UAA dance program explores chaos and calm of humanity

Anne Herman

If there was a theme to the UAA Dance Ensemble concert Thursday night, it was the journey from chaos to peace, from struggle to surrender. The one-hour performance at the Harper Studio Theatre had works by three choreographers whose interpretation of this journey was individual. Yet the dances seemed to flow one into the next, with recurring images and feelings rising and falling throughout.

Choreographers Leslie Ward, Becky Kimball and Marianne Kim have all presented thought-provoking dances in the past for the group and they did not disappoint Thursday night.

In "Orphan," Ward explored what it means to be "family" and how we are bound to one another by that evocative title. The journey began as a single dancer ran across the darkened stage, tied at the waist by a rope. She turned back on herself as a man reeled her in, the rope both hindering her freedom and pulling her back to the safety of the group, the pack.

In the work's second section, "family" became a number of couples and the almost universal emotions -- fighting, loving, hurting, needing -- played out when two people depend in each other.

In the last section, a lone traveler walked among people going everywhere and nowhere, fast. She seemed a stranger in a strange land, trying to understand what she saw around her and wondering if she would be part of that human chaos. She protected herself, her baggage (both literal and emotional). Yet when one of the other dancers stole her suitcase and opened it, a rope fell out. She was "home" at last, "family" again.

Marianne Kim's works can be weird, scary and very provocative. "The Perfect Human V2," with the word "Perfect" crossed out, was all this.

There was no connection between the measured words of a scientist examining "the human" and the frenetic actions of dancers alternately scrabbling and throwing themselves across the stage and moving with robotic calm. Perhaps this was the message here: that life is both chaos and calm, and that to be "human" is to struggle and rest.

Ryan Nixon's solo "GTD" echoed this theme of constant stress and struggle in life. His hand shook or his back hunched over when he wasn't breathing hard or pacing back and forth like a caged animal. He repeated movements as if he needed to get them right before he could move on. And he didn't move on; his agitated, truncated actions were a loop he could not escape until he threw his hand up and the lights went out.

"The Path," on the other hand, was awash in the golden light of gentleness and companionship. Momentum Dance Collective's director Becky Kimball worked with company members Irene Castillo and Beth Daly to create a work that wandered through a peaceful, quiet place where each dancer had the time and the freedom to explore herself.

Thursday's Dance Ensemble concert was, as expected, thoughtful and provocative in its efforts to explain this chaos that we call humanity, life and family.

Anne Herman holds a master's degree in dance and has been a consultant for the National Endowment for the Arts.

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