Richardson — Bold. Edgy. Emotionally volatile. One wouldn’t typically these words to describe Epiphany DanceArts. Created by Melissa DeGroat six years ago, Epiphany has made a name for itself in the Dallas dance scene with its strong storytelling, uplifting content, and unique blend of ballet and liturgical movement stylings. But as everyone in the dance community knows, the key to surviving in this oversaturated market is to keep evolving, which is exactly what Epiphany did last season with its compelling work Diamonds. The show was so well-received that the company decided to bring it back for an encore at the Eisemann Center for Performing Arts in Richardson this past weekend.
In Diamonds, which is inspired by Max Lucado’s children’s book You Are Special, DeGroat uses removable fabric swatches adorned with either dots or stars to express the internal battle everyone goes through when choosing between who they want to be versus who everyone expects them to be. Throughout the 75-minute work the dancers depict identity struggles that show in poignant movement choices, especially the removal of the dot and star swatches at the end.
The “diamond” element of the story is depicted through Abel Garcia’s live painting during the show, of a dancer suspended upside down. Garcia’s pastel-colored strokes worked in sharp contrast to the black and red tones presented onstage. Unlike other live collaborations I’ve seen, here Garcia and the dancers maintained a connection throughout the performance, sometimes by simply stopping what they were doing to make eye contact, or in DeGroat’s case, by coming over and dancing in Garcia’s space. DeGroat’s opening solo effectively introduced Garcia into the storyline. She kept her movements simple yet deep, with sweeping arm gestures, shifting leg extensions and breathy body contractions as Garcia worked behind her.
Unlike past Epiphany productions where the focus was on a singular emotion such as love or loss, in Diamonds DeGroat pushes her dancers to emote myriad feelings on this winding journey of self-discovery. And while all 13 dancers displayed beautiful body lyricism and natural facial expressions, some delivered more feeling than others. For example, in several stop-action moments in the opening number, the dancers needed to exude energy from every inch of their bodies while holding various poses.
Epiphany veterans DeGroat, Ivy Koval and Anna Wueller Diaz commanded the audience’s attention with their unending lines and wonderful use of breath in their sustained movements. In contrast, at times the newest company