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Pure Abstractions 

click to enlarge Ritmo Cubano
  • Ritmo Cubano

Spring dance concert
April 17 at HSU's Van Duzer Theater

Thursday evening's opening performance of HSU's spring dance concert, Pure Abstractions, was a total blast. Being a modern dancer from New York, I could barely contain myself when I heard the opening strains of a live quartet playing John Coltrane's Impressionsas groupings of modern dancers entered the stage for department head Sharon Butcher's 2nd Impressions.Most daring in the piece were the contrasts of movement and stillness, dancers holding difficult balances against others rhythmically moving, the stillnesses not unlike the silences jazz is built around.

It was difficult deciding which dances to highlight in the limited space of a review. The mixture of student and faculty work, with university dancers at different levels in their development, lends itself to a different type of criticism than a professional company concert. The teacher in me wanted to give notice to each piece in this well-produced, designed and performed collaboration of musicians, visual artists, composers, costume designers, photographers, choreographers and over 50 dancers. Realizing a university dance department gives plenty of time for criticism as works are developed, I curbed that urge to focus on a handful of the 12 pieces.

Let us begin with the work of Caroline Boland. This young powerhouse of a dancer moved her formidable cast of 12 dancers around the stage in continually evolving patterns, most of the work done on the floor, with dynamic level changes and intricate partnering. Quite dramatic was a line of dancers stretched across the upstage on their knees, behind a smaller group, reminiscent of a Greek chorus — classical, yet earthy.

Ritmo Cubano,by faculty member Jeff O'Conner and student Marisol Elizarraras, along with Gosh It's Fun: How to be Figgin' Groovy!by Tara Lihn, felt as much fun to watch as they must have been to perform. In the dance world there is a standing joke that if you don't have anything good to say, compliment the costumes. Well, here is a case where the costumes and sets only helped to make these vibrant colorful period pieces come to life. Set in an old-time Havana nightclub, Ritmo Cubanotook Latin social dance steps and placed them in the realm of a Broadway revue. The women were stunning in flattering dresses designed by Catherine Brown that showed off expressive backs, the men dapper in black and white wing-tip shoes.

Equally vibrant in its large ensemble format, Gosh ...brought back the early '60s and the hours I spent dancing in front of our black and white television to the mod teenagers onscreen. Lihn captured the era without cliché, the moves fresh. And please, Leah Stamper, where can I get one of those dresses you created?

As Body Speaks,choreographed by students Sarah Corey and Erin Reed, attests, a dancer cannot be separated from issues concerning the body. A brave piece, the multi-generational cast exposed their fears, a school girl teased for being a tad chubby, a man balding, stretch marks, an aging body, leading toward a dance of healing and reconciliation.

Most beautiful, and similar in its vulnerability was Lela Annatto-Pemberton and Lihn's head and heart.These two stunning performers chose to make a small dance against big music. Solo pianist Calista Labolle played and sang lusciously as the two young women moved together. Were they friends, sisters, lovers, reconciled enemies or survivors of a disaster? Lela strong, Tara subtle, with rapt intention, tenderness, comfort, soft touch, a willingness to carry each other's burden, a cloudlike image of the earth projected on a blue backdrop, quietly connected while the woman's voice carried across the auditorium. In a dance, an artist can create a new world. We were privy to that sacred space Thursday night.

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About The Author

Stephanie Silvia

Stephanie Silva directed her own modern dance company in New York City and is a student of American poet Diane di Prima. She teaches movement and writing.

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