By David F. Pendrys
Editors Note: Please excuse the lack of technical proficiency in describing the dances.
HARTFORD, CT- A few weeks ago the Seniors in The University of Hartford’s The Hartt School Dance Division put on a performance entitled “Take Meaning.” Each year the seniors are tasked with creating their dances and recruiting dancers to perform them as well as performing a solo piece themselves. They are also tasked with other organizational roles such as promotional activities and more to give them training beyond just the dance itself. Calvin Bittner, Courtney Costa, Frances Fuller and Joseph Heitman made up the senior class this year for Hartt.
The first dance of the evening entitled “Sakura Necrosis” was choreographed by Heitman. The musical backdrop consisted of “Toku” by Monolake, “Miste” by Haxan Cloak, and “The Philosophy of War Speech” by Alan Watts.
The dancers consisted of Elijah Evans, Janelle Holmes, Neylind Sanchez, Cassandra Laskowski, Allison Long, Samiyah Parramore, and Michelle Press with Christopher Henry serving as understudy.
This proficiently performed dance is by all accounts about war and it comes across clearly in an innovative sequence.
The dance begins with vocals talking about armor and offensive walls. One person enters obscured by smoke and more follow. Some are wearing gas masks. The vocals continue and the lights come up revealing that they are dressed in coveralls reminiscent of what fighter pilots wear. There is quick movement as people are scattered about. A few of those not wearing gas masks are grabbed by those that are. Eventually, the dancers coalesce in the center. One dancer slips away but is grabbed and pulled back. Another tries to escape with similar effect.
There is chaos to some degree as some roll along the stage and others struggle. Dramatic music grows. A lot of struggling continues. One of the dancers throws in a cartwheel and another appears to be trying to revive another lying on the ground. Another performer is carried off as cannon fire sounds. Elsewhere a character is laid down dead, as is a second. Some of the dancers come and go. Aerial cartwheels make an appearance during a sequence as well. The vocals return and soon two of the performers are writhing in the spotlight.
The dance intensifies as the group launches a mix of lifts and aerial leaps. Another dancer pirouettes multiple times before everyone encircles one of their comrades on the ground symbolizing a clock. A lot occurs as balances, pirouettes, leaps and the like are engaged in. The music becomes eerier as a struggle emerges. Four of the dancers strip their coveralls off to reveal more traditional spandex outfits below. They try to dance away but are held. Three remaining in coveralls hold three of those who recently shed them as another dancer moves through them and three dancers fall to the ground.
The next dance up was “Real Ideal” performed well by Bittner and choreographed by Charlotte Griffin. The music featured was “This Is Not A Song, It’s An Outburst” by Rodriguez, and “When You Wish Upon A Star” by Eels.
A guitar starts up with folk music as Bittner in a blue shirt and pants is in a spotlight moving slowly. He writhes a bit before engaging in a balance, then a jump swapping his legs behind him in the air. He leaps he turns, he moves on the ground. More spins and turns follow, and soon a turning split leap does as well. He rotates across the stage before jumping and switching his legs in mid air. Soon he is on the ground in the spotlight. The music switches to “When You Wish Upon a Star” though a country version of it. He lies for a while before getting back up, though he returns and remains on the ground and turns before standing and pausing. Slower movement follows with fluid spins and turns including a double pirouette. He runs backwards across the stage into the darkness. He brings a scale up before he returns to the light doing a big jump with his legs bent. Soon the lights fade to black.
The third dance in the line up named “Competition Dance” spotlights Fuller’s abilities with choreography by Elizabeth Coker. Music and sound consists of “Film Audio Excerpted from BBC Radio 1” (Not sure which film the audio is from.) as well as Dimitri Shostakovich’s “String Quartet No. 8 in C Minor (Allefro Molto)”. The specific recording of Shostakovich was by the Emerson String Quartet.
