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UNCG hosts NC Dance Festival

Staff Writer

Published: Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Updated: Wednesday, November 10, 2010 16:11




This isn’t New York City.  But Greensboro is a lot closer than you might imagine.  As a city and a state we’ve made the commitment to support the arts.  As the curtains drew back last Friday on the 20th annual installment of the North Carolina Dance Festival, the fruits of this public investment were revealed in the form of some of the finest in modern dance from across this state.

“I don’t draw any salary from this,” said Dr. Jan Van Dyke, who co-founded the festival in 1990 right here on UNCG’s campus to share “our beautiful little dance space.  The Festival has grown into something to show dancers that North Carolina is a place they can do their art.  They don’t have to leave.  There has been an explosive growth of dance in North Carolina.”  Few people doubt that the creation and endurance of this state-wide travelling exhibition has not contributed to the growth by providing a venue to young and professional companies.

While Dr. Van Dyke receives no payment for organizing the festival, she did get to open the evening with one of her own pieces, a reconstruction of 1992’s ‘A Little Late Afternoon Music.’  This was a gentle and captivating dance, which played on the imbalance of having five dancers instead of an even number which might allow each dancer to be paired.  The fivesome shuffled onto stage with their bodies intertwined and quickly the two males began duets with two of their female counterparts.  The couples would often perform the same motions, but occasionally with changes.  The ‘odd woman out’ was able to be less tied to the motions of the others but nonetheless generally followed in suit.  A fluid interaction between all the dancers meant that none was to be unpaired for too long, and twice the males retreated near the back of the stage to quietly produce tree-like structures with their bodies while the ladies were given a chance to explore their own motions.  This was a tender piece accompanied by the music of Mozart and with its reliance on legwork, it seemed to capture much of the grace and charm of ballet combined with the flexibility and imagination of modern dance.

The boundaries of the art were directly challenged in ‘Manifesto’ the second piece of the evening.  “Pedestrian.  Individual.  Rhythm.  Process.  Unison. Unpredictability.”  These words were yelled at the audience from a darkened stage.  When lights were given, a large cast under choreographer Christina Tsoules Soriano began a rather unconventional and artistically challenging series of events.  A third of the way through, one of the dancers stopped and announced “it wasn’t working” so they resumed from the very beginning.  At another point the ‘Fourth Wall’ or the imaginary divide of audience from performer was directly assaulted when the dancers approached the edge of the stage.  They asked the audience to recite their manifesto of creativity like it was the pledge of allegiance.  While there were many aesthetic moments in this dance without musical accompaniment, this was really a conceptual piece that was no doubt included in the festival to show the avant-garde of dance.  The art is often associated with beauty, but need not always be.  

From the political to the personal, the evening’s mood shifted with ‘Swinging on a Bench,’ by the Kearns dance project.  Clouded with the muffled sounds of a train station and the lone prop of a small bench, two strangers notice each other from across the room.  At first they are coy, sneaking glances at each other only when they think they are not being noticed.  They then start the hesitant coming near and leaving that you could imagine as part of a nervous first date that was moving quickly.  The train station around them melted away and they became two alone on stage, moving closer and mirroring each other’s motions.  Both Kara Griffin and William Commander held a similar level of authority and action, working as a team rather than obviously following the gender lines of pursued and pursuer.  This led to a cheeky finale when the new couple overturned the bench and sank away from the audience’s view, the two in each other’s arms.  “It was like the perfect date,” mused Michelle Lanteri, an advertising agent for one of the festival sponsors, Yes Weekly. “It was great chemistry.”

Challenging art returned once more in the form of ‘The Weight of a Grain of Sand’ an elusive and dark work by the Alban Elved Dance Company.   Beneath thunderous and ominous music, two narrow bands of sharp light were insufficient to see the dancers at times, and at other moments they were bathed in this harsh illumination.  These two dancers, both clad in grey, were quite often constrained to the floor in motions that seemed both frustrated and beautiful.  Several times the duo would challenge each other, and guide or use each other’s bodies as props. 

Eventually they became so close that their bodies seemed never to be apart even as each dancer was focused on different motions.  The piece ended in mid-action as the curtain dropped while one dancer was being spun around.  This irresolute conclusion suited the nature of this psychologically pained piece.  “The lighting design, choice of music, unpredictability, it all really made the piece,” commented film student Cara Clark.  “It was visceral.”

The final untitled piece by Gaspard Louis ended the night on a memorably pleasant note.  With plucky and optimistic music, three dancers were each given a spotlight for them to display their motions individually before combining into a very fast paced dance which never slowed tempo.  With one male and two females, one might expect jealousy to creep in as narrative but this never materialized.  Instead the three traded places swiftly and energetically in their brightly colored costumes.  Though lacking the emotional intensity of some of the other selections, this work was about sheer aesthetic pleasure, with beautiful and intricate choreography full of leaps and cheerful motion. 

As the audience exited to a newly fallen rain, they took away an experience of the state of this art in North Carolina.  After 20 years, this festival which was born on UNCG’s campus will continue to tour the state until February.

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