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For Clairo, “the third time’s the Charm.”
Review: “Charm” by Clairo
Published July 21, 2024

Review: “Rising” by UMN dance students

The concert was a beautiful presentation of contemporary dance by young artists.
Image by Heather Hanson Photography, LLC (courtesy)
UMN dance students rehearse “Assimilation,” a piece choreographed by Nakeema King in collaboration with cast artists.

University of Minnesota’s dance students had an outstanding performance at their spring concert, “Rising,” at the Barbara Barker Center for Dance from Friday to Sunday.

The show included five dances, four choreographed by students and a final piece by guest artist Eva Mohn. While each dance covered a variety of topics and had completely different feels, the concert still felt like a cohesive piece of art celebrating the work of University student dancers.

“4 Spilled Beans,” choreographed by fourth-year student Claire Wilcox, was an incredibly strong opener for the performance. The dance featured four dancers as they “play with duration and relationality,” according to the concert program. 

The props and lighting design of this piece were highlights. The dancers played with a single lamp and scraps of crocheted yarn throughout the piece. The props allowed for unique item work and creativity with the dancers’ movements, like knocking over the lamp and jumping over the cord. 

The lamp also created opportunities for interesting lighting effects by having the actual stage lights change with the flick of the lamp’s switch or turning the studio lights off completely when the lamp fell over. These lighting changes also worked hand-in-hand with shifts in the atmosphere throughout the dance, going from gentle tones to more playful ones.

Dancers in “4 Spilled Beans” used multiple props, including a lamp. (Image by Maddie Robinson)

The second dance, “Always an Actress,” was a standout solo piece that was choreographed and performed by second-year Meghan Morgan. 

“Always an Actress” focused on societal expectations and pressures that are placed on women. It featured excerpts of paparazzi camera flashes, interviews of Marilyn Monroe and her famed performance of “Happy Birthday Mr. President” in 1962 to former President John F. Kennedy.

The moving piece was a powerhouse performance in both dancing and acting. Morgan frantically danced around the stage and came into the audience at times in her character’s desperate attempt to keep up the facade she was confined to. 

Morgan ran through the crowd, jumped up on seats and talked to and encouraged the audience to clap and sing along with Monroe’s performance of “Happy Birthday Mr. President.” Her engagement with the crowd was a major contributor as to why her dance was a particularly high point in the show.

At the end of the piece, the nearly sold-out crowd was completely silent as the lights went black on Morgan standing in character with a plastered smile on her face. In all honesty, if the $10 ticket only included her dance, it still would have been more than worth the price.

The next piece, “Flamingos in Wisconsin,” was a stark change of pace from “Always an Actress.” The dance, choreographed by third-year student Camille Staats, follows the true story of flamingos who were taken by storm in Florida, ended up by Lake Michigan and had to get back home.

Dancers rehearse “Flamingos in Wisconsin,” a piece by Camille Staats with a variety of lifts and acrobatics. (Image by Heather Hanson Photography, LLC (courtesy))

The four dancers, clad in bright pink, did an impressive amount of lifts, rolls and acrobatics to bring their flamingo characters to life. The performers embodied curious yet nervous flamingos trying to find their way back to Florida, which worked perfectly with the entertaining choreography by Staats.

By the end of this piece, the audience was filled with smiles and laughter at these flamingo’s peculiar predicament.

Another high point of the concert was “Assimilation,” a piece choreographed by third-year student Nakeema King in collaboration with cast artists. Another tonal shift from the piece that preceded it, the dance highlighted the reality of residential schools, which were boarding schools funded by governments to isolate Indigenous children from their traditions and assimilate them into the dominant Eurocentric culture.

At the end of the piece, all of the performers lay next to each other on the floor dead as King carried another dancer off the stage and poetry about the horrors of residential schools echoed around them.

Along with the movement, the acting is where the piece shined. Every dancer involved disappeared into their characters, pulled the audience into their world and would not let up until the lights faded to black.

Similar to Morgan’s dance, “Assimilation” left audience members breathless as King took her final steps offstage.

“Radio Wirl,” choreographed by guest artist Eva Mohn, was an innovative way to end the show. The piece had one dancer pretending she was the host of a radio show and playing four vastly different songs on a record player on the side of the stage while the remaining seven performers danced on the actual stage.

All four sections of this performance saw the dancers embody completely different moods to match the music, an impressive feat in itself. But, the highlight from “Radio Wirl” was in the middle of the piece as the performers jumped and danced on trampolines to M.I.A.’s song “Finally.” A contrast from the rest of the slower, stunningly choreographed piece, this section was a fun boost of energy at the end of the concert which highlighted the dancer’s impressive stamina.

All in all, “Rising” was a gorgeous showcase of University dance students’ artistry, which left audiences with feelings of sadness, hope and joy.

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