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UNC School of the Arts' Spring Dance concert started us off easy with a nearly flawless performance of the Pas de Trois from Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake and ended with a bang in the wildly eclectic Before We Go, by Grady McLeod Bowman. The concert, composed of these and three other pieces, opened Thursday and runs through Sunday.
For his world premiere of Before We Go, guest choreographer Bowman and the school commissioned set pieces and lighting from molo design and production studios in Vancouver. The costume design is by Marissa McCullough, lighting by Elijah Thomas, and scenery by Gabby Nunez in collaboration with molo.
It begins with a single dancer on the stage in front of the curtain. He is laden with about five pieces of baggage attached to his body. When the curtain opens, 29 dancers greet and interact with him, eventually relieving him of his burdens. Later, the contents of the bags become part of the scenery.
The dancing in this piece is music-driven, so the songs by Jacob Collier are crucial. They have titles like "Sky Above," "In My Bones," and "In Too Deep." "Sleeping on My Dreams" is especially affecting, with its implication of emerging from sleep and putting those dreams into action.
The movement by the large cast was buoyant and joyful, each dancer a consummate artist. All the dances on the program provide plenty of room for diversity of body size, shape, color, and gender, and plenty of opportunities for the school's skilled performers to shine.
In one section of Before We Go, four dancers mold large freestanding lights into various shapes, and the contents of the solo dancer's baggage is scattered on the floor. In the piece's striking finale, the dancers all appear with bright LED lights in the center of their chests – what some schools of thought call the "heart center."
Bowman, a 2005 graduate of UNCSA, describes the piece as "an exploration and a look back at the lives we lead, and the experiences and people who shape those lives."
The performance fulfilled that description. Bowman's fourth commission for UNCSA, Before We Go was beautiful, emotional, and evocative.
In the second premiere piece, Emote by guest choreographer Abdur-Rahim Jackson, another cast of 30 performed to wonderful percussive music by various contemporary singer-songwriters, DJs, world-beat artists, and stimming, a type of repetitive sound that people on the autism spectrum find comforting, all ably edited together by Grayson Moreno. Costumes were by McCullough, lighting by Thomas.
The movement is incredibly fun, with particular attention to upper body isolations, and the dancers never stop. As in Before We Go, they play with props, in this case, what appears to be piles of clothing. Emote also begins with a solo dancer, this time in front of a great clump of people and garments.
Emote is funny and fun, taking us happily from "Curiosity" to "Ambition" and all emotional points in between, bringing us at last to "Carefree – Joy."
The production of guest choreographer Gina Patterson's The Seven Deadly Sins is described as "a brand-new reimagining" of the work. Set to an original score by Jordan Brooke Hamlin, The Seven Deadly Sins is an epic exploration of the world's greatest follies.
The costumes by McCullough in this piece were outstanding. Along with the lighting by Frankie Stiehl-Guerra, they emphasized the dancers' muscularity and delineate the sculptural movements of the piece. Set design by Gisela Estrada uses lighting as well and provides an ever-shifting canvas for the dancers.
Patterson's inventive movement examines the topics of Pride, Envy, Gluttony, Lust, Greed, Wrath, and Sloth, and wraps up with a song of compassion. The dancers' movements illustrated vividly that the sins are composed of both feelings and actions. Vigorous movement and unusually expressive faces brought home the point of humanity's endless struggle to find a balance between the right use of instincts and self-will run riot.
Whereas these first three dances use both contemporary movement and classical ballet, the Swan Lake Pas de Trois is purely traditional and M.O. purely contemporary.
As staged by faculty member Abigail Yager, the excerpt from Trisha Brown's M.O. is an exploration of space and movement in shadow and light. Movement to music by Bach provided a precise spectacle of splendid dancing by Macy Alday, Aly Candland, Hope Dalbec, Chandler Davidson, Camille Pettiford, and Adi Valentine.
Staged by faculty member Jennet Zerbe, this pas de trois is as perfect an example of the Classical style as one could ask for. Sam Mayer, Ida Cacanindin, and Katherine Persall-Finch performed beautifully with strong, clean lifts, skillful battements, and piques. The women's port de bras were extraordinary; the arms never stopped flowing for even a moment.
Spring Dance was a satisfying evening of cross-disciplinary dance by UNCSA's dazzlingly young performers. The casts for some of the pieces will be different in other performances.
Spring Dance continues through Sunday, April 24. For more details on this production, please view the sidebar.