WashU Dance Theatre showcases WU students, faculty
Washington University Dance Theatre, an annual showcase that highlights various forms and styles of dance, was Nov. 30 through Dec. 2. This year’s theme was “PastForward,” which examined the different styles and concepts of art through the ages. With artistic direction by Wash. U. dance professor David Marchant, “PastForward” was an entertaining night of performances by Wash. U.’s talented dancers.
The evening began with the number “UnPartnered Dance,” choreographed by Joanna Dee Das, an assistant professor of dance. The irony of this title is that a substantial amount of the choreography required the dancers to be in partners. During the first minute of the dance, there was no music; the only sounds the audience heard were the dancers’ choreographed clapping and the sounds of their feet moving against the stage. It was interesting to watch dance without the usual background music, and the effect worked really well. When music started playing it gradually moved from older to more contemporary music. It felt like watching time pass in a rural area. The most intriguing moments were when the dancers divided into groups, and three or four pieces of choreography would be going on at the same time, and audiences had to choose which dancers to focus on. The costume and lighting designs were exquisite, and this dance was a great way to start the evening.
The second piece of the evening was a ballet quartet choreographed by professor of Practice in Dance Christine Knoblauch-O’Neal. The dancers seemed to be wearing plastic over their leotards, which was quite an eccentric choice. The piece was accompanied by classical music, which had a driving force behind it that added to the performance’s intensity. The dancers were very graceful and clearly very strong. It was captivating watching them perform extremely technical movements as if they were not hard at all. The elegant dance was what one would expect from a typical ballet; it was incredibly pretty and enrapturing to watch.
Asha Prem, artistic director of “Dances of India,” choreographed a dance entitled “The Five Elements,” in which Shiva, the Hindu god of dance, creates the Earth with the help of dancers. The piece’s music was simple but enjoyable. The dancer playing Shiva was costumed differently than the other dancers, which naturally guided more attention towards her. For the majority of the dance, she also had different choreography, so audiences could choose to pay attention to Shiva, the other dancers or a mix both at the same time. The choreography was very nuanced, and it was fascinating to see how the dancers moved in tandem with and in contrast to each other.
Artistic Director David Marchant also choreographed a piece entitled “Deep Water” about the displacement and fear that plagues the human race. The dancers were outfitted in all black, which added to the somber tone of the piece. The movement was very slow throughout the piece, and the dancers heavily relied on each other. Though the piece included ten dancers, there was a clear sense of coherence in their movements together. It seemed to be a physical representation of how it is important to hold loved ones close in times of uncertainty and danger. The title of the piece seemed to be appropriate, because the slow and fluid movements made the dancers seem as though they were literally treading through water.
“Shadows,” choreographed by Dana Tai Soon Burgess, choreographer in residence for the Smithsonian at the National Portrait Gallery, was quite an enigma. The dance seemed to possibly be about a journey or perhaps a walk in the park, but in all honesty it was unclear. Different dancers had different levels of choreography, and altogether it was a very peculiar experience. Some of the elements seemed to work together individually, but altogether it was quite confusing. There was a portion towards the end of the piece where every dancers was onstage doing different pieces of choreography in small groups, and collectively, it was too much to focus on and process.
The penultimate piece of the evening was a piece entitled “Hyperbole” choreographed by Wash. U. dance professor Cecil Slaughter. A highlight of the night, this dance seemed to be about the effects of show business on women. All five of the dancers seemed to be in mild competition of each other, and it worked out really well. The dancers were absolutely brimming with stage presence, and the fact that each dancer had a moment when they were the only one onstage was a brilliant touch; it was so spellbinding to see their facial expressions and individual styles. The fast-paced piece was bursting with energy, and it created an enjoyable and vigorous number.
“PastForward” ended with a piece by Ting-Ting Chang, whose dance company recently put on “Persistence of Memory” at the Edison Theatre. Her piece for Dance Theatre was an intense number entitled “Deja Vu.” The dance was inspired by her return to Taiwan after a 16-year absence, and it was quite impressive. The combinations of all-black costumes and fierce lighting made the piece seem very bold, and it was captivating to witness. Overall, the dancers had very sharp and cohesive movements, and it was apparent that they were all in tune with each other. This striking dance was an indelible way to end the evening.