Previously Published in THE DAILY IOWAN on February 8, 2018.
Image Credit: David Harmantas/The Daily Iowan
Written By Rhiana Chickering
Intricate movements along with stillness and solemn facial expressions lead to riveting moments of apprehension as music slows down into intense vibrations and lighting shifts. Once the performers return to dancing in unison, the crowd attempts to decode a message from every elaborate, meaningful movement.
Even still, electrifying choreography and a sporadic sense of humor lighten the ambiance.
On Thursday at 8 p.m. the University of Iowa Dance Department’s Faculty/Graduate Concert will inspire thought through both abstract and more concrete works — some with a sense of humor and others with a deep and powerful message.
In “she is seeing,” choreographer Melinda Myers uses dance to elicit conversation around a timely and imperative message that has affected several generations of women.
Myers said she wanted to emphasize how women’s bodies are presented in the dance field as they are seemingly being watched under a lens, especially during the current political climate the U.S. is enduring.
In an effort to break down personal barriers among the dancers, Myers urged them to engage in a communal writing process throughout the rehearsals. Over email, the seven dancers sent daily messages to each other, detailing their daily experiences, interests, aspirations, and thoughts.
By completing this deeper process, Myers believed it eliminated the wall between the faculty and the dancers. Rather, it felt as if she was on the same level as them, communicating in a more circular manner.
The trust built among the dancers throughout the writing tasks was valuable to Myers’s work, which wonderfully illustrates trust and vulnerability in conveying a potent message to the audience.
“I felt a need to respond creatively to what I have been noticing in the media and in the news and also in this time that we live in and the ways that people are speaking out, speaking up, [and] showing up in new ways,” Myers said. “Particularly in dance … I notice a need for young women’s bodies in a very strong, grounded, and spatial way, and for them as artists and dancers to know that [they have] a voice inside of what they are making and how they are being presented.”
Conversely, other works will be performed in a more abstract manner.
Fresh, remixed, a contemporary piece by choreographer Armando Duarte was created around 20 years ago for a freshman seminar.
Of course, throughout the rehearsal and choreographer process during the course, the movements differ from the original piece’s movement.
Every student interacted with Duarte in a creative manner, contributing to the change in movement in the choreography. Making it more challenging, the dancers worked collectively with dancers from different dance backgrounds and abilities.
“[The] creative process is not only about you [teaching] a movement and then they repeat [the movement,” Duarte said. “[It’s where] ideas develop, [and] movement investigation does not lead to right or wrong but all the possibilities in between.”
As a result, the creative process of rehearsals and choreography has just as much value as the final performance.
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The vigorous harmony of classical music energizes the 13 first-year students as they vibrantly dance amid the stage. Interspersed throughout the piece, duets and a solo place a strong focus on the remarkable skills the first-year students are bringing into the dance department.
For Duarte, the best part of a performance is when the work becomes the dancers’ work rather than his work.
“I always [inform] dancers to take ownership of what they are doing …” he said. “They are the ones performing … they are the ones making the best possible decisions when they are performing.”
“Interplay,” choreographed by Sarah Olsen, is a beautiful, abstract duet that was inspired by Gabriela Montero’s rework of Minuet in G Major, by J. S. Bach.
“I took [Bach’s] piece … deconstructed it … put it back together, and just reworked it,” she said. “Then I found this other piece by Gabriela Montero — it’s an improvisation on [Bach’s] original [work].”
Throughout the creative process, the piece adopted a more playful tone, including a beginning dialogue between dancers Hannah Gross and Margot Korn.
The curtain opens to a rehearsal between Gross and Korn, implementing a sense of humor into the piece as they determine the correct movements. Once the instrumental music starts, the amusement continues.
Gross said she and Korn also have fun throughout the performance, revealing the lively concept of the piece and unleashing an energetic ambiance among the audience.
By reworking Bach’s piece, Olsen ensures that it is a great way to keep history’s musical legacy alive.
“The most rewarding part is seeing the [final work] performed and take on a life of its own in the embodiment of your dancers,” Olsen said. “There is so much that can be communicated [through] dance, and there are so many things that can resonate [with you] that you might not even be able to articulate.”
“Fresh, remixed” will end the concert while also revealing a new beginning for the next generation of dancers.
“For me it’s like, ‘Oh, the future is coming,’ ” Duarte said. “You see all these wonderful works from colleagues and [graduate] students, then [at the end], there are the freshmen — the first-year students.”
Works including “fresh, remixed” and “Interplay” are abstract in nature, while other works, such as “she is seeing,” illustrate timely messages.
“I’m excited to share this work and see what conversations are sparked from it,” Myers said. “I am excited to be more accountable for my point of view on this topic now that I am presenting this work, and also I am interested in having this be a more prevalent conversation in general in the [dance] field and also at our school.”
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When: Thursday, Friday, and Saturday @ 8 p.m.
Where: Space Place Theater