In the season of allergies and with the spirit-lowering threat of the end of the academic year, SpringDance comes along to surprise and delight us. This year’s recital in McCain Auditorium by the Dance element of K-State’s School of Music, Theater, and Dance had a little history in it, and a little genre-mixing, and considerable evidence of imagination.
It also featured lots of talented dancers. Prof. Julie Pentz was the choreographer who actually had the largest number on stage at one time, over three dozen in the fourth and last section of her program-ending “Tap Percussion.” The run of sections began with Amy Burns on stage in an angled light to tap to music associated with Tunisia.
More and more dancers—including the K-State Tap Dance Ensemble—joined her to perform to music from West Africa and then from Burkina Faso and then the big group was on for the final section with music from faculty member Neil Dunn. The motions were tap. The music originated as or was influenced by African dance music.
Another second set piece, “Gota,” continued the run of dances by Pentz and Dunn influenced by their experiences with West African performance. A bank of drummers on-stage accompanied twenty sarong-wearing dancers who worked through developments in a circling motif, enlivened by call and response vocals.
But the second act of SpringDance also featured a couple of more conventional northern hemisphere dance pieces, Prof. Laura Donnelly’s “Memoriam” and Guest Artist Andrea Skowronek’s “Beautiful Boy.” Skowronek worked with Susan Warden, and this provided a historic association with the local program, before becoming co-artistic director of City in Motion Dance.
“Beautiful Boy” used seven girls, in purple dresses designed by Cim Roesener, to develop ideas about deployment in ranks from the sides of the stage. “Memoriam,” with music by Benjamin Britten and good John Uthoff lighting, was the most dramatic performance on the program. It sent three girls, in white dresses with a chain-like line up one side of each, around and around the bare-chested Daniel Phillips as they moved, lifted in series, down stage through central spotlights.
The first act had a couple of more simple pieces, Donnelly’s opening “Diamonds” with nine ballerinas and short solo and duet variations, and Pentz’s “Swing This,” in which two-dozen or so dancers moved to music including “It Don’t Mean a Thing If It Ain’t Got That Swing.” This was not ballroom dancing but show dancing, with two men in suspenders and four sets of girls in Spring color pinafores.
“Handles,” student Jordan Roberts striking piece for the American College Dance Festival regional, relied on two bits of music by Michael McFarland, one piano and the other guitar. Black top and light skirt-wearing Raaven Crocket and Michelle Page danced independently but at the same time, using some of the same of motions, some of these involving the use of three black chairs.
One of the program’s highlights was Prof. David Ollington’s “Emoticon Choir II and the Sorry Madrigal,” a piece which didn’t round off in the end. Here again, Roesener’s fanciful costumes were effective, clothing nine dancers who, conducted by a tails-wearer, used nonsense phrases, some of them associated with motions to demonstrate how a range of gestures and steps can be used in dance. The group was eventually divided into three sections so that the phrases could be performed at the same time as well as sped up and slowed down.
The eight section “Kaleidoscope” ended the first set. Donnelly was responsible for most of the short segments, which were collected to summarize some of what has happened in dance over a hundred and fifty years of K-State’s history.
Several of the sections were recapitulations of some of the movements and styles associated with times or choreographers, so that there were pieces celebrating the accomplishments of Isadora Duncan, Ruth St. Denis, and Jerome Robbins (this being the bent-over, finger-snapping dance of the Sharks and Jets from West Side Story). There was also a reference to ballroom moves in “Ain’t Misbehaving,” a section for which the music was that Fats Waller tune.
But there were also special entries. Ollington use Richard Strauss music and the dancing of Eryka Stable to give us Salome’s dance of the seven veils. Donnelly “restaged” a little Roni Mahler ballet piece for four women, “Pas de Quatre,” that apparently was first seen on the McCain stage, and with Donnelly the student dancing one of the parts. It was especially nice, I thought, with the ballerina’s wearing garlands and moving in a limited space from an opening tableau to which they returned at the end of the piece.
With the eighth section, “Kaleidoscope” took a shift. Bryce Craig rolled on his marimba and played a composition of his own while Jackie Soelter and Morgan Velez danced around him and further forward. Then he counted off the next number—the sections overlapped a little in several cases—and on came a couple of dozen dancers for “Finale—Happy 150th K-State,” a ballroom referent piece which ended with the performers turning to show their colored t-shirts bore sesquicentennial logos.
There was, then, plenty in this year’s SpringDance. But the extra time did not go by slowly. And I suspect that most everyone in the gratifyingly large audience left McCain having been delighted, diverted, and engaged. I had a fine time watching the show.