breaking,” indeed. I disagree with the decision Amanda Washington ’14 made to focus on paired dancing, however well Russell did the robot with Theodora Gruseke ’16. I feel it contradicts her illustration of society’s façade and the pressure of loneliness. They danced! Is it: to stave off pain; to nurture themselves after enduring; because nothing else matters, or suffices or is real; because they must perform?
Rise – the morning after in a postmodern oasis. Isaac Johnson’s choice to choreograph two couples was fitting. He and Claire Lidston ’15 paired. Sierra McDonald ’16 and Russell paired. Johnson and Russell paired. McDonald and Lidston paired. Bits followed suits buttoned with worn buttons – Johnson and Russell hovered indecisively on the columns before returning because they just couldn’t get over her, the couples admirably kept that two pace distance throughout the Gavin DeGraw bit. The performance was markedly three-dimensional; how Johnson and Russell lifted the girls from the waist to twist, how they slid as the girls leapt over them, how all couples reflexively wound and bobbed into each other – was the most engaging melodrama of the night, echoing Ne-Yo and Adele.
With the crispest ballet base, Parker’s second piece in the show praised the classical and expressive. Pure technique and study liberated the dancers. Lidston posed nothing, poised perfectly, so Isaac Johnson could spin her.Washington, McDonald, Gruseke, Lidston, and Kristen Johnson ’17 pattered through patterns, en pointe, while their hands waved with different paces. The string of Isaac Johnson and Russell pirouetting in broadside to the audience fell flat. It made the stage one-dimensional, which worked against the beautiful energy of the mesmerizing human spirals.
I had trouble getting on board with “[we are kayak].” Death Cab for Cutie and DiBenedetto’s cutie dress evoked “summer lake house last fling before high school,” but the performance lacked the appropriate dynamism as she and Russell waded in only one corner of the stage.
My mind wandered throughout the show. New York, Istanbul, Rio, appropriate to the title of the performance. She runs away, he runs away, she slaps her, come back, he’s gone – no, you ran, get lost, feel bad, send/return. Every dancer had a face and controlled it. Diane Arvanites, guest choreographer of the night, should be admired for acknowledging her dancers’ individualities and accentuating dance with face. The performance was rendered intimate, personal and emotive. Wistful of travel, as always, I wish she would have made the costumes more exotic. But, c’est la vie, and dancing livens life, as Saturday night’s performance so persuasively demonstrated.