Sometimes in the past, WinterDance has seemed like the kick-off to the Christmas season. Not so much this year. The 2012 WinterDance acted as a program recital for K-State’s Dance program, now a function of the School of Music, Theater, and Dance, and as an introduction to the work of new faculty member Laura Donnelley.
Faculty choreographers designed all of the program’s dances, and there weren’t any holiday music or references. But the near sell-out crowd of surprisingly young ticket-holders attending the Thursday night show seemed to be wrapped up in the show. Nichols Theater, the usual home for WinterDance, has a thrust stage that puts the audience very close to and above the action. This intimacy helped make this quieter-than-usual and more cerebral show additionally rewarding.
The ninety minute program began with “Kpanlogo,” one of the West African dances that faculty members Julie Pentz and Neil Dunn have been replicating. Five hand drummers, led by Dunn, sat at the back of the stage and performed a repeating rhythm line to which a dozen dancers worked variations based on a circling motion. Their print shorts-and-tops outfits had an African flair, and the dancers performed with verve, perhaps especially Mark Hay who got a brief solo in the center of the formation.
Live and original music turned up a couple of additional times during the evening. David Ollington’s “Challenge and Conformity” was set to the spare and abstract “Texture Study No. 1” by Music Department professor Craig Weston. This dance suggested auditors were sitting in on a practice of movements influenced by martial arts training. In it seven dancers in red East Asian-style tops, their hair up, moved through developments serially and in small sub-groups. Included were some memorable unconventional lifts and dramatic side-lighting of a sort that was to be another of the evening’s recurring phenomena.
Kyle Myers, who regular campus theater-goers know from Nichols plays, performed Ollington’s “The Hat that…(Part 1)” next. While this was a piece about a man in clown pants, self-congratulatory after the discovery of a straw hat, it was without clear reference to the old Red Skelton routines. When Myers picked up the hat, piano music began to play. When he sat it down, it ceased. Most of what occurred had to do with a foot that wouldn’t obey the performer’s commands.
Then we were back to work with an original score, Dunn’s “Moonlight and the Butterflies,” which was again spare piano music, at least to start. Pentz designed the couple’s dance, which tended to have one move while the other stood still but brought the two of them together a couple of times. The choreography followed the music, which had a faster and more sonically dense central passage.
The first of Donnelly’s numbers was “Unintended Consequences,” based on “The K-State Book Network selection for 2012.” Long, complicated, and relying on a cast of sixteen, the piece was memorable for its costumes—loose outer blouses that billowed and showed patterns under the black light located upstage—and for its diagonal orientation. The latter was in some ways unfortunate for me. Because of where I was sitting, I could only watch the break-away dancers at the stage’s southwest corner or the rows of chorus to the northeast—not both. The music was again piano music, again with a row arrangement. Repeating motions, whip-cracking rotations, repeated lifts, and the frequent reformations kept “UC” interesting even to someone misplaced.
The second set began with Donnelly’s “Adagio for Four” (“Adagio for Six” being the second set opener at the Saturday and Sunday performances). Here the dancers (in turquoise Cim Roesener costumes) performed to Samuel Barber music from “Adagio for Strings.” Rate was very important here, as was late book-matching of movement and an attractive but brief coda.
“Hmmmmmmmmm” may have been the most thoroughly satisfactory of Pentz’s interesting contributions to the evening. Where do you suppose they got those sparkly dresses? The twelve dancers worked through acoustic music which began as nearly bosa nova, then turned funky, and then turned to rap, and the moves were ballroom-related. But the music wasn’t exactly any of those things and the movement was too selective and at the same time inventive to be imported straight from the disco. The complicated deployments, including lots of exits and entrances, provided much of the fun.
I wondered if the K-State Flute Ensemble was performing off-stage or was represented by a recording during Donnelly’s “Maroon Jasmine.” Certainly Paige Feil and Jayne Klinge were live and on-state, playing their parts of the arrangement of Delibes’s familiar “The Flower Duet.” This was the ballet piece for the evening. It featured Paige Heinze and Katie Kimmel with Daniel Phillips behind and between them as they moved, generally, up and down the middle of the stage. This performance was, again, deliberate, but well-designed and performed.
The program finished with its tap number, Pentz’s “Tic Tac Who?” with seventeen or so dancers on stage all at once. Fronted by black-clad Tyler Nenaber, the young women formed up in what I thought were pairs, filling the dancing area. Single dancers, usually the farther north one in a pair, would spin out into a brief solo until a rhythm change signaled a move back to unison dancing.
Altogether this was a creditable and entertaining show. Many of the individual dances were complicated, and so the performances may not have been as precise as has sometimes been the case in recent WinterDances. But the program seemed more intellectual than usual, and the large crowd seemed to concentrate and enjoy.