Dance program hosts alumni concert

by V. Paul

Through fanfare-like instrumentation, ethnically influenced vocalizations and the punctuated silence of dancers breathing, five University graduates presented new works in one of their alma mater’s newest haunts.
The University’s dance program hosted its first annual Alumni Concert on Thursday evening at the Barbara Barker Center for Dance on the West Bank, presenting six pieces by emerging choreographers who used to call the University home.
The concert, which continues this weekend, is part of an ongoing inauguration of the six-month-old dance center.
When these choreographers were taking classes, they stretched, composed and danced on the old gym floors of Norris Hall — the dance program’s old home. It was only fitting that they returned to a new dance center after they developed their own gifts in the dance community.
The choreography of the dance couple Brad Garner and Cynthia Gutierrez-Garner spoke two distinctive voices to the audiences with two new pieces. Where Garner’s “Look Before Crossing” embodied an exotic tenderness, Gutierrez-Garner’s “The Remnants I Spare” was classically cutting-edge in the sense that her dancers were quick, sharp and precise.
Because Garner’s trio of dancers carried such technique that the ethnic influences he drew from translated beautifully on stage — particularly by Andrea Zimmerman — it was worth sitting through some of his repetitious movement phrases.
“The Remnants I Spare” strongly reverberated with what seemed to be Gutierrez-Garner’s favorite choreographic tools: canons, which is performing a set of movements in rounds, and collaborations between dancers and choreographer. The piece also drew strength from the solos danced by Garner and Kari Matter.
The collaboration in “Remnants” came from the dancers setting their own movements in certain segments based on one of Gutierrez-Garner’s ideas or concepts. It resulted in a cascade of independent motions that echoed her own vision of the piece.
As the most recent graduate of the group, Emily Johnson presented an interesting trio that opens itself to much interpretation.
“Moved Through” (1999), which premiered at a performing arts festival in Toronto, is entirely silent except for the dancers’ breathing and footfalls.
Their blank stares belied the intense emotional undercurrent communicated by their movements. Jagged and skittish, the dancers’ interactions were directed by their onstage self-evaluations — somewhat of a signature concept for Johnson.
“As the dancers move through this piece, they move through a lot of different things,” Johnson said. “Just as we move through our days, there are so many elements to that day.”
Matt Jensen, a 1995 graduate, revisited a very spirited piece for the evening’s opener. He and seven dancers in his newly formed company, New and Slightly Used Dance, raced through “Just Can’t Stop” (1993) in a rapid-fire manner, launching themselves onto the stage, leaping off and cutting through the stage’s wings just to rocket out under the lights again.
By using spoken text to start and end the piece, Jensen tries to give the audience a starting point from which to view his piece. In “Martyrs Exposed,” a solo he performed in the evening’s second half, Jensen uses text to prompt the audience into thinking about body image while he dances mostly nude on stage — as if body image would not have been a first thought, anyway.
“A lot of times, dance is about coming up with gestures or shapes or movement ideas that have to do with the subject matter, then abstracting them,” Jensen said. “It’s kind of a theme of mine to have recorded text spoken back at you.”
Matthew Janczewski and his pickup dance company, ARENA, presented the third section of a work-in-progress called “Hovering.” Intended to be a 30-minute piece for an August 2000 concert, “Hovering” juxtaposes tender moments between the dancers with a number of energetic leaps and lifts. A trio and a quartet move about the stage in passing fashion; it’s more about people and spirits, Jenczeski said.
“It’s kind of like (one dancer’s) little journey where she’s transcended by the end of the piece,” he said. “The quartet acts as a backdrop to the trio, as a remembrance of something there.”

V. Paul Virtucio welcomes comments at [email protected].