We all know about my ongoing addiction problem with dance. With my recent experience with dance events, I was less than satisfied by the end results. Then I went to the Wright State University Dance Ensemble Winter Dance Concert and I could not wait to get home and tell you all about it. This gave me such a buzz that will stay with me to the Rise to Dance concert and the New Music for New Dance concert being presented this week.
While the concert was far from perfect, it had so much going for it, that by final stunning dance work choreographed by Susanne Payne it didn’t matter what my quibbles and personal dislikes were. But for the purpose of a complete review, full disclosure is a must. What I love about dance programs presented by colleges and universities, is that you are given a buffet of artistic choices. If one choreographic work is not your cup of tea, something else on the menu might do the trick.
These types of shows are filled with risky choreographic choices and dancers eager to push themselves and the audience in new and exciting directions. Mostly hit or miss but at least an attempt is being made by all involved. And the fact that a college dance concert is more exciting than a professional dance concert should be of concern to this community.
The choreography of assistant professor, Gina Walthers kicked off the concert with a modern pedestrian/propulsive style of choreography that showcased the dancers in the most flattering of ways. The swooping curvilinear forms carried by the always dependable music styling of Kevin Anderson with a mighty assist from the distinctive vocalize of Nina Simone. The quartet section was of particular choreographic note. Bravo Gina.
Next on the bill was the work of Justin Gibbs, Assistant professor, The Re-Player. A slightly quirky piece, it contained some interesting angular upper body positions that lead to beautiful turning combinations.
I was blown away by the work of student choreographer Joanie Evans, Unscripted. She is a confident young artist with a very mature movement vocabulary and a burgeoning skill at creating movement sequences that swept the audience (myself included) up in a moody and intense exploration of young women on the edge of emotional vortexes beyond their control. It held the audiences attention from beginning to end. My only quibble is the lighting changes were too frequent and distracting. As you progress as a choreographer Joanie, deliberate you lighting choices very carefully.
Kudos to Abigail Beam for taking the helm of Dayton Ballet II and choreographing, Danza Scherzi, a work that I feel is only the beginning of a renaissance of dancing at the pre-professional level. In the past I have not been a fan of all of the works presented by DB II at the Wright State concert. This work left me hopeful for a revitalization of this pre-professional training program. Since I began my dancing life there, I will always have a soft spot for DBII. And I want to encourage her to keep developing her choreographic chops and build upon her keen sense of musicality and overall aesthetic vision. Keep pushing their technical training.
What happened next on the concert bill nearly caused me to OD. Visiting guest choreographer Adam Hoagland, presented Risk of Flight, a daring, ambitious vertiginous work that left me speechless. Where does one begin with a choreographic work of such sublime intensity? This sublimity compelled me to stalk his choreographic output and to seek out the next show that contained his work. Not since the presentation of the solo Monster Partitur by the king of contemporary choreography at the Wexner a couple of years ago have I been so inspired by someone’s choreographic efforts. Startlingly simplistic shapes of distorted limbs, like alien life forms, that the dancers thrust themselves into had a visceral freshness that cut through hubris presented by most contemporary choreography. This guy is the real deal.
The fact that Wright State performed his work has elevated their stature in my eyes. This is a program that bounced back in a major way. If you are a lover of dance you must seek out his work wherever it is being performed (hint, he is the resident choreographer at Cincinnati Ballet). Dayton Ballet should be speed dialing him right now.
A Corps of Individuals, by Justin Gibbs, while not my favorite piece on the concert, had its moments. I still had a buzz from Risk of Flight that allowed me to sit through it. The pointe work of the dancers was not as strong in sections as it could have been. As a satirical work about the machinations of ballerinas, the humor could have been more acerbic and witty had their technique been sharper this could been a lot o fun.
Nox, a stunning duet by former DCDC dancer Rodney Brown, was an incredibly poignant piece that pulled me into its intimacy. Amelia Dietz and Jordan McMahan danced this work with grace and nuance that served the piece incredibly well. He is another choreographer who we should all be following.
Gina Walther presented excerpts of Bernstein’s Mass, which will be performed on May 13, and 14 as part of a creative collaboration between the Dayton Philharmonic Orchestra and the Wright State University Theater, Dance and Music departments. A powerfully meditative work that evoked a quiet spirituality that allowed for flowing sparkling group sections that spun off into, solo, duet and various other groupings. The dancers were dressed in blue tunic style belted dresses that flattered the sweeping gestural quality of the work. As a preview this was a wonderful teaser of what is to come in May at the Schuster (look for the preview). I have always been a fan of Gina’s work.
And last but not least, we had the sensual finale of Shake by Susanne Payne. I cannot think of another choreographer working in the Dayton region, other than William McClellan Jr., who possesses such superlative dance making chops. She has invested her energy and talents into transforming the ladies on stage into creatures of silken and sassy muscularity. I found myself keeping rhythm by slapping hand against my thigh, marveling at how she created a large cast group piece that managed to highlight the singular gifts of each talented dancer. Susanne Payne is a choreographer of merit and note that deserves all of the accolades that she has coming. Any chance to see her work is a must see event.
The dancers were all in black skirts and shoulder length sleeves that swayed and twirled with a life of its own. As the dancers propelled themselves across the stage with shuffles and arm swings that enveloped the audience in a rapturous energy.
Finally a satisfying dance fix. I am looking forward to the New Music for New Dance concert at Dayton Ballet coming this weekend.