This past Thursday night, GW dance students gave their first performance of the semi-annual modern dance show, “Danceworks” at the Dorothy Marvin Betts Theatre. An enthusiastic crowd gathered to watch this fall’s performance which showcased seven contemporary and powerful pieces choreographed by the department’s senior students, along with a final work by guest artist Juliette Mapp.
“Per Severe,” the opening piece choreographed by Aliza Rudavsky, was gripping from the moment the lights went down and the sound of a racing heartbeat filled the dark space. Music of guitar and various strings soon replaced the heartbeat. On the dimly lit stage, five dancers dressed simply in grey with slits of red at their chests, shifted through choreography filled with appealingly varied movement. At times, Rudavsky’s steps were very spare and lethargic, the next moment, full of energy and vibration. The heart-theme reoccurred when the dancers repeated a sequence of hand motions involving a touch to the left sides of their chests.
Rudavsky later explained the thought behind these curious gestures. In an effort to bring each dancer’s own experiences to the piece, she asked each student to tell a personal story which Rudavsky then videotaped. From this, she noted hand gestures each dancer made and incorporated them into the dance as a reoccurring sequence. This exercise, though clever, may have not fully succeeded. While it was obvious the dancers had much talent and technical strength, they held back emotionally. The piece finished powerfully when the music faded out and the heartbeat recurred.
Two dances followed in the same serious and slightly dark mood the first piece had set (a mood I find preferred and used all too much by young, modern dance choreographers). Lauren Stash’s brighter piece, “In the Days When Wishing Was Having.,” made a pleasant contrast. Stash’s vision of creating a contemporary take on the classic “story ballet” was embodied through three confident and expressive personalities. These dancers each portrayed a different fairytale character (namely Rapunzel, Cinderella, and Snow White) but with a respective modern dance flare. Colorful skirts fluttered against a scrim displaying what reminded one of a vivid kaleidoscope-like pattern. Upbeat music entitled “Alarm Will Sound,” added positivity giving the piece a fantasy air.
Choreographer Marcia Elena LoMonaco’s piece, “Trails,” followed the bright mood when the curtain opened to an orange scrim and four dancers in two-toned dresses of reds and oranges. The music, “Appalachian Journey” by Yo-Yo Ma, Edgar Meyer, and Mark O’Conner, provided such a fun and buoyant sound that I was surprised when the dancers seemed to hold back their expressions yet again. LoMonaco’s creative choreography was full of contrast; while having certain dancers move quickly with the complex tempo of the music, others would use more lyrical moves to cut slowly through it. All performers danced with the musicality required for the piece, as well as with clean technique (which proved to be consistent throughout all the pieces that night).
The last, and perhaps wildest, piece of the evening was by the guest artist Juliette Mapp, a New York City based teacher and choreographer, and also currently a guest professor in the Theater and Dance Department. “Full Moon Half Sabbath” began oddly as dancers slowly pushed large mops across a dimly lit stage to classical music. A series of slow, simple movements followed until the girls, in mid-length black dresses, ended the sluggish section abruptly. They fled upstage to a small table and downed what appeared to be tequila shots followed by limes (yes, this is “modern” dance, I suppose). The dance suddenly livened up as a Black Sabbath tune filled the theatre. The five dancers shook off their former blank faces and moved with attitude to the more provocative choreography.
I was not alone to wonder what all of these odd elements in Ms. Mapp’s dance meant. She later explained that as a choreographer she was open to the elements of chance and sudden inspiration. Mapp says that this free style makes the dance more about the moment. The mop routine mentioned earlier was actually a result of Mapp walking into the studio, and seeing a dancer mopping. Mapp liked how the motions looked and decided to incorporate it. One can then only speculate how the tequila found its way into the piece.