UMass Dance Department Debuts Semester's Work
By Aria Bracci | Saturday, April 30, 2016
Saturday, April 30, 2016
The UMass Dance Department’s Informal Dance Concert was rooted in the spring season, beginning on the lawn outside Totman Gymnasium. The close-eyed duet, performed by Valerie Gilman and UMass Assistant Professor Paul Dennis, flowed spontaneously as the wind blew, solely punctuated by a singing bowl. Both dancers’ movements were powerful, raw, and fully dependent on the energy and motions of the other.
“We’re asking for an experiment,” Gilman said before their penultimate piece. “Engage with your own experience at this moment.” Attendees were then offered paper, glue, crayons, markers, and clay and asked to respond creatively to the next performance, encouraged to take into account not only their visual observations of the dance but their engagement with its context, from the breeze to the sounds of the passing buses. “We’re not trying to create something outside of you, or outside of us,” said Dennis, emphasizing the collaboration at the heart of the performance.
Inclusivity prevailed as attendants relocated to the brightly-lit, high-ceilinged gym, where seven black-clad students stretched in front of a paneled mirror that reflected the audience behind them. The ensemble performed the original piece “Point Fixation,” choreographed by junior dance major Selena. Robin, a BDIC major in Musical Theater Education, subsequently took the floor. The former incorporated props, such as a piano and wine glass, and featured frequent isolation of both the body and the group; such fragmentation made its synchronization all the more powerful. Robin’s piece, “- - - -”, included classic theatrical elements, from her constant rotation of facial expressions to her mime-like imagination of objects.
These diverse productions continued in a smaller studio, where students screened a collection of several-minute “video studies” exploring how dance is captured. They often featured students in familiar landscapes; audience members could see pointe in Southwest, contorted contemporary in the streets of Northampton, and trippy, looped routines by the campus pond. Two students even danced live alongside their recordings, the first beside a projection of herself and the second while interacting with buckets of water. Another student’s piece was performed completely live, but his movements interacted with a motion-activated computer program via webcam, which triggered sound to match the motion of his body.
Despite the vulnerability of dance, particularly in an unfinished piece, these student-dancers radiated confidence through their expression, offering constant validation for their peers as the performances continued. The community of professors, students, and loved ones that gathered for this exhibition created an undeniably dynamic space, an ideal incubator for creative growth.