There is hope for the future of art. If you had any doubt, you need only to attend a Cornish College of the Arts performance, like Terpsichore’s Landing, in which the newest generation of creators showed attention to art, technique, expression, and imagination.The eleven original student-choreographed works explored the relationship between dance and sound, repetition and isolation, and demonstrated a bedrock of incredible technique on which to build their expression.
The show opened with a video piece titled Rehearsal 2-18-18 by Kelly Goetz, which portrayed dancers in the studio, in combination with the choreographer’s vocal instruction and commentary, presumably from behind the camera doing the filming. What boosted this piece beyond cuteness or simple humor of quick cuts and fumbles was the attention to detail within a concept that felt very whole. Repetitions and closeups were artfully done and it fell in and out of chronology. The manipulated audio track took the natural repetition of a rehearsal environment just a bit farther, asking us to sit with the action on screen in open curiosity. The colors, light, and fragmentation all seemed intimately intentional, a quality which became a common thread throughout the show’s many works.
Many of the pieces used audio accompaniment that was not “song” in the traditional sense, as Goetz did. Instead they used sounds, words, or music that was perhaps only partly melodic, interspersed with slow meditative chords. Maybe this is evidence that the students are educational descendants of Merce Cunningham and his willingness to challenge the interactions of dance and music. Maybe it’s just become normalized across dance lineages. Some of the sound and music chosen was original work, including a spoken monologue and composition by Cornish music students, reflecting an acute awareness of the power of working creatively with other artists, and the sense of art community built among students.
It was Anxiety, choreographed by Micah Camp, that struck the most effective blend of sound and movement. The dancers worked with Shayla Jones, who spoke her own monologue on stage and created the backdrop for the dance movements. Jones was also another person and body in the work: At times Jones stood downstage and commanded attention with her strong voice and direct gaze to the audience while dancers continued moving upstage. At other moments her poetry was more integrated, weaving through the movements of Camp and four other dancers: Agi Elman, Jessica Alba, Grace Garrett, and Sebastian Arredondo. Amid all of this were moments of silence and stillness, but never absence. Camp portrayed anxiety though contrasting isolation and belonging to the group, creating crescendos in the wildness of movement, mirroring how Jones expressed the power (and pain) of naming anxiety and being open about it. The piece ended fittingly after the visual storm subsided and Arredondo placed one arm around Jones in silence, in a gesture of empathy, closure, and perhaps of joining forces.
Structure and form, that sense of wholeness, were evident throughout the show; these young choreographers are taking their craft seriously. Molly Bantugan ended how she began in her solo piece Clarity after a wild exploration of her limbs’ attempts to control, even escape, her body. The story (angry yet victimized, pleading yet taunting) told in Daniel Ernst’s Atrophy was a journey showcasing intention, statement, and completion. His dancers ended in dejection after energetic turns and lifts, slow motion punches to their own faces, and a limp body carried away like a bloodied doll, with gruesome makeup completing the picture. Also enjoyable was The Long Awaited Duet, choreographed and danced by Brynn Mellon and Monica Kerr, which started and ended with their bodies on the floor, together then separate, and a one-handed snatch at the air that killed the lights at the end. They spent the dance exploring relationship to each other and to space around them, at times mirroring each other and at others working on their own. Also a journey, but with more intimate, relationship-building tone than Ernst’s work. Each of the eleven pieces was different in its emotions and expressions, but throughout we saw movements that echoed each other – the exploration of belonging, of being outsiders or participants, permeated the show; it made sense to put these works on stage together.
Impressively, Terpsichore’s Landing was entirely student-produced. Cornish students worked the lights and sound, auditioned their own dancers, and organized the details of the production. To get that kind of hands-on work before leaving an undergraduate program is a great benefit and allows the audience as well to appreciate the many facets of dance work, on and off stage. It seems that the secondary purpose of the show is to give students that gritty glimpse into the professional world, while at the same time celebrating the agency and creativity that comes with that level of ownership over your work. Altogether the event was a satisfying look into what art school energy is all about.
Terpsichore’s Landing was performed at Poncho Theater on the campus of Cornish College of the Arts on April 1, 2018 at 12pm and 3pm.