Produced by Dance Repertory Theatre
B. Iden Payne Theatre
March 5-15, 2019
The University of Texas at Austin’s Dance Repertory Theatre has just mounted a production of leading-edge contemporary dance. The show, Fortitude, showcased faculty and guest choreographers and the entire student enrollment of the dance program of the Department of Drama and Dance. The show, especially the last piece, choreographed by Charles O. Anderson, was a dedication to dance student Haruka Weiser, murdered three years ago on the UT campus. Had she lived, Ms. Weiser would have graduated from the university this semester.
The space in a short review does not permit describing all the delights of this show. Perhaps the best summary is the recognition that all the pieces within it formed a composite of diversity and virtuosic performance readily comparable to professional productions outside the academy. “Cascade: Urgency in the Fall” led the show with an abstracted ballet composition developed by Kirven Douthit-Boyd. The dancing was typified by wide extensions and distal movements (standard in ballet) and a well rehearsed continual flow of rising, building and declining dynamics.
“Scar” was a contemporary dance piece by longtime faculty member Andrea Beckham. It was a duet by different students on different nights on a set formed of patched and repaired items. A monumental fabric sculpture by John Christenson hung from the lighting grid. An old scrim (skin?), cracked, split, and patched, stood in the background framing the action. Inspired by poetry, the piece was about covering wounds, about scars as the road maps of experience, and ultimately about healing.
“Voices, She” choreographed by Sandra Organ Solis was a huge piece of at least twenty dancers in yellow and orange costumes who performed brilliantly in front of background video of events of the civil rights and feminist movements. Large still photos of the heroines of both movements popped up on the screen. The piece was a call to continue the energy firing these engines of social change.
In terms of dance technique, the innovative peak of the show was “Sometimes: Life-Gates & Keys” by guest choreographer Raphael Xavier. The piece was one of hip-hop/break dancing performed on the fine art stage. All the breaks, moves, attitudes, and tropes of hip-hop were in place, adapted to the standards of contemporary dance. The set background was the bare concrete and concrete block wall of the B. Iden Payne Theatre. The dancers were in street gear in primary colors and street tennies for foot protection. The dance had an unusual structure in that it began with a solo by one of three soloists (according to the program) who finished their individual dance and then left the stage and did not return. The remaining ensemble of five dancers performed group work punctuated with breakout solos. No, the non-dancing performers did not leave the stage during the solos. Instead, they held their positions and observed the solo movement with impassive faces, seemingly a motif of challenge-and-response break dancing. Yes, there was head- and back-spinning typical of break dancing, but in those sections we could see creative change—where we’ve been and where we’re going—until the end section. That part was entirely floor work, with prostrate bodies turning around the points of a circle with powerful, jolting turns initiated from the core under slowly fading lights. In a brief interview after the show, performer Becky Nam expressed her satisfaction with the dance and stated that choreographer Xavier (not present for this performance) had a strong commitment to bringing hip-hop and break dancing into the mainstream. The Texas audience certainly welcomed his efforts in this piece.
“Pulse” by Bridget L. Moore featured a large cast in variously cut black and red costumes designed by Hsiao-Wei Chen. The movement was a continuous swirl of groups combining and recombining. The precision of the large group was the piece’s most notable aspect, and great credit is extended to the performers.
“Reflects/Reflex” is the mysterious title of a puzzle piece by Erica Gionfriddo. The problem to be solved was dancing in a small rectangle of light on stage—the box—to a repetitive eight count rhythm (count 8 was a rest). More and more dancers were added to the box as the rhythm and movement became more hypnotic, until another light box appeared onstage, when some members of the audience gasped.
“Idobale” by Charles O. Anderson was a triumphant, spiritually moving dedication to Haruka Weiser. The piece was performed by the entire ensemble of Dance Repertory Theatre, more than sixty students currently. Music and video projections enlarged the space immensely, as did the performers employing the aisles of the house in their performance. Anderson reminded us that both Yoruba religion and Christianity point out that life and death and remembrance are always close companions, but only remembrance is the one to be held tightly.