Satie, fancy lights, nonstop partying and more at IU dance theater
Today’s column doubles as a dance review
January 23, 2011, last update: 1/23 @ 12:39 pm
IU’s Eric Schaefer and Kristine Jones perform in “Nascimento Novo.” Courtesy photo
In the Indiana University Dance Theatre’s slightly too-long performance of “Contemporary Masters,” the students showed great range and energy in works that required a maturity that occasionally went beyond their years.
The show brought to town several important names in the modern dance world, including Nora Reynolds Daniel, who coached the dancers in the seminal work of Daniel’s own mother, Bella Lewitzky, the “Suite Satie”; Laura Poole, a former dancer with the Bella Lewitzky Dance Company, who staged “Suite”; and choreographer David Parsons.
I went to the Friday night performance, which was longer than the Saturday shows, in part because on Friday night only, Parsons’ famous solo “Caught” was danced by NYC-based Parsons Dance company member Miguel Quinones.
I’ve seen “Caught” before, and was determined to not be wowed once again by it. I failed.
In the solo, a buff shirtless man dances to the accompaniment of a strobe light. The genius of the dance is built around the strobe: light flashes when Quinones is in the air. His landings are in complete darkness. The effect is one of impossible human flight — you never see Quinones touch the ground, only float in space around the stage. It really is impressive, and created a giddiness in the audience. The folks behind me exclaimed, “I’ve never seen anything like that!” I believe it.
The nearly 2 1/2-hour night started with the gorgeous “Suite Satie,” by Lewitzky (1916-2004), one of the great American choreographers. Lewitzky’s 1980 piece is set to Erik Satie piano works, played at the Ruth N. Hall Theatre by Joni Chan and Gregory Geehern. The intimate space of the Halls Theatre was perfect for seeing the dance’s intricate footwork. The brutal costumes were skin-tight white leotards, and the choreography looked punishing on the knees. The dancers surmounted both, beautiful in their youthfulness. The dance was a homage to the music, and didn’t seem to be saying much beyond that — and that’s what I liked about it.
Visiting lecturer Selene Carter’s “Gilgulim” lent variety to the evening. The title is a Hebrew word that alludes to wheels and cycling, of things or periods of time. My one wish is that the musicians, playing accordion, clarinet and viola, had been amplified.
Next up was George Pinney’s “Oil.” What was this piece doing on this program? A musical theater man, IU’s Pinney sent out the most over-simplified critique of a serious subject I’ve witnessed in a long while. Three male dancers dressed in swanky white suits stood in for BP (they might as well have had the letters written on their backs, jersey-style) while other dancers drowned in black ribbons and large swaths of black fabric (representing — guess what — oil) waved around on stage.
In a manipulative gesture, the piece ended with two adorable little girls hopping on stage to play in the ocean, only to have their game of “Ring Around the Rosie” disrupted by the damage humans have done to the Earth.
Thankfully, IU professor Iris Rosa’s “No Me Abandones” followed to wash it all away. I felt like I’d been saved by a Coen brothers movie after sitting through a Farrelly brothers movie.
Here was complex, timeless social commentary, subtle in its pain and affecting in its choreography. The title, “Don’t Abandon Me,” refers to the displacement of people in the African Diaspora.
I’m sure the dancing was great in Donald McKayle’s “Rainbow Etude,” but it was tough to pay attention with the incredible singers on stage left. Eight members of IU’s African American Choral Ensemble gave their all to the traditional music, which tells the story of male prisoners on chain gangs in the South. The piece as presented by IU was based on socially conscious choreographer McKayle’s “Rainbow ’Round My Shoulder” of 1959.
Director of the contemporary dance program Elizabeth Shea’s “Coming to Light” was creepy in the best way. The piece tells the story of the Spider Woman as based on Native American legend. A bit predictable — you knew, for example, the piece would end with a lone dancer on stage in the same pose as she started the piece — “Coming to Light” had amazing symbiotic moments between movement and music.
The night could have satisfactorily ended here. But next came three pieces by Parsons, “Caught,” “Hand Dance” — which would have worked better had the lighting been as spot-on as it was in “Caught” — and the grand finale, “Nascimento Novo,” which I described in my notes as “pure joy.”
Very sensual and with Brazilian musical flavor, “Novo” was created by someone who’s had sex on the beach while sipping a cold tropical drink and baking in the hot sun — or at least had several vivid dreams about it. The dancers gave their best to the high-energy dance, and were told by Parsons to think of “Novo” as a party.
It was a party with no let-up for IU junior Kristine Jones, who had a lead role in the ensemble that was “Novo.”
“It’s a 20-minute piece, and I think I left the stage for 10 seconds the whole time. You’re just constantly moving your feet,” Jones told me a few days after the performance, when she’d caught her breath.
The dancers got a “good three or four hours” with Parsons, Jones said. The famed choreographer worked with the students after their Thursday night dress rehearsal and Friday morning before their first show. His presence certainly upped the ante, she said.
“You have to do your best because the person who made it up is watching.” Parsons was nice, she said, but definitely wanted the dancers to process his corrections the first time.
“He didn’t give us any time to think about it, really. He would call people out if we were not pulling our weight. I think he did a good job of treating us like professionals.”
And this is what the students want, she said.
The IU Contemporary Dance Program’s next performance is in April. Visit them online at www.indiana.edu/~kines/undergraduate/dance.shtml.