Richardson — Epiphany DanceArts is hoping to rebrand itself this coming year as a contemporary dance company and its first offering is 2015’s ’Tis the Season. For two nights, the 20-dancer company took over the Bank of America Theatre at the Eisemann Center for the Performing Arts with a production that they deemed their “most ambitious project yet.”
When Artistic Director and Founder Melissa DeGroat first created Epiphany DanceArts, the company offered shows that fell within the classification of contemporary ballet. The works were heavy in technique and were almost cut from the pages of a contemporary ballet manual. But DeGroat has been on a personal journey and expanding her own understanding of dance techniques and languages, and the influence is prominent in ‘Tis the Season, as the choreography in this holiday production combined traditional modern and post-modern movements with a contemporary vocabulary.
The two-act production worked to create a collaborative spirit with the inclusion of live music (from Torrey Owens in Act I and the Rich-Tones Chorus in Act II) and original paintings by Ivy Koval (who also danced in the show). They also allowed the audience to photograph the production and share their images via social media. This trend has been used across the DFW performance network (and nationally) for the last couple of years, with more and more organizations allowing their audiences to “shoot the show,” but there is a learning curve with this freedom of expression. It takes time for the audience to remember to turn the flash off their cameras, to darken the brightness of their screens, and to turn the shutter sounds off of their phones—to remember that the expected etiquette of phone usage during a performance remains. Nevertheless, I used my phone for a few photos.
Act I was a 45-minute work that explored the four seasons and the development of a family unit. It began with a pantomimed prelude featuring an older woman (unnamed in the program) who walks through a cityscape to her home, where she falls asleep and we enter her dream world. Here, we meet a young dancer whom we assume is the younger version of herself. We later find out that the young dancer (also unnamed in the program) is actually her daughter; we later meet the younger version of the older woman when we witness her journey into falling in love and starting a family. The narrative was a bit literal, and also a bit confusing, as we went through the four seasons twice, but the natural order of the story was twisted. We first meet the young woman and the child, and then we saw the young woman meet a young man, fall in love, have a baby, and live as a family.
Some of the movement also got lost due to the props that were used. One specific example occurred in “Fall.” There was a lovely trio that moved throughout the space, but the busyness of the stage action—dancers raking leaves, sweeping them into bundles and into wheelbarrows, pantomiming conversations—distracted from the choreography. The same occurred in “Winter.” The stage was full of dancers and layers of white tulle and falling snow, which created an arresting stage picture and enveloped the audience into a peaceful and serene setting, but the tulle became cumbersome as it wrapped itself around the dancers’ feet and got stuck on costumes and the floor. Watching the dancers try to detangle themselves became the focus of the work, instead of the intricacy of the choreography. It was only when the movement was repeated in a later section that one could finally appreciate the quality of movement.
Yet, overall, the work showed promise. The choreography seamlessly combined contemporary ballet and traditional modern dance technique and was full of robust movement choices and energetic dancing. If this piece were to return for future holiday performances, a revision of stage usage would be beneficial.
Act II was a performance of traditional Christmas music sung by the Rich-Tones Chorus with complementary short dance works. Highlights came with DeGroat’s strong and technical solo to “Christmas Time,” the quirky movement to “Let it Snow,” that provided a bit of comic relief and introduced some solid swing dancing, and Anna Wueller-Diaz’s short but dynamic solo at the beginning of “Three Carols Around.” Wueller-Diaz exhibited a freedom of movement and energy that filled the stage. Her elongated lines and fluidity embodied the musical accompaniment provided by the rich voices of the Chorus.
A fun holiday offering, it allowed the audience to relate to the work by presenting known music and inviting them to sing along. But there was a missed opportunity to engage the audience even more in the sing-along by not projecting the words on the screen behind the dancers, or by providing a print out of lyrics in the program. Not everyone knows the words to “Come All Ye Faithful,” “Joy To The World,” “Hark the Herald Angels Sing,” or “Away In A Manger.”
But they did all know the words to “We Wish You A Merry Christmas,” and the room was filled with the sweet sound of each audience members’ voice coming together to encourage the dancers to leap forward into the holiday season and a new year for Epiphany DanceArts.
» Danielle Georgiou is a dance educator, critic and writer. She is the Founder and Artistic Director of DGDG: the Danielle Georgiou Dance Group, and is a working dancer and performance artist. Her column Sixth Position appears the last Sunday of the month on TheaterJones.com.