With dynamic musical collaborations, colorful costumes and passionate performances, five student choreographers from Emory University’s Dance Department inspired both their dancers and the audience, as they drew us into worlds that were strange, yet beautiful.
Emory Dance Company’s (EDC) final showcase of the year titled “Sum of Its Parts” took place at 8 p.m. on April 28. The expansive room in the Donna and Marvin Schwartz Center for Performing Arts came alive with spectacular stage lighting, heavy black curtains and a packed house. According to George Staib, a senior lecturer of Emory’s Dance Department who coordinated this performance, the five choreographers — including College juniors Julio Medina and Lauren Kaplan, as well as College seniors Alice Chen, Hannah Frankel and Megan Sypher — are some of the most talented artists he has ever worked with for EDC.
“I think the work is thoughtful, it’s complete, it’s inventive and daring,” Staib said. Frankel’s piece, “With Syntax,” began the show with, as Staib described it, a kind of “warped happiness.” The lights faded as the dancers scrambled in the dark to their opening positions, and the audience’s voices ebbed to a whisper. As the lights brightened to illuminate seven dancers lined up in front of the back curtain, they started to make repetitive gestures with their hands and arms.
Clad in neon-colored costumes, the performers shrugged their shoulders and bounced on their heels. Frankel created fluid transitions for her dancers, and they effortlessly wove in and out of formations with a combination of gestural and staccato, though athletic, movements. Her repetitive phrasing created a cohesive piece, but “With Syntax” was never dull. In fact, the choreographer’s use of both movement and pause offered a visual treat.
Kaplan choreographed an equally gestural piece for the second performance called “Of A Crowd.”
Kaplan’s piece seemed to be inspired by several types of movement, as her dancers incorporated floor work — which often accompanies modern dance pieces — with classical ballet poses and articulate movements of the feet.
Unlike “With Syntax,” the transitions from formation to formation were less fluid. Sometimes it was hard to follow all of the movement on stage, as if Kaplan had tried to squeeze too many dancers — each group with a different movement sequence — on the stage at once. As a result, the piece was difficult to process.
However, as the initial sound of wind chimes transitioned into electronic music and the tempo picked up, the dancers employed more fast-paced hand movements. “Of A Crowd” afforded the audience a powerful ending as the dancers unclasped their cupped hands from behind their backs and let them fall to their sides.
When fog rolled onto the dark stage before Chen’s “Was That What Women Hummed At Luncheon Parties Before The War?” the audience members seemed to fidget with anticipation.
Frankel was on stage when the lights brightened. The sound of a heartbeat echoed, and the lone dancer began to swing her arms violently and slap her thighs. The music evolved into a simple four-beat rhythm that evoked the sound a rubber band makes when it is plucked. The juxtaposition of subtle balletic movements during poignant solos in the spotlight by College freshmen Aneyn O’Grady and Amirah Mahdi and violent gestures by Frankel exemplified the theme of Chen’s piece.
Originally inspired by the “Shooting Paintings” of Niki de Saint Phalle and Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own, Chen mingled ideas of feminism and artistic violence into her choreography, she said.
“The idea of violence, or something so horrible, could turn into art stuck with me.” Chen said. “The idea I had was finding beauty in negativity.”
The fourth EDC piece, “Hive,” by Sypher, combined seemingly spastic movements, flashing lights and intense facial expressions to create a piece that was, as Staib noted, “out there in a great way, but not weird just to be weird.”
Besides the dark makeup, teased hair and costumes consisting of tight bodices with shredded tutus, the most compelling aspect of Sypher’s collaboration was the intent behind it.
According to the EDC program, Sypher included a quote from Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung to represent her theme.
“The meeting of two personalities is like the contact of two chemical substances,” Jung said. “If there is any reaction, both are transformed.”
The final piece, “Side B,” choreographed by Medina confused the audience at first. Several dancers grouped on the stage while the lights remained on. They chatted and laughed, wearing pedestrian clothing.
The confusion persisted until the dancers had wandered into a diagonal line; then, they paused and ran off stage. Medina’s piece was full of intricate hand movements and facial expressions. The phrasing was fast-paced and athletic. At times the dancers would pull at their legs as if they were broken and chatter their teeth.
The transitions in “Side B” were dynamic, but the audience members never got lost in the movement. Medina was careful to pair formations of dancers who moved rapidly, with repetitive jumps and articulate footwork, alongside other performers who held their positions quietly.
Perhaps Medina’s message was lost on some members of the crowd who had difficulty understanding the combination of playful costumes and hostile gestures. Though sometimes disturbing, often strange and always beautiful, EDC’s final production of the year left the crowd wanting more. Even though audience members may not have understood the intentions behind every movement, they really didn’t need too. In “Sum of Its Parts,” the passion each choreographer put into his or her piece was palpable. It was no longer a matter of understanding, but feeling.
— Contact Stephanie Minor.