The Fab Four

University Dance Theater presents four distinct performances in one show

Sara Nicole Miller

Experiencing “Dance Revolutions” is comparative to having a front-row seat in the human subconscious.

The four pieces that make up the upcoming University Dance Theatre performance are all completely unrelated, hatched and nourished in the minds of four wildly different choreographers. The backdrops of color, at times, seem like the only ties that bind the pieces together to create one infusion of movement.

“It’s a broad repertory of work,” said Toni Pierce-Sands, artistic director for UDT. “It’s quite diverse in its style of movement, its look, its subjects.”

However, the sense of fluidity between the pieces makes for one helluva performance.

“This show just gelled; it meshed together,” said senior dance major Erica Pinigis.

Every year, UDT puts on a concert, and “Dance Revolutions” is this year’s Big Kahuna of performance artistry.

UDT is composed of a medley of students in the dance department who have auditioned to fill the spots. Through the annual funds of the Cowles Guest Artist Program, a faculty panel recruits internationally-known choreographers to come in and work with dancers at the University – a privilege not lost on the students.

“Having people come in the midst of their creative life makes a huge difference,” said Erinn Liebhard, a UDT dancer and dance senior.

The choreographers may be an enchanting lot, but it is the brilliance of the dancers that turns a good performance into a jewel. The sophistication of their movements, combined with a generally charismatic collective stage presence, makes this year’s “Dance Revolutions” a delightfully eclectic arrangement.

“Faith”

A single dancer, adorned in a skintight black velvet tube dress, appears onstage underneath a beam of white light. She kneels down before a pair of gigantic red heel pumps, tapes up her feet, and puts them on.

She wobbles a bit as she stands up. Lulling, hypnotic cymbal music begins to drone above the stage.

Dancers begin to walk across the stage in a line, like a swarm of toy fashion models. Throughout the piece, their bodies – a variety of humanly shapes, but all in the same skimpy outfit – squirm and strut about the stage.

The climate evokes an odd feminine, industrial, almost space-age cosmetic tribalism, with the same monotonous, cookie-cutter high heel stomp is woven throughout the piece.

“Gender and sexuality are a both a performance and a social construct,” said Annie Hanauer, a University dance senior.

The dancers were told to move as naturally as they could in a tube dress and pumps.

“It’s interesting to try to stay neutral and not try to sexualize the movement in the clothing,” said Pinigis, a dancer in “Faith.”

“Faith” was choreographed in 1990 by Seattle-based Pat Graney, a self-proclaimed queer choreographer whose work is often speckled with issues of gender, sexuality and representation. In fall of 2006, she came to Minnesota to work with the dancers.

“Faith” was initially created for female dancers, but this time there are three male dancers in it, which further complicates the aesthetics of costume-induced gender coding.

“Part of the chore is adjusting your dress because it comes down and goes up. There’s nothing graceful or sexy about it, which is kind of ironic, I guess.” Hanauer explained.

“Happy”

“He has a jazz-style coolness about him,” said Chris LaPlante, a junior dance major, of “Happy” choreographer Uri Sands.

“Happy” – undoubtedly the most upbeat of the four performances – borders almost on the realm of the schizophrenic.

All four dancers wear cut-off jump suits, orange, slate, army green and yellow. Smiling, they dance to a psychotropic techno baseline. There is a lot of orchestrated twisting and thrashing. Their arms flail about, like marionettes spray painting an urban apartment complex. Pinkish-purple backlighting with warm hues illuminates the dancers.

Sands encouraged the dancers to look at each other and smile in order to get through some of the grueling cardiovascular components.

“We’re pretty much moving on the quarter notes every time for eight and a half minutes, and there’s a lot of quick direction changes,” LaPlante said. “We’re supposed to keep on smiling the whole time.”

Aside from all the seemingly gleeful revelry, one can’t help but notice an intentional generic undertone in the style.

The unease comes from a sense that every smile seems forced, that every limb-flinging movement has a lingering shade of neuroses enmeshed within it.

“There’s a real contrast to the simple bubble of ‘Happy.’ There’s a real darkness in that,” Pierce-Sands explained.

The unease comes from a sense that every smile seems forced, that every limb-flinging movement has a lingering shade of neuroses enmeshed within it.

“Khonj”

Choreographed in 2006 by Ananya Chatterjea – the Director of Graduate Studies in Theatre and Dance – “Khonj” literally means “search.”

In the piece, Chatterjea conveys a deconstruction of classical dance forms, yoga, martial arts and political street theatre.

“It’s a really different aesthetic,” Hanauer said. “It’s using your body in a different way.”

Through a series of sculpturesque posing and intricate formulaic gesturing, a sense of polycentrism unfolds. The pace accelerates, then comes to a stop along with the music. Dancers utilize slow, sustained yoga poses, concentrating on the act of breathing as a fundamental source of movement. Rustling static noises, unexpectedly, often accompany a switch in the mood.

The black and silver studded getups, combined with the intricate and elegantly rowdy group numbers, resembles something out of the world of Tupac and Dre’s “California Love” music video, creating a sense of confusion as to the work’s worldly origins. The dancers resemble a punk rock Manson family serenading wildlife – Indian temple dance style – in the California desert.

However, “Khonj” is far from a tribute to apocalyptic-style gangsta rap or killer hippies.

The skin-saturated style, accompanied by an artistic aloofness that hovers over the stage, synthesizes sensuality with the intricacies of classical form.

“What’s really central to Indian dance is the feminine. The feminine is manifested in each one of us, even men,” Hanauer said.

The result is vibrant and entrancing. The performers, poised with throaty exhales and on-point hand theatrics, provides an artistic layering that gives the performance its unique accent.

“Rooms”

“Rooms” is, in theory and aesthetic, a frolic devoted almost entirely to escapism and urban alienation.

Pierce-Sands calls it a masterpiece of classical modern dance. “It deals with our freedom to take ourselves away from our realities at some point,” he said.

“Rooms” was choreographed in 1955 by Anna Sokolow, a staple choreographer in the modern dance world. The inspiration for the piece, according to dancer Liebhard, came from days Sokolow spent peering out her New York City flat to other windows.

“It’s a reflection on loneliness in a big city. People are packed so close together, but there’s still that loneliness,” Liebhard said.

The performance begins with 13 dancers occupying 13 chairs, staring blankly out into the auditorium. They are dressed in nude, grays and whites.

At first, the piece seems to move almost sluggishly, with random and sudden splashes of movement as necks jet outward, bodies retract and recoil on the chair seats to the sound of lazy jazz riffs.

Lorry May, the re-constructor of “Rooms,” was intent on teasing out Sokolow’s original emotive expression. “Lori worked from the inside out,” LaPlante explained. “She brought about emotions and feelings and had that generate the movement of the piece.”