writers on dancing


It is Easy to Bond in Underwear

Maryland Dance Ensemble
Dance Theatre, Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center, University of Maryland.
College Park, Maryland, USA.
Tuesday, April 19, 2005

by George Jackson
copyright ©2005 by George Jackson

Friendships shift, and so the five young women who were together on stage and perhaps in life too, in class and out, would sometimes split into smaller groups: a threesome and a twosome, or two twos and a single. These little alliances were by no means constant in Nicole Bradley Browning's "Traces". Browning had dressed the five figures casually and focused sharply on the one distinct enough to be the occasional single. The movement she used, to dreamy music by Arvo Part, came in soft pulses as the women engage each other in action, comfort or repose. The choreography's motion vectors and group formations, though not ostentatious, were finely crafted. Whoever danced the sometimes single gal used technique sensitively to separate and merge herself with the group.

There's always been a manpower shortage for modern dance on college and university campuses, but it seems to have become acute again. For this program, MDE's artistic director, Alvin Mayes, had just one male performer. No wonder so many of the pieces were about women bonding with women. Also a trend in 21st Century academia so far has been the avoidance of technical challenge. This selection's choreographers preferred to have their casts look comfortable. No one took the chance to show off and perhaps fall short. Of the 10 pieces presented, most used sound and even music as background. That may explain why there was little concern with form. Endings, especially, tended to be vague. And, perhaps for economy, wearing underwear—women's slips—was in vogue.

There were three duets. "Concealed for All to See", by Amy Grear and Shannon Beck, concealed and also highlighted the duo pair (Grear and Beck, costumed in light underwear) with six women (dressed in black) who all the while stood still as mannequins with their backs to the audience. Many tiny, shiny balls had been scattered over the stage and one of the central women wasted much time, much too much time, gathering them all up into a bottle. As the cleanup finished, the other woman, recumbent, awoke. Both central figures, separately, became involved in frenzied motion until they discovered each other. Their encounter had a mutually calming influence and, yes, they bonded. Then, though, the woman who had filled the bottle with balls began to empty it again, scattering the little globes over the stage and it was her partner who took up the chore of gathering them back. A gentler female duo, Megan Merchant's "Imprints", full of reaching, touching and embracing by Merchant and Rebecca Halperin, used a Dvorak sonatine for atmosphere. It might have profited by mickey-mousing the music and its moods just a little. Carly Hamburger's "Moments" was still another interaction dance with Mari-Elise Gates and Hamburger in black slips over panties.

Of solos there were two, three or five, depending on how you counted because "Almost ...", a trio by Natasha Curtis could be seen as three solos juxtaposed. There was a modicum of movement for Katie Artes, Nikia Davis and Yoko Feinman, and one of the three wore underwear. The ending seemed arbitrary. The two actual solos, Regina Goldman's brief "Grey Sky" for Aikaterini Paramana, and Shannon Connell's "Painting the Sky" for Jan Beardsley, differed. Goldman's clearly concerned the fear about what might descend from above and yet having the determination to walk on alone. Connell's solo alternated between too little movement and too much formless motion.

A group dance, Brian Brooks's "Get Up" started out as a good joke. Five bodies in old fashioned bathing suits and caps lay on the floor like sardines just hauled out of the water, dying. They flopped, they flipped. The color of their swim wear was orange (the in-color this year) and although the cut was unisex, the dancer's bodies were not. Four had female breasts and the fifth (No. 2 from the left) a male crotch. Instead of fading away, the stranded fish became more active, got up, jumped and indulged in lifts. In a second scene, the five dancers returned in orange shifts, this time they looked more unisex but not totally so. Their torsos and right arms were active, their left arms looked numb. Some of this was to music with a Latin rhythm, some to silence. At the end, in their shifts, the dancers lay down again like dead fish. Another group work, "They Might be Giants", was a callisthenic exercise for 10 women dressed as a male baseball team. Done with a touch of irony, it was choreographed by the male performer in "Get Up", Ruben Graciani. "Ley Lines", also for 10 dancers, seemed rote. The choreographers, Sara Pearson and Patrick Widrig, didn't try to stretch the Maryland dancers technically or as performers. They gave them gym class movement that was executed pretty much without nuance. When no other exercises came to mind, Pearson and Widrig had the cast run.

Volume 3, No. 16
April 18, 2005

copyright ©2005 George Jackson



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