Commercial or Contemporary? A Peculiar Observation of UNCG Dance

Eden Landgrover
Staff Writer

UNCG’s dance department is currently two performances into their fall concert season, with one performance showcasing faculty choreography, and two performances choreographed and performed by students. 

As usual, the dance department had a strong performance season, but I couldn’t help but notice a quite cavernous compositional gap between the textbook techniques, and the actual dancing in the shows. It seemed that students had taken the definitively contemporary movement, and completely committed to it’s embodiment in the concert setting, but that they had also chosen to create works that were clearly more commercial than the choreography they had wanted.

Why such a clear divergence from what is being taught and what is being created by students in the department? In contemporary classes, dance majors are well versed in modernized, abstracted movement tailored to the instructor’s research and performative experiences. Faculty choreographies are typically extensions of the stylized explorations led in these classes. 

In the 2019 repertoire concert, Fall Dances, each piece was unique in composition but the concert as a whole bore several thru-lines. All music was instrumental and lyricless, movement vocabularies were more concise and gestural, no piece shied away from repetition or stillness, and there was less of a focus on aesthetically pleasing movement. 

Fall Dances was consistently a display of intellectual process and revelation, showcasing experience through complex construction of movement. Maturity is the name of the game. Switching gears, the preceding Prime Movers concert (comprised solely of student works) appeared to be highly influenced by the commercial dance world- YouTube, televised competitions like “So You Think You Can Dance” and “World of Dance,” and dancers who popularize their work via social media. 

While the choreography was innovative and the performance was high caliber, the compositional process and product differed noticeably from that of the student’s primary influences- their teachers. The majority of the songs in this concert were well-known, dances were shorter and were often more plot/persona oriented than focused on an overarching feeling or notion, the choreography was largely peppered with tricks and the movement vocabulary was consistently vast. 

The purpose of these performances were to give starting choreographers the opportunity to compose a piece completely on their own, which shifts the focus from sharing accrued findings to discovering their individual choreographic voice. The most notable difference in the two concerts was in intellectual accessibility. The student works tended to hesitate to portray unclear narratives, preferring to deliver a neat and complete package upon opening night.

The audience is rarely lost in the content of the dance. There is an unspoken assumption that in novice work, it is a kindness to the audience to guide them through the choreographer’s narrative and allow them to see the full artistic vision. In contrast, watching a faculty work is often an experience in itself just to follow the piece and try your hand at grasping any semblance of a plot.

Watching Fall Dances required four separate investments- each quarter of the concert was intellectually designed to make the audience choose what aspects of the performance to take in. The lighting, costuming, strategic casting, recurring movement motifs and ongoing intention were each providing observers with puzzle pieces, but I feel that it is an advanced trick to complete a process knowing that the audience never has to finish the whole puzzle. 

The observatory value lies in having gathered any pieces at all. Perhaps students feel well-versed in the dance styles practiced in repertoire classes and are prompted to create extraneous opportunities for themselves. Perhaps, they feel that choreographic endeavors similar to their teachings are best constructed in a later setting. Either way, the parting of compositional ways is indeed a curious one. 

The dance department has an upcoming thesis concert by graduating seniors (heavily counseled by faculty) and it will be interesting to see which side of the commercial-to-contemporary scale the concert tips.

Categories: Arts & Entertainment

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