CoDa debuts ambitious set of student-choreographed work

The Contemporary Dance Ensemble’s, (CoDa) latest showcase of student-choreographed contemporary dance brought forward some promising new work along with outstanding gems from experienced choreographers.

Though the opening number suffered slightly from on-the-nose acting (e.g. a hand-visor over squinting eyes to signify being lost), it gave rise to one of the most haunting and memorable tableaux of the show – a dancer riding an ostentatiously large tricycle across the stage, squawking a hand horn over bare bass music. While the piece that followed  – a work in progress by Maria Allende ’17 – was impressively ambitious in its storytelling, the execution seemed at odds with the apparent goal of the project. The monologue frames the piece as a portrait of the tortured inner life of an aggressively-bullied football player. The dance itself is an almost nonstop torture sequence of the lead dancer, who is brutally and repeatedly twisted, thrown and tripped (in a notably sexualized manner), while four other dancers watch on with morbid curiosity. The focal point of the piece became the sheer relentlessness of the violence, to the point of titillation. Alexia Barandiaran’s Burning Leaves relieved this angst with a bright and colorful dance set to Hozier’s folksy “Work Song.” The energetic motion and color-coded dressed recalled a lighthearted meditation on the passage of the seasons.

The two pieces bordering the intermission, choreographed by Nyla Thompson ’20 and Alexandra Krstic ’19 constituted the peak of the show. Thompson’s Undivided matched the dynamic and rapidly shifting energy of Zoe Keating’s “Escape Artist” near-perfectly, oscillating between fluid and sharp, almost martial movement. The piece was unburdened by storytelling, instead reveling in the pleasure of abstract geometry. The dancers moved in and out of entropy, dispersing and coalescing along bands of light on the floor. The crisp, modern costume design also deserves a nod – earthy green jumpsuits over ribbed tops. They approached uniforms, but subtle variations marked the dancers out as individuals.

Following this was as ever, an ambitious two-parter, with the first set to spoken word rather than music. The first section was impressively choreographed to the syncopated, largely non-rhythmic cadence of Jeffery Tambor’s monologue and successfully combined abstract gestures and literal acting-out of the monologue. Krstic’s passionate solo, which served to bridge the two sections, made the rest of the very strong piece feel almost tepid in comparison.

The next piece, by Grace Mazzarella ’19, was rather pared down – a duo set to music by Youtube star Lindsey “Dubstep Violin” Sterling. The dance was by no means uninteresting or unimpressive but failed to engage the music as well as previous pieces. The energy was more or less uniform, and the music seems to serve primarily as a metronome. The show – a full company dance by Artist-in-residence Erica Dankmeyer – served as an engaging formal exploration of two classical pieces, fluid, cascading piano followed by jaunty, syncopated violin. In addition, Thompson and Dew Maskati ’20 brought a particularly strong energy to the ensemble. While the show’s choreography was something of a mixed bag, the technical execution provided by the company was excellent across the board.

Last Saturday’s CoDa spring concert combined impressive technical execution with contemporary vision. Photo courtesy of Keith Forman.