This time of year there are lots of dance concerts. K-12 schools, universities, and private studios are all prepping for end-of-the-year shows, and there are still a handful of professional company performances scattered through the spring months. So naturally, I’m going to see a lot of dance, and therefore, thinking about what I’m learning from these experiences. What I’m reminded of from the last few concerts I’ve attended is that all the “stuff” outside of the dance technique and choreography counts A LOT. Those details are important, and they can either help a performance succeed or contribute to its failure. A few examples of what I mean:
- Panoramic Dance Project Concert at NC State University, March 23, 2013
A student dance company at NCSU, PDP performed a work titled Goodwill Gucci in their annual concert. What I remember about this piece (which closed the show) are the costumes and the enthusiasm of the dancers themselves. Dancers are clad in what is representing the cream of the crop from your local Goodwill (or other thrift shop) – plaid pants, tweed jackets, suspenders, hats, over-sized sunglasses, and vintage dresses in every shape and color you could imagine. Each dancer’s costume created their persona for the work, which they then each performed with more passion and investment than is usually seen in college-aged dancers. It was not about the dance technique in this work; it was sold in the performance quality. The choreography? Forgettable. The performance? Not a chance.
- Nederlands Dans Theater at Memorial Hall (UNC-Chapel Hill), April 5, 2013
Though I’ve only seen them perform live a couple times, Nederlands Dans Theater is quickly becoming one of my favorite companies. This evening, NDT opened the show with Sehnsucht, which I knew took place in a “spinning room.” I imagined that when I saw the stage, I’d see a circular portion that would spin on the horizontal axis as the dancers moved, but I quickly learned I underestimated the group’s innovation. The room was actually a cube (missing the front side) that rotated on a vertical axis – the floor became the wall, the ceiling eventually became the floor – it was a wonderful jungle gym of a door, window, desk and chair (the latter two bolted to their surfaces, of course). I was in awe right away; I wanted to play in that set! I stayed glued to the work to see how the dancers would use this fabulous set, though in the end, I felt there were so many possibilities left uncovered. Perhaps this was the plan or aesthetic intended, but honestly, it left me a little underwhelmed.
Rotating room explorations aside, overall the concert was captivating. The dancers were technically superb, and the choreography was sufficiently new and yet approachable at the same time. Then, as I could feel the concert coming to a close, the worst happened… the oh-too-familiar musical composition of Max Richter began in the final dance sequence. You may not recognize the name, but Richter’s “On the Nature of Daylight” is supremely memorable from its use in Shutter Island – and in a gross number of (mostly poorly choreographed) dances. I have seen no less than six dances performed to this same piece of music, and so regardless of the fact that it is incredible music, and regardless of the fact that I loved the NDT dancer striking away the beautiful landscape backdrop throughout the final dance – it was ruined for me. I could not endure another dance to that composition. That detail cast an ugly shadow on an otherwise remarkable evening.
- DanceVisions at NC State University, April 10, 2013
Another student dance company at NCSU, DanceVisions has been around campus for 36 years now, and usually has an annual spring concert in Stewart Theatre. However, due to the renovations of Talley Student Center (which houses Stewart Theatre), DanceVisions and many other groups have been forced to look elsewhere for performance space. The student group definitely had a challenge this season – performing their concert in the gymnasium of Centennial Middle School – on NCSU’s Centennial campus. The lacking “details” of this show were obvious: the lights, the curtains, even the seating was all nontraditional. It has been quite a while since I’ve sat on school bleachers to watch anything! There was no proscenium curtain, though the group did construct some make-shift wings from plywood draped with fabric. The lighting was the bare minimum and unchangeable. Missing black-outs at the end of pieces certainly changes the effect of a final image, and the four theatrical lights that did shine onto the dancers influenced the audience focus in a unintended way. (I’m sure of this after speaking to a dancer in the group after the show.) The lights were much brighter on stage-right, leading your eye to that side even if action was happening stage-left. Given these huge constraints of details, the concert went remarkably smoothly, which led me to another conclusion: a supportive audience makes all the difference. DanceVisions has such a strong history at NCSU, and the former DV dancers come out in droves to the concert each year. (I heard there were alums in from California for the show!) So, in the end, maybe that passion wins out above the “details.”
Overall, what have I learned? Not that you always have to have great costumes, lights, sets, etc… quite the contrary, actually. Dance can survive with enough passion, but I still maintain that all details should at least be considered in the design of a show – it is the mission, in fact, of Code f.a.d. Company to fully design our shows. If you choose to leave something out, make that your choice – not an oversight. Just my thoughts for the moment…