I have to admit, I was surprised by “Shift,” the Emory Dance Company spring concert that was performed at the Donna and Marvin Schwartz Center for Performing Arts throughout this past weekend. Not knowing much at all about modern dance, and halfway expecting the dancers to be adorned in fluffy tutus while doing leaps through the air, I was taken aback by how each of the dance pieces, all produced by student choreography, managed to be contemporary and fresh.
The concert comprised six short dance pieces developed by Anushka Bharvani, Sandra Chan, Kirsten Cooper, Jillian Edelstein, Kala Seidenberg and Mohammad Zaidi. Each piece, developed to explore a specific concept, such as memory or personal tension, conveyed its message through a distinctive combination of movements, costume designs, music selections and even lighting effects. The experimental pieces, all bold and emotionally moving, incorporated the individual themes of personal conflict and growth, which complemented one another to embody the over-arching concept of a “Shift.”
The modern nature of the show immediately became apparent with the first piece, Cooper’s “just another Deconstruction,” which was meant to be an examination of bebop culture. The dancers began with a technical, ballet-like approach, but their movements deconstructed into fragments toward the end of the piece, exploring digression and simplification. The next few dance segments were equally interesting and progressive in nature, featuring novel and often bizarre combinations of movements and sounds which peaked the audience’s curiosity — he background music for one switched from a classic piece by Vivaldi to a Lil Wayne track with an impressively smooth transition.
Edelstein’s “dissonantia,” which played with the idea of psychological obsession and addiction, was a personal favorite because of the haunting feeling that the dancers inspired. Their movements were purposefully convulsive as they alternated between lurching and freezing still with unexpected regularity, lending an unexpectedly structured feel to an otherwise chaotic piece. The segment also drew upon sounds from electronic and industrial music, with the dancers dressed in grunge-inspired grey garbs. The overall effect was a moving, unsettling feeling that perfectly captured the theme of emotionality and anxiety — making the piece a far cry from the lofty Nutcracker-like performance my misinformed self expected to see.
Zaidi’s “Universal Attachment Base” made interesting use of props — as the dancers performed in the black-box theatre in absolute darkness, they used their cell phones for light and often stopped to feign texting between movements. Seidenberg’s “Not at Once,” another intriguing piece, looked at the passage of time and how people rush through and waste time. The piece explored the change in the tone of the dance when choreography was either sped up or slowed down. The dance ended in a line of dancers collapsed over one another, concluding the show on a pleasant note of universality and interconnectedness.
Despite limited seating, the turnout was fairly strong; enthusiastic friends and dance fans occupied most of the seats in the small theatre. The audience seemed drawn in by the show, giving substantial applause and cheering during the transitions. Many attendees discussed their personal favorites afterward as they exited the theatre to the reception.
Overall, the Emory Dance Company spring concert was a successful and valuable event, thanks to hours of weekly practice and dedication from the dancers and the choreographers alike. Not only did the individual segments explore many universally recognizable and applicable themes, but being choreographed solely by students, this past weekend’s dance concert was an exemplary showcase of student talent in the arts at Emory.
— Contact Catherine Cai.