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There is a profound moment that exists with the dimming of the houselights and directly before the curtain opens. It is as a hush falls over the audience indicating a willingness to surrender and as the first performer steps foot on the stage. It is in this space of time, however short it may be, that the magic of live theatre is most palpable. Both the artist and spectator are joined together by the excitement of the unknown and prepared to transcend reality. It is the hope of both parties to live in this magical space for the duration of the piece, embarking upon an emotional journey together. Sadly the Elon Dance Company spring concert, Moving Visuals at the McCrary Theatre, is unable to accomplish such a fete consistently. With only a few noteworthy exceptions, the production is inconsistent and disconnected.
Moving Visuals is an evening of concert dance which includes six original dance works conceived by the Elon faculty and two selections by guest choreographers Larry Keigwin and Jan Van Dyke. The inspiration for the concert, as stated by Artistic Director Lauren Kearns, was from interpretations of visual art and its various periods.
The evening opens strongly with Runaways, choreographed by Larry Keigwin. Originally premiering in December 2008 at The Julliard School, the piece depicts a meltdown of composure. The 14 dancers, women in bright colored dresses and men in suits, convey a sense of fleeing the monotony represented by continuous walking in circles. As the intensity of the dance grows, movements become more abstract and there is a stripping of clothing. By the climax and as most dancers are left with only undergarments, there is an uninhibited confidence and subtle sensuality present.
The Virgil, by Jan Van Dyke offered an intimate display of emotional fragility with its 3 female dancers. Van Dyke has the ability to capture feminine beauty with graceful lines and arm positions. The women were able to find strength among one another, and express a sisterhood. The lighting, costuming, and chorography were all very indicative of the early Italian Renaissance.
By far the most dynamic of all the selections was Voices of the Trees, created by Jane Wellford in collaboration with the dancers. Each section of the dance was inspired by an image of trees that was then projected onto a large screen on the stage. The 9 dancers embodied scenes such as Willow trees in the breeze, dessert branches, and swampy roots. The success of this piece lies solely in the strength of the ensemble work using every part of one another’s body to create an overall picture.
Another stand-out selection is the Chris Burnside conceived and directed Elegy for the Fallen. The initial motivation for the piece was the era of the first and second World Wars in Europe as well as artists Christopher Nevinson and Robert Neuman. This is a heartbreaking tale of masculinity, perseverance, and human spirit. The dance enlists an all-male ensemble of 6 dancers that quite physically display aggression and vulnerability.
It is at this point in the evening that the magic is broken by a sequence of pieces that fail to match the previous. One in particular that is especially disappointing is entitled Djealor, choreographed by Jason Aryeh. He constructed the dance based on Pablo Picasso’s Black Period and an assortment of African masks, specially the wooden Djealor mask of the Ghanaian Tribe. The mask is worn in holy ceremonies while in consultation with a priest. The flaw of the dance has little to do with the subject matter or choreography itself, which is quite special. The student dancers were unable to connect with the intensity of the tribal emotion that is both raw and rhythmic. The circumstances surrounding the dance are heightened, and as it is with most African dance, they rely less on the execution of positions and more with the underlining feelings. These dancers were in no way connected to the beat or scariness of its purpose. Even in terms of technique, the movements and formations were messy and displeasing to the eye.
The following selections: Acquiring Dawn, Bent Blue, and Bare (the closing piece), all share the same mediocrity. The viewer is now unfortunately all too aware of watching students contort their bodies on stage, and way too conscious of reality. With that, there are indeed impressive moments of witnessing youthful athleticisms, however there is no longer a journal to be taken or profound emotions incited. As a result the magic of the theatre dies.