Sunday, February 21, 2010

Spring Dance Festival: A Retrospective Review

This year’s Spring Dance Festival offered a wide range of styles within the realm of modern and contemporary dance, from contemporary ballet on pointe to modified folk dance. There was a striking air of professionalism in everything from the costumes to the level of preparation from each dancer, which made this performance well worth attending. Not every piece was a gem. Three were masterpieces, and a couple of others were downright boring. However, in this case the gems were worth waiting for.

“Pulse” by Susan Jaffe sparked an intriguing conversation about the possibilities for traditional ballet technique. The sharp, precise choreography required strong technique. The music—Junkman by Donald Knaack—was percussion heavy and sounded both tribal and contemporary at once. For most of the piece, the tone of the movement was rather detached. The second movement, however, a duet involving Daniel Cohen ’13 and Samantha Miller ’13, was refreshingly mysterious and human. Jaffe’s choreography offered innovative possibilities for the uses of line and momentum. The piece was grounded in classical technique but seemed to ask new questions about what that technique can accomplish choreographically.

The “Three Studies,” three short pieces choreographed by students, were rather underwhelming. None of them were attentive to geometry or space, and all three relied on elements outside of the actual movement to make an impression on the audience. It is only fair to say, however, that the technique was unfailingly high in quality. “Fáh Mài,” written and performed by Eva Marie Wash ’11, was almost equally unimpressive in terms of creativity. The use of space was infinitely better than in the aforementioned pieces, and the choreography held its own without the use of props, pantomime, or alternate media. However, the movements were rather cliché, and Wash never once looked up from the floor.

Choreographed collaboratively by students in the dance department, “Scratch Into Silence,” was the best of the student-choreographed pieces. Again though, I have to criticize the poor use of the Berlind’s ample space. The piece relied mostly on vignettes and lacked any true ensemble work, though most of the dancers were on the stage at any given time. This weakness most likely derived from the collaborative nature of the piece, ironically, since it clearly lacked the connected quality that comes with a central creative mind.

Mark Morris’s “Polka” was heavy, grounded, and much like folk dancing. Technique was lacking in a few of the dancers, which was unfortunately obvious. However, the synchronization of the group made up for this for the most part. My last thoughts were that I would have liked to see this performed with more emphasis on clean, expressive lines.

“The Fugue” by Twyla Tharp utilized absolutely no music. The dancers were dressed in men’s dress pants and shirts and character shoes. Despite these limitations, this was the most expressive in the entire show. It was very well executed—clean, fast, and perfectly synchronized. The dancers displayed both dedicated technique and a wonderful passion for movement. The choreography was especially impressive in its ability to create rhythm, tone, and emotion, even with no music.

“City of Rain” by Camille Brown was my favorite piece in the entire show. The music and the dancing alike were beautiful. It was the only piece that sparked my imagination and emotions with its use of line and energy. There was something deeply psychological in its essence. The technique was of course very strong. All of these elements combined to make it wonderfully successful.

Despite having some weak points, the overall impression I had of the Spring Dance Festival was very positive. The dancers’ impeccable technique is a tribute to the strength of the dance program at Princeton, and the pieces by Susan Jaffe, Twyla Tharp, and Camille Brown were spectacular.

--Chloe Davis' 12


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