Crazy is popular in dance these days, as HSU's 40-person, 10-dance spring show, choreographed and performed by both students and instructors, demonstrates. Kelsey Brennan's "The War Within" tackles post-traumatic stress disorder among vets, set to overlapping recitations from All Quiet on the Western Front by sound artist Tim Gray. The dancing here is percussive and martial; all five women own the moment of their distress, giving shape to the damages of war. In "Appetite," choreographed by Dani Gutierrez and Camille Ruiz, a soloist struggles fearfully along an illuminated diagonal. Laura Muñoz's trio piece, "When I Die Leave the Balcony Open," falls toward the genuinely insane, with movements that would not seem out of place in an institution for the disturbed. (Those who saw the recent Trey McIntyre show may note a similarity to the deranged cousins of "The Four Dances of Moral Instruction.")
On the softer side of the spectrum, Shannon Adams' "Murmured Tenacity" is a thematically vague but well-executed modern piece that resembles contact improvisation, in which touch is the catalyst for movement. Allie Phinney's "The Coriolis Effect" is a contemporary dance flurry of silk veils and flowing white bodies. Shoshanna Rose adds glitter to the mix with 14 belly dancing women in "Ya Msafer Whadek." (For this performance, each dancer constructed her own beaded bedlah costume — a time consuming process!)
The show also features two ballets. First time choreographer Amanda Perez reimagines Alice in Wonderland as "Wonderfully Mad Curiosities," an amusingly fractured ballet with elements of hip-hop, gymnastics and bellydance via charming character cameos. With a little tightening (and some overhaul of the music selections), this piece could play well in local schools. "Going Out," instructor Linda Maxwell's largely en pointe Broadway ballet, is set to Rhapsody in Blue, and will be familiar territory for fans of Gene Kelly films. This traditional American dance selection brings some balance to the overwhelmingly modern flavor of the program.
In addition to "Going Out" and "The War Within," the most appealing pieces of the evening are "Closer," a duet choreographed by Melina Calderon and danced by Julia Kandus and Eric Sorensen, and "Freely Bound," an exploration of "the balance between manipulation and freedom" by Alexandra Stock. As a love story, "Closer" doesn't break any new ground, but the dancers seem most honestly present here, and the choreography fits their individual capacities and the stage itself. On Friday night, the ensemble of "Freely Bound" courageously held up under an audio glitch that forced them to restart the piece; they held the same quality of movement in the do-over as they had when they began. As it starts, six nymphlike women make supple ripples like seaweed, while Adrien Padilla moves mechanically across the stage, controlled by some unseen force. The two begin to impact each other: The mechanic dancer gains fluidity, and the nymphs become staccato, although neither one goes over entirely to the other side. What's interesting here is not so much the concept, but the fusion of movement styles. Stock makes good use of her bellydance training in service of character development, and Padilla is a joy to watch.
Light design for the dance program continues to be excellent, and the costumes were appropriate for most pieces. Outside of "Wonderfully Mad Curiosities," set design was absent — an unfortunate gap, as sets are increasingly an integral element of choreography, as a tool for building visual interest and dynamics on stage.
The show's energy would have been better balanced by setting one ballet in each act. It would also be good to see more atypical, fresh work and fusion across disciplines. Some of the strongest pieces that have historically come out of this choreographer's showcase have been interdisciplinary projects, an element noticeably missing from this production. These style and production gaps make the show less accessible for non-dance audiences. That said, the content is appropriate for all ages, and the evening ends on an uplifting note.
Physical Reality runs through this weekend: Thursday, April 10 through Saturday, April 12 at 7:30 p.m., with a closing matinee at 2 p.m. on Sunday, April 13. Tickets are $10 general, $8 seniors and students, with a limited number of free seats for HSU students at each performance. For more information, visit HSUStage.blogspot.com.