A voiceover speaks about the planet earth as Fuller enters in a red dress, slowly she bends as more vocals follow. She descends to the stage for about a minute and stretches slowly. She eventually is up repeating a similar movement of moving her hands into place. She methodically moves her legs forward and backward posing slowly. The dramatic strings of Shostakovich kick in as she moves all over the stage spinning and balances. She runs and rolls to the floor before rising to a small leap, but back to the ground she rolls, before pirouetting and following that with a side leg leap then a back scale. The music seems to get more dire as there is darkness and just her in the spotlight. She slows and repeats the distinct movements from earlier in the piece before hurrying across the stage jumping and spinning. She again repeats the distinct posing of earlier before flitting back and forth before exiting. She returns and raises her leg to begin a turn, eventually pirouetting with legs bent. The music stops suddenly and there is darkness.
Up next came “An Unsettled Reaction” choreographed by Costa. Music was “Strathcona.” and “Endless Falls.” both by Loscil. The assembled dancers were made up of Katherine Judge, Naomi Greenspan, Samantha Watson, Cameron Whitney, Ruby Cabell and Rachel Russell was the understudy. The dance is a solid one performed capably by the assembled group.
As eerie music fills the air, two dancers, clad in what appears to be brown shirts, black shorts, and black socks, stand on stage lit by dim light. More arrive. One sits, two are struggling, another is in back. Two in the middle are working together on something. They separate and one walks away only to be grabbed by another in the back. The grabber balances, and her target goes to the floor and turns in a circle while lying down. Another dancer is revealed in the dim light and she scales.
The performers all are doing various things with no unified purpose, going in different directions and different paces. Eventually they stop and stand all doing the same pose before slowly collapsing together. Some roll together on the ground, others seem to be moving slowly. Various elements follow including some scales from a few. One dancer in the spotlight seems to be in distress. Eventually the group sits and spins together as the music changes but remains eerie.
One of the few things the group does in unison is to sit away from the audience, though they turn back as well and then back and forth. They rub their legs which is a pattern in the piece. After a time they rise and all do a scale moving their legs around in another variation. They continue to move and cover their ears and bend. They draw a leg upward and throw them back suddenly into another scale before the unison breaks suddenly and they frantically do a different thing. Some are surrounding others, another is being held. They again separate doing different things. One of the dancers moves wildly around the other but soon they mostly standing. Various elements continues as the piece wraps up.
The fifth piece “Man Asunder” highlights Heitman’s skill with choreography by Gregory Dolbashian Music is comprised of musical selections from: Son Lux, Zoe Keating, A Roomfull of Teeth. John Frakowski provides narration and the sound is mixed and arranged by Gregory Dolbashian.
There is a clanging sound as Heitman, in a light shirt and pants, dances frantically but also slowly. The rhythmic clanging is joined by gongs. He does a big spin before dropping to the ground as he is showered in spotlight. A voice provides meta narration welcoming the crowd and speaking of the wind, as Heitman appears to be blown around. The voice continues mentioning that things are stylistically and vague intentionally while hints are dropped. Heitman stands and turns slowly. Slow strings play in the background followed by strange sounds and flashes in light.
As the voice speaks of being thrown backward Heitman moves back to match it. The voice explains the audience is along for the ride as an ethereal theme plays. There is breathing and more odd sounds. Heitman is on the ground, in spotlight then not. A woman’s voice, and multiple voices chime in, and there are more sounds like breathing. Heitman swings and moves his legs. He moves more dramatically swinging his arms and legs more but moving back and forth adding a spin. One voice sounds almost like a chant, others sound more choral. As he turns he does a leap switching his legs behind him, there are more breathing sounds. He suddenly slides his fingers across his throat and the lights go dark.
The tone changes dramatically in “What Happened At The Garden Party” choreographed by Bittner with music by Bittner as well. The Dancers are Joseph Beltre (Alastair), Hannah Belrose (Bernadette), Lauren Bricca (Lucille), and Daimy Mclnroe (Rosalind). (Marielena Quintanar, Emily Aubrey and Kelsie Washington served as understudies but there seems to be a role for all listed here.) Bittner’s piece is different in the mixing of absurd elements, actual spoken words from the cast, and then a transition in tone from light to strange. The dancers bring this to life well considering the intriguing nature of it.
As drums play the dancers enter in darkness and set up furniture. A whine follows then a drum. The women in gowns and Beltre is in a vest and bow tie. A weird march plays. The group shouts “Lucille!” and a woman hops out slowly to what sounds like wood banging on woods. She bends and walks while bent. “Rosalind” the group then shouts and she slowly enters with her arms crossed bending and down. She pulls her legs behind her slightly. “Mildred!” the group cries. She holds her arms up and slides out stiffly to drums then as a sparkly melody plays she moves on her toes fluidly and sits. “Alastair!” they cry as more wood blocks are banged on and he dances and walks slowly to a strange melody. “Bernadette!” they finally cry and she runs in to bells playing, a gong sounds, then more bells play as she scurries, and pauses between. As the group is assembled they talk and then walk strangely.
What follows is a very wacky romp. As tuba plays they all dance weirdly, holding their arms out and moving sideways like doofuses. Alastair moves gracefully at times and does some traditional leaps. The rest run out and attack him depositing on the couch unconscious before as they dance fluidly. Though the piece becomes odder from there. Eventually the whole group grabs furniture and runs around as red lights turn on. A pair of dancers in unitards, one in blue one in red, enter as a gong sounds and as light shines on them. They move very slowly and in different fashion. Both balance at the same time but differently. They do a back bend with their legs nearly straight up. But the music speeds up and it sounds like a computer. The accompaniment gets more cacophonous as they move faster before running in a circle as it seems like a computer is going wild. The music becomes noise as they run in more circles. The gong sounds and they stop. The lights come up and the others exclaim “What?” repeatedly.
Three of the dancers commence a strange routine as the blue and red figures move in the background. A stringed instrument I can’t place plays as does a flute type instrument. The two unitarded figures enter the circle. Eventually after a sequence of hesitation, there is chaos as the original dancers wonder what to do but eventually are running and hopping around in unison. Eventually Alastair hands a rose to the two figures and they hold it up as the stage goes dark.
Costa was given her chance to shine in “Solstice” with Choreography by Mike Esperanza. The music was “Love Like a Sunset, Pt.1” from Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix.
The spotlight rose on Costa in a brownish dress as a beeping type of music sounds. She rolls on the ground doing various leg movements. She rises to tones reminiscent of bells, but goes back to the floor before moving legs up again. She stands and sticks her leg up before embarking on a partial handstand and commencing turning back and spinning. She engages in a lot of elegant leg movements. The music introduces a string component as she walks around and does another quick scale. Undertones signal the music is more dramatic. She continues to mix both working on floor of the stage and rising again to do side scales. The music gets more high pitched and noisy though the lights dimmer, as strings return. She rolls, and makes some wild gestures. She appears to be pushed backed into rolls and the piece ends with her apparently swimming against something as darkness drops.
The final piece “Abyss” was choreographed well by Fuller. Music consisted of “Greim 69” and “Greim 93” by AGF. The assembled dancers were Ane Arietta, Ty Graynor, Sarah Nulsen, Mikaela Papasodero, and Erica Wolf. (Jasmine Urban is the understudy.)
There is a dim spotlight on a man in shirt and pants. Dark music plays with vocals talking about where someone lives. The man seems to be wincing prior to hitting himself. He raises his hand and starts slowly moving. The vocals talk about where one dreams. There is a weird sound. The man backs up holding his arm. Four woman stand to his left as the odd sounds continue. A slow beat cuts in. They are all dimly lit and move in unison briefly before lying down. Many get up but now are no longer moving together. The music continues to be strange and dark.
He falls onto three of them who push him back up though he bends over one as the other three move and hold him and then pull him back. They dance around him and forming a line. They again move but not together. As the women begin to run around he is frantic. There is a lot of seemingly random motion but with purpose. Eventually one woman is alone and she spins wildly. He returns to the stage to carry her only to let her down before he lifts her upside down. He does a big lift where she flails out and he grabs her again. Eventually another woman enters. A struggle appears to ensue. Others arrive and different groups run apart as various dance elements are thrown, but soon there is darkness and just the man in a spotlight as the piece wraps up.
It much be a tremendous undertaking for these four to create as well as star in a piece each and all the rest of the operations of it. This is all the while preparing for Hartt Dances which follows not long afterward. They deserve some major compliments for their achievements.