This year’s Dance Faculty Concert featured works by Brian Brooks, Etienne Cakpo, Alethea Alexander, Juliet McMains, and Rachel Lincoln in collaboration with Jeffrey Fracé. Performed at UW’s Meany Center, the dance department’s undergraduates showed off their versatility in works ranging from contemporary to West African dance, and included even a work of post-ballroom fusion.
The first work of the evening, Division, choreographed by Brian Brooks, featured six dancers wielding large rectangles of white foam core board. Stark lighting by Amiya Brown (based on Philip Treviño’s original 2015 design) accompanied unstructured, experimental electronic music by Jerome Begin. The dancers, dressed in white jeans and jackets resembling lab coats, pushed the cardboard pieces around the space to the sounds of grinding machines and shrieking error noises. The scenery became maze-like, trapping dancers in corners, behind walls, or shielding them from one another. In unison the dancers created multi-dimensional angles delineating the space while maintaining emotionless expressions, furthering the task-based, methodical executions of computers and machines. While the most of the movement in Division consisted of the dancers maneuvering the foam boards, at times they swept into released arabesques or threw their limbs into loose spirals. In a smooth, well-rehearsed ending, each dancer released her white board in cannon then resolutely walked away, leaving the audience with the soft whisper of each sheet as it settled on the deserted stage. While the costumes, lighting, and props all contributed to the piece’s clear thematic content, the music’s lack of dynamic evolution and the banausic execution conspired to form a monotonous pacing.
Guest artist Etienne Cakpo presented three works of West African-contemporary fusion throughout the Dance Faculty Concert: Fifa Dance, Sakpata Dance, and Wendu Wendu. Utilizing both Beninese dance and various other pan-African styles, Cakpo’s first work, Fifa Dance, was a brightly-colored, explosive celebration of “unity, peace and love.” The dancers wore yellow and red garments underneath grass skirts and flicked horsehair switches along to the live drumming of five percussionists.
In Cakpo’s Sakpata Dance, the dancers entered in a processional dance of two snaking lines and then settled into the space, their movements responding to calls from the master drummer. The dancers’ large hoop skirts bounced rhythmically along with their chest pops and hip undulations. In the latter half of the work, the undergraduate dance students formed a semi-circle around soloists Cakpo and Charles Ahovissi, a guest artist from Benin who often performs with Cakpo’s Gansango Dance Company. The two dancers’ skirts swayed side to side like ships and then erupted into a blur of multi-patterned fabric as the performers leapt into a series of barrel jumps, flying and rotating in the air.
Cakpo’s final piece closed the evening on a high energy note. Wendu Wendu (translated as: Dance Dance) was inspired by the constant motion of mosquito larvae in water. The dancers joyfully repeated patterns of steps in four directional facings—side, back, side and front—their movements escalating in complexity and power each time. Cakpo’s exuberant dances provided a refreshing contrast to the rest of the evening’s somber works.
Rachael Lincoln and Jeffery Fracé’s mature and deeply-moving work, 11 Comets, revolved around themes of mortality, loss, and aging. As soon as pools of light illuminate the dancers, Lincoln and Fracé, something is palpably broken and wrong. Using snippets of monologue and text from movies and books, 11 Comets gradually reveals chilling narrative details. A husband and wife feel 150 years old. They playfully shove and mock each other, clownishly parodying the ways they know each other so well. In a domestic scene suggested by carpets and chairs, Lincoln struggles to find an object, her movements progressing from frantic scrabbling and eventually breaking down into catatonia. Fracé supports her paralyzed, limp body and mourns her fate. “You used to be so strong!” The work’s fragmented structure serves to further emphasize its grief-stricken feel. We wonder what tragedy has befallen this couple and struggle to piece together a mysterious, non-chronological arc. Sublime dancing and acting by Lincoln and Fracé show that these two accomplished faculty members are still performing at their prime.
Alethea Alexander also presented We Have Always Been There, a work using three benches and many small saucers, while Juliet McMains performed with her students in Submergence, a fusion of ballroom, contemporary dance, and contact improvisation, performed in front of a dance film by Warren Woo.
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