For over 20 years dance aficionados have celebrated Jan Van Dyke and her company The Van Dyke Dance Group for continuous achievements in creative expression with the human form. Therefore it is no surprise the seasoned company offered a delightful and artistic evening at the Green Hill Center of North Carolina Art with two selections entitled The Circle and Untitled Elegy.
The dance company serves as a division of the non-profit organization, Dance Project Inc, which was also founded by Van Dyke. Touring performances over the years have been seen throughout the U.S., in cites such as Washington D.C. and New York, as well as internationally in Lyons, France and Lisbon, Portugal. However the company takes particular interest in strengthening its community presence in North Carolina.
Juxtaposed to a traditional theatre setting, the spacious showroom gallery of Green Hill incites a degree of authentic intimacy among the dancers and observers. This feat, for the most part, was a result of an absence of lighting changes and the ability to keep the audience and performance space of the same level. Therefore an unrestricted exchange of energy from one person to another could exist fluidly. Van Dyke choreographed both pieces in the round and tailored it specifically for the gallery, which provided everyone in the audience the opportunity to simultaneously witness different dances from various directions. Every angle of the space was used to tell a special aspect of the stories.
The lyrical and youthful first piece, The Circle, conveyed the union of a group of 5 dancers, one of which heavily pregnant, at play with one another. The floral dressed dancers, whose attire conjures the sense of springtime, formed a circular formation which was the pieces’ recurring theme of solidarity. The choreography combined technical elements of classical ballet intertwined with the freedom of modern dance. Van Dyke focused deeply on the musicality of movements ranging from pedestrian/naturalistic to highly intricate. The true magic of the piece however, is in the moments when the circle has been broken and the audience is able to witness the dynamics of the characters in small groups of 2 or 3. The relationships become clear, with varying colors of familiarity and individual connection, which in turn, makes the reunion to the circle more complex each time it is repeated. Local composer Frank Vulpi, whose musical contribution was crafted especially for Van Dyke, offers a sweeping delicate backdrop to the joining together and separation of the dancing comrades.
Vastly different from its preceding dance, the second selection, Untitled Elegy, exudes a heavy darkness. Created in 2003, the dance captures the raw emotion present in a post 9-11 society, with a cast of 6 dancers dressed in alternating black and grey. The music, composed by Arvo Pärt, consists of 7 verses and choruses; therefore the choreography mirrors the structure with 7 vignettes and transitions. Each of the scenes tackled tension, hostility, and an overall lack of trust. I found the choreography, which was grounded and primal, to be quite fascinating. The movements suggested birdlike creatures flocking together in fear, casting out potential dangers, and circling aggressively around attackers. As a result, one could conclude strong parallels among people and the animal kingdom. These commonalties are seen in the way in which we instinctively defend and heal ourselves. This is especially true when considering the behaviors that initially inspired the dance shortly after 9-11, and is rekindled following the recent Boston Marathon attacks.
In my experience dance never fails to expose parts of us that are lost to language. It comes from a place so rooted in natural intuition, that it is only enhanced by intellect, not complicated by it, as can be the case with other art forms. Jan Van Dyke and The Van Dyke Dance Group constructed an evening with a journey richly moving, sincere, and nothing less than enchanting.