Dedicated patron of the arts and Bwog Arts Editor attended the Miller Theatre last night to watch a series of five dance performances featuring Columbia University and Barnard College students. There will be an additional show tonight at 7:30 PM; tickets are still available through Miller Theatre ($12 with CUID).
I always love the experience of attending performances at the Miller Theatre. It’s a fantastic space; the small size of the theater makes it more intimate than the cavernous Roone Arledge Auditorium, which definitely enhances the experience for both performers and the audience. It’s unfortunate that student performance groups have such a difficult time getting space in this theater, because it’s really a treat to watch our peers perform on such a professional stage.
As such, I always jump at the chance to attend events featuring student performers in the Miller Theatre (while they’re few and far between, they do pop up on occasion). Last night, I had the absolute privilege of watching a spectacularly talented group of student dancers navigate some challenging choreography in order to command the stage during their performances. At no point during the evening was I unimpressed; these performances, each in their own ways, were engaging and evocative as an audience member.
The first performance, “M.O. (excerpts),” was set to selections from Bach and featured eight dancers. The performance began with the dancers in a set line before they disengaged and began the piece. From my perspective, the focus on this piece was on the interaction between the dancers as individuals and as a group. At times, a group of four dancers would rotate through the other group of three or four, utilizing the full span of the stage to create an interlocking effect between the groups before disengaging again. As the music progressed through first allegro, andante, and second allegro segments, the performance shifted to highlight only a few dancers at a time, focusing on mirrored movements and engaging on an individual level. While I got lost in some of the technical aspects of this performance, I thoroughly enjoyed this piece, and it provided a fantastic opening to the rest of the performances.
“Triangulation,” the title of the second performance, is “a survey technique in which accurate measurements of distances and directions may be made by the application of trigonometry.” That definition, provided in the program, gave a good starting point of reference for how to approach the second performance as an audience member. For me, this performance emphasized the space between dancers, and it used the choreography to present a dynamic sense of group movement during the performance. At points, one dancer was passed (physically) between two other dancers, spinning around their bodies and relying on their arms and backs to support her. This interplay between the physical closeness of the dancers in their engagements onstage and the music, which swelled and skittered in sound, gave a unique sense of both intimacy and tension. This performance did a fantastic job staying true to its name and utilizing the “distances and directions” of its dancers to great effect onstage.
The third and final performance before intermission, “Spytown (a.k.a. A Stolen Glance Through the Totally Top Secret Files of The Bureau of Badass Lady Operative and Their Ongoing Adventures in Spytown, U.S.A.),” was undoubtedly and unequivocally my favorite performance of the night. The set-up is pretty cheesy –two rival groups of “badass lady operatives” (the Purples and the Reds) face off against each other through espionage and dance– but good-natured and wholeheartedly funny. Set to John’s Book of Alleged Dances by John Adams, the music gave the performance a quality of nostalgia, like one you might get while watching an old spy movie. The costuming (trench coats, hats/head coverings, and big sunglasses) and the physicality of the performance (sweeping, “sneaky” movements coupled with subtle, furtive glances) made this performance a fantastic spectacle. I commend all of the dancers in this performance; I can’t imagine that it was easy to sell the “spy-like” movements, but the performance was convincing, funny, and a truly enjoyable thing to watch.
Following intermission, the second half of the showcase opens with “Acht Kinderszenen” (German for “eight children-scenes”). Personally, I wasn’t a particular fan of this performance in terms of style and presentation of the dance. However, I was thoroughly impressed by the performers and their execution of some complicated and physically challenging choreography. This performance seemed to blend traditional elements of ballet with a more energetic stage presence from the performers, and physically, it looks to be incredibly demanding. The entire performance hinged on the performers being totally in sync with each other in terms of the dips, sweeps, and movements across stage, and the performers definitely delivered when it came to the technically quality of their performance.
The showcase ended with a performance of “Parting Ways,” a piece that utilized a surprising fourteen dancers in total. Simply put, I thoroughly enjoyed this performance, for a number of reasons. First, “Parting Ways” set an incredibly encompassing atmosphere; the backdrop was lit with four vertical spotlights, and the stage was covered with wisps of smoke and fog to create an eerie sense of tension. That tension was then matched in the performance, with the dancers utilizing and channeling visibly pent-up energy in their movements onstage. The style of dance was simultaneously extremely controlled and aggressive, creating a further sense of tension in the audience as the performance continued. From my perspective, this performance sought to create a balance between the mechanical and the human qualities of dance, using its choreography to create ‘machines’ where dancers worked like cogs to progress the movements of the whole group. Although I’ll maintain that “Spytown” was my favorite segment from the evening, “Parting Ways” runs a very close, almost indistinguishable second given how engaged I was in the progression of the dance.
One final performance of Barnard/Columbia Dances At Miller Theatre takes place tonight at 7:30, and I highly recommend that you swing by and pick up a ticket. It’s always amazing to watch Columbia and Barnard students take the stage in such a professional fashion, and this performance in the Miller Theatre is definitely worth your while if you have even a passing interest in dance.
Picture from “M.O. (excerpts)” via The Miller Theatre