During the weekend of April 13, upperclassmen in the UNCG Dance Department showcased the works that had been assigned to them by faculty and guest artists over the course of their spring semester repertory classes.
The “Spring Dances” show featured four works performed by sophomores, juniors, seniors and graduate students studying dance performance. The concert demonstrated the variance in the school’s dance curriculum, exhibiting styles ranging from embodied Afro-Contemporary to abstract works like the final piece, “the pulse of (HER)OES.”
The first piece in the show was choreographed by Clarice Young, an Associate Professor in the UNCG Dance Department. This 2018 World Premier was performed by a cast of 11 female dancers, and focused largely on the embodiment of the style – a revolutionized African-Contemporary technique unique to Young. This piece also featured a diverse music score, and much of the movement was driven by the choreographer’s compositional affinity for acute musicality.
Opening with music by Susana Baca, the dancers and movement were introduced to the audience to establish a foundation for the individual relationships that would be formed in the next song by Brooklyn Red. Young’s piece ended with a lively, high energy section involving almost all dancers on the stage at once. Dancing to “Steal My Joy” by Zo!, the dancers were able to personify the energy in the music and open the show with an energetic and dynamic marathon of movement.
The second work in the show was choreographed by guest artist KJ Wade, a highly accredited performer and teacher, who is also a graduate of the UNCG Dance Department. The piece was performed by 10 graduating seniors and was put together during a repertory intensive in January over UNCG’s winter break. Its theme of claimed strength in femininity and women’s empowerment came from the collective passion for the subject within the cast.
The piece began with the cast of dancers emerging from upstage darkness and entering boxes of light to perform declarative gestural phrases to Maya Angelou’s poem “Phenomenal Woman.” As the poem concluded, the dancers tore across the stage while verbally spelling words that defined femininity to them. The audience was struck with the definitive declarations, “F-I-E-R-C-E,” “U-N-A-P-O-L-O-G-E-T-I-C,” and many more.
The piece concluded with a jazz and contemporary fusion portion to Solange Knowles’ “Phenomenal Woman” as the dancers made their way upstage to strut down a lit catwalk. The dancers left the audience with an empowered, unwavering, “I am a woman!”
This piece will be the last time that the graduating cohort share the stage before starting professional careers of their own. Many of the performers are choreography and performance majors and are consequently in the midst of finishing their capstone project to complete their degree.
These thesis works will be performed next weekend in the dance theatre and the end of that concert will mark the end of some of the most demanding tasks of their educational career – choreographing an entire compositional work from start to finish, entirely independently, and performing in their senior repertory course.
The third work was choreographed by Associate Professor Duane Cyrus. Titled, “Frameworks for (Un)Domesticated Women,” the piece explored the gender confines that have been placed on women and whether or not they have been completely abolished. The work pokes holes in the “domesticated woman” stereotype and opens with Ashley Judd’s “Nasty Woman” speech from the 2017 Women’s March.
Starkly contrasting “risqué” with “traditional,” Cyrus’ work expands the extremes of femininity and utilizes comical parodies to obliterate equalizers and blanket notions about the topic. Dancers walk an iron as if it were a dog, use a pan as a mirror and spray fake cleaner as though it were perfume. While these made the audience laugh, the work prompts subliminal examination of how real the binding between the female gender and these objects has become.
The final piece in the concert was choreographed by Associate Professor BJ Sullivan and was titled “the pulse of (HER)OES.” Performed by a cast of both seniors and graduate students, the innovative and abstract nature of the extremely modern work took the audience by surprise.
From the very beginning of the piece, the audience was involved. The cast began by entering from upstage and filtering into the audience, then one by one running back onto the stage to catch a backpack that was being thrown from the upper rafters. After all of the backpacks had been dispersed, one dancer unloaded the contents of the backpacks – immense amounts of trash – onto the stage.
The trash pile was integral for the remainder of the work. Dancers rolled through it, jumped in it and one individual even resorted to making snow angels in the piles while wearing some of the contents. At the conclusion of the piece, the dancers stopped their movement and individually re-entered the audience to pull audience members to the stage to clean up the trash and re-stuff the backpacks.
Audience member Cortney Vartanian was one of the fortunate individuals to be selected to participate. She stated that she was shocked to have suddenly been incorporated into the piece that she was watching, but that the rest of the piece had prepared her for some element of audience participation.
Upon returning all participants to their seats, the entirety of the audience was prompted to stand and join hands with their row as they all observed static – much like what would be found on a TV with no signal – being projected onto the screen before them.
Strong themes of women’s empowerment and femininity can be traced through the entire concert, though each piece starkly, yet favorably, contrasted the next. “All four dances were extremely different, yet they formed a completely synthesized show,” noted audience member and dancer Isabella Cutillo. The diversity in the nature of the works prohibited the audience from predicting what would come next and kept them engaged from the first piece to the last.
Cutillo stated that there was “never a dull moment” in the show and that it managed to encompass even the most external reaches of the Dance Department’s variance.