Written by Irene E. Beausoleil
There are rare moments in life when the ending and beginning of things can both be seen in stark relief. Even more exceptional are the moments when the starting and stopping of progress can be overlooked to see the uninterrupted evolution of an idea. At the University of Washington Dance Faculty/Collaboration Concert on Friday, January 18, 2013, audiences were presented with three pieces that spanned an extensive timeline of dance history with fresh verve and a sense of continuity. The recreation of the historical work, Dances for Isadora by José Limón, was joyfully juxtaposed with the post-modernist work, A Small Piece of the Story by faculty member Jennifer Salk. Both set the stage for the climactic staging of Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring by Jürg Koch, re-imagined 100 years after its premiere with an abbreviated score.
A Small Piece of the Story was a wonderful example of how post-modernism affected the classical ‘setup’ of dance. Instead of relegating the musicians to an unseen, subterranean pit, Salk has them on stage, as fully seen participants. Elaborate sets typical of classical ballets were replaced with familiar props like a red couch, cream carpet, and a white sheet artfully slashed to let in light from above. Presented in three sections, the piece told the story of a group of rambunctious, incorrigible, colorfully-clothed children. The passge of time was indicated by the music, composed by four different artists and performed by pianist Kimberly Russ and violist Melia Walters. The dance itself, though was anything but passive. Nap time was a fun excuse to roll across the floor, and the calming adagio section provided an opportunity for contrast with staccato movements and phrases that could have been a short story. Yoga, acrobatics, ballet, and even the hint of some early jazz were all seen in this inclusive, post-modernist take on being young.
It was a wonderful experience to see Dances for Isadora set by Jennifer Scanlon, a veteran dancer and member of the José Limón Dance Company. The personality of each soloist was clear from the beginning, a vital aspect of the work since its conception in 1971. Five vignettes highlighted the various facets of Duncan’s life and work as an artist. The original costumes were especially beautiful to see, and complimented the technical brilliance of the dancers. Strong and confident, the dancers moved with the grace of Limón’s characteristic release and rebound technique. Especially inspired was the agile, sprightly performance of Primavera by Siena Dumas Ang. Nicole Rover’s tempered and deliberate depiction of the mourning mother in Niobe was also notable. Courageous and deeply emotive, the final solo, danced by Brenna Monroe-Cook was performed in total silence and used a purple scarf to communicate desire, the loss of a child, and feminine strength.
Faculty member Jürg Koch restaged The Rite of Spring with a unique cast of dancers as part of the centennial celebrations taking place on campus. A large group, it was composed of more than twenty people of various ages, shapes, ethnicities, and sizes. This mass of dancers formed a community of real people that dealt with the most primal aspects of human interaction without apology. The abbreviated score, performed by two programmed pianos, but without pianists, created a spooky sound emerging from the orchestra pit. A similar haunting quality was also prominent in the choreography, especially as repetition was used to tell the story of tradition, development, progress, denial, conflict, and finally acceptance. Fantastic lighting design by Peter Bracilano and costumes by Sarah Nash Gates enriched the minimal set. Especially worth mentioning was the final, climactic section that consumed death in new life, dancers moved forward while looking back at what was lost.
The University of Washington Dance Faculty/Collaboration Concert provided audiences with a comprehensive overview of dance in the 20th Century without the distractions of time or place. Though each piece was uniquely influenced by the artists who performed and staged them, the essence of the historical pieces remained intact and relevant. This respect for tradition nestled within hope for progress seems to be a trademark of the Dance Department at the University of Washington, as previous faculty concerts have demonstrated. The faculty’s commitment to teach students to learn from the past while pushing toward the future will continue to benefit students and audiences for years to come.