2020 UW MAJORS CONCERT

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“Go, Stop, Melt, Reset.” These are the words that make up Ieva Bračiulytė’s Interactive Climate Change Model, in which audience members milling about the theater lobby can state the four commands and watch as dancers react. Bračiulytė explains, in an written sign, that “We don’t have unlimited chances to ‘reset’ the planet and keep experimenting. The five dancers represent materials and variables in a climate change model that can be manipulated countless times.” When asked to reset, the dancers do not reach the exact same position every time, and the place they do reach seems to be affected by what has happened previously. Often one dancer will be missing from what formerly looked like a more complete group image. As the audience builds a relationship to a previous reset structure, we begin to recognize the absences as more resets occur. Choreographically, it works because the model is complex enough to keep the audience engaged, allowing us to learn more information the more we interact with the model. Conceptually, the viewer experiencing visual loss as a direct result of their command use over time is an effective and efficient parallel to personal impact on climate change. 

Michelle Asencio’s Familiars. Dancers: Natalie Hoffman, Jennily Diaz. Photo by Warren Woo.

This lobby installation is part of the University of Washington Dance Majors Concert, one of two student choreographed programs scheduled to present at Meany over this past weekend. Unfortunately the second program was cancelled due to concerns around CoVid19, though a preview of that show ran the previous Tuesday.

After the interactive lobby portion, Bračiulytė’s piece transitions to the stage under the overarching title Business as Usual, which also includes visual art hanging in the lobby. Witnessing the same performers both up-close in a site-specific format, and far away on a proscenium stage, helps me develop a closer relationship to the dancers. Watching them in the more removed stage setting, I find myself more drawn into the work than I might normally be.

Maria Villegas’ …And There Will be Cake. Dancers: Chloe Miller, Emily Asplin, Sabrina Han, Alyssa Vacheron, Charlotte Schoen. Photo by Warren Woo.

Kelly Langeslay’s seven minutes in heaven charmingly captures the absurdity of middle school. The costumes, courtesy of the UW School of Drama Costume Shop, are on point, with pajamas reminiscent of the exact sets I wore to sleepovers when I was 12. During one section, the performers put on precisely adolescent dresses, the kind you would have dreamed about in 7th grade and then been embarrassed to own two years later. The performers are frank and versatile, seamlessly switching through a variety of moods from sassy-I-just-learned-a-dance-from-a-music-video, to terrified, to confused, to I’m-so-dramatic-I-will-now-weep-to-Coldplay-over-a-dropped-piece-of-popcorn. Langeslay’s world building and commitment to theme creates an amusing work that is both ridiculous and sweet. 

Turbines by Megan Renee Sellman incorporates wind via an onstage fan. This element is used in a smart way alongside the movement, to where it becomes a choreographic tool and not just an extraneous dramatic aspect. In one particularly exciting solo, the ripple of the wind-blown fabric effectively embellishes simple arm movements with varied rhythm. Turbines is visually compelling for this layering of costume and bodily movement.

Megan Sellman’s Reverb & Resonance. Dancers: Lukas Poischbeg, Anissa Martinez. Photo by Warren Woo.

For me, one of the big takeaways from this show is how significant audio is in a dance work. I found myself considering that perhaps more important than the content of the audio is the choice between recorded sound, live sound, and silence, or the mixed landscape of more than one of these options. These choices have a drastic impact on how the audience is guided to perceive the work. 

Bračiulytė’s work encompasses live text spoken by the audience in the lobby (asking patrons to state the four commands), live text spoken by the dancers on stage, recorded text (news anchor recordings), silence, and recorded music. In my opinion, this work would have been stronger with the use of exclusively live sound/silence. Switching between recorded and live sound creates two different worlds, and the development of the piece suggests that these worlds are not meant to be separate. The stage portion of the work follows a linear arc, and the constant shifts between two worlds of sound hinders the flow of an otherwise fluid narrative. 

Katie Daugherty’s If We Never Leave We Will Never Know. Dancers: Madison Shorter, Megumi Hosaka. Photo by Warren Woo.

Sellman’s work similarly uses a mix of sounds that disrupt the nature of the piece in a way that appears to be accidental. The recorded music in this work incorporates many moments of silence, during which the noisy sound of the fan on stage takes the audience out of the recorded music world, only to be quickly interrupted by the music sporadically cutting back in and drowning out the sound of the fan. The imaginative, orchestral quality of the music clashes with the mundane clamor of the fan, and this clashing doesn’t match the sequential essence of the choreography. This work would benefit from either a recorded soundtrack that is loud and continuous enough to completely overpower the sound of the fan, or a commitment to only use the live fan as the soundtrack.

To the contrary, Langeslay’s use of a varied soundtrack (both recorded and live text, live sounds from a popcorn machine, recorded music, and silence) enhanced the core theme of the work. Jarring moments are amplified by the sporadic and abrupt soundscape, thus making the cheeky, awkward elements of the work even more poignant, exemplifying how sudden audio shifts can heighten a work that is structured to be discordant and constantly changing.

As a whole, this is an impressive student showcase that helped me think about choreographic choice-making. While some of the works could have been enhanced by different auditory decisions, there are many interesting, innovative ideas presented, and it is pleasing to see choreographers provided with space and time to experiment with concepts that they each seem to be quite dedicated to. UW Dance Majors Concert definitely exceeded my expectations and was just as worth seeing as professional shows. 

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