None of the ten dances presented in last weekend’s SpringDance will dominate anyone’s memories of the annual McCain Auditorium concert of K-State’s Dance program. They were all well designed and performed, and each was quite different from the others. The individual program items were hot and cold, technologic and humane, obviously part of long processes or seemingly improvised.
The choreographers were after different effects, experimenting with different processes, and relying on different sets of more or less established physical expressions. But despite the faculty’s serious concerns, the show itself was mostly fun for the audience, a set of relatively brief dances that used attractive—sometimes attention-demanding —music, imaginative costumes and lighting, and dancers single, double, and in groups up to twenty-one at a time, all of them well-rehearsed and most of them obviously talented. This was entertainment that was easy to enjoy.
Ballet professor Laura Donnelly gave us three pieces. These shows conventionally begin with ballet, and SpringDance ‘14 started up with “Solid Crystal,” Donnelly’s collaboration with composer and on-stage performer Bryce Craig, intended as the first section of a three-part ballet arising from observation of a physics process. The eighteen white-clad dancers moved to original music which included Craig’s hand-drum playing, the sound of which he manipulated electronically.
A little while later in the first set we saw Mica Bengtson dance a Donnelly piece called “Mica’s Dream.” The dance medium here was the catalog of ballet movements arranged to go with the music—a contemporary sting quartet’s take on the old Arrowsmith hit “Dream On”—and some dramatic lighting. The backdrop was lit so that we saw two tall buildings, though actually all that was there were the squares of their windows. This backdrop was eventually bathed with red, and the dancer was side lit.
Perhaps the most challenging of Prof. Donnelly’s dances was “Ready Player One.” This used three dancers. Until late in the performance, they each wore a mask. After a first section (of five, each with different music) during which they walked, erect, on an imaginary grid, the dancers tended to perform one at a time. On stage and behind them were a conductor for the Robert Roth music, four saxophonists, and a percussionist who changed instruments for every section, going from tympani, say, to glockenspiel.
Prof. Julie Pentz also had three numbers in the show. The amusing show-cap “Polyphonic Kinesis” seemed in some ways to be an advance on her recent use of West African dance, as the dancers were themselves responsible for the sound of the piece—they clapped, stomped, and clicked along, in pairs set apart by Cim Roesener’s bright print costumes.
I’ll remember Pentz’s “Hide and Seek” for its use of on-stage deployment. During the first musical passage two solo tap dancers performed downstage in spotlights, in unison and then one following the other. Meanwhile a set of the other dancers stood frozen (most of the time) upstage in a line that was also marked by lighting. During the second musical sequence, all twenty-one dancers moved through diagonal developments and into two circles, which sometimes became huddles.
But the most emphatically performed dance of the evening was Pentz’s “Ventilation,” with fourteen dancers moving to electronic music of a slightly mind-numbed variety. Some of the moves were from the ballroom floor, but the performers, in black dresses, came onto the stage by twos and threes and eventually moved into developments that came downstage and then back up, in the most precise unison of the show. This dance was sort of scary.
Prof. David Ollington gave two pieces to the evening, one using two dancers and one a dancer and a musician. His “Awakening,” with Schubert music transcribed for piano by Lizst, started out with Hannah Conroy-Philbrook and Keith Mains lying beside each other. They never get completely separated in this dance, which arises from Ollington work we’ve seen in earlier program recitals. The piece makes good use of the dancers’ physical strength and will be a good representation of the quality of work going on here when it is performed in Missoula at the American College Dance Festival.
Crowd favorite “Moon Flight” was not quite a solo for program senior Tyler Nenaber, as he shared the stage with Prof. Tod Kerstetter, whose improvisational version of “Fly Me to the Moon” prompted and accompanied Nenaber’s tap dancing. Like ballet, tap has a catalog of movements. Choreographers and performers may want to work the whole set in. Here Ollington and the experienced Nenaber seemed to have found good uses for a large number of the possible rudiments.
The second act of the show began with “Hymns and Mantras,” choreographed by instructor Andrea Skowronek and Kathleen Kingsley, and “Seducers of Darkness” by student Carolyn Fitzgibbons. “Hymns” used fourteen women, half in light gray and half in light yellow tops (designed by Roesener) and two men and a recorded vocal performance of Ravel’s “Bolero.” This well-performed piece included varied lifts.
“Seducers” began with a center spot. The dancers moved around it in bursts, early. Later the developments worked along a diagonal line, NE to SW. And the highlight of the piece was the slow exit from the stage after the music (Eric Satie), with the dancers in a line.
Early in the second set, Pentz introduced the ten seniors in the company, some of whom have had significant parts in program recitals for years. This year’s solid SpringDance probably introduced the program’s audience to some new dancers who will in future concerts entertain and provoke us. The beat goes on.