Review of Spring Dance Concert
Directed by Kristen Daley, Christine Cali
Sonoma State University Department of Theatre Arts & Dance
Evert. B Person Theatre

RUN: April 1-7, 2016
RATING: 4 of 5 stars

April 1, 2016

Sonoma State University dance instructors came together to address difficult social justice concerns such as gun violence in this provocative concert where collaboration is emphasized both between instructors and students and in the US-Korean collaborative piece HERE.

Photo by David Papas

Photo by David Papas

In the Absence
5 of 5 Stars
Music by Jesse Olsen Bay
Choreographed by Kristen Daley in collaboration with the dancers

Opening with an atmospheric fog horn that builds into rhythmic echoes, the dancers are unified in angular lines, twitching in lonely sharp movement. This evocative piece is garbed in primitive sack cloth designed by Ashley Williams, using the floor as an equal space and heavily influenced by Martha Graham with a contracting core and powerful extensions. The mood wanders in a terrifying world, perhaps reflecting human trafficking, but there was no background to the piece to make the social commentary clear. This is the strongest dance of the evening, I would highly recommend attending simply to see it.

Modus
5 of 5 Stars
Music “You and the Space Between” by Brandan Wolcott and Emil Abramyan
Choreographed by Eric Handman

Lyrical punctuated by pauses and slow motion, Modus demonstrates a loss of control, reaching and curling, transfixed and oblivious to the outside world. Dancers interact with pushing, almost combative postures. Martha J. Clarke’s costume design is casual everyday clothes in subdued jewel and earth colors. The stage itself is stripped bare, fully showing the wings and lighting rig. While visually dark, the choreography is hopeful, and concludes with a beautiful pas de deux of mimicking and exploration in contemplation.

Cease
3 of 5 Stars
Music by Aaron Gold
Choreography by Jennifer Meek in collaboration with dancers

A commentary on gun violence in youth culture, Cease suffers from being too literal and heavy handed with the subject matter. Lighting flashes simulate gunfire, searchlights are reminiscent of West Side Story, and bodies are bathed in a wash of blood lighting. Projections give death statistics and a dynamic poem by Cristoval Barajas-Madriz AKA Crigga Small Town Cemetery. Dancers run back and forth, clutching at wounds and climbing over each other in linear based blocking. Slower group steps are juxtaposed with punctuated twisting soloists in arranged anarchy. Diana Banas’ costumes are black combat suits with slashes of red patches in geometric designs. While it is visually stimulating, the message is lost by being blatant and demanding on the audience.

Photo by David Papas

Photo by David Papas

HERE
3 of 5 Stars
Music by Matt Langlois / Matt EL
Musicians: Matt Langlois, Adam Rossi, Mike Stevens, Guenevere Q
Choreographed by Christine Cali and Kyoungil Ong in collaboration with the dancers

Christine Cali spent a two-year residency in South Korea, and HERE was designed to share that experience in a manner the director describes as “visceral and emotional”, which is an apt characterization. At its core, HERE is a raw exploration of human emotion in all its neurotic glory. Thanks to brilliant live music from the Matt EL musicians, and using vocal elements such as breath and speaking on stage, there is a unique layer underneath the piece. Unfortunately, the choreography itself is mostly classic contemporary and predictable. The dancers were not putting much energy into it, perhaps due to fatigue; the result clashed with the music, which frequently overpowered the movement.

Photo by David Papas

Photo by David Papas

Isolated sections are profound, such as the physicality of the opening, and sensory anxiety portrayed in fluttering movement, but the overall piece was trying to do too much at once. Multiple tones and types of dance are stuffed together without a unifying thread. It cried out for more editing passes; there are at least three different dances in here, and as a result they all suffered. The focus needed to be narrowed down and expanded from there, rather than jumping around with abrupt transitions or relying on gimmicks.

The caliber of dance continues to be inspiring, especially in the first half of this production. While there is room for improvement, the deep issues being addressed in the Spring Dance Concert invoke the sense of responsibility we have to discuss them. Physical visuals are powerful tools for social justice, wielded with skill at SSU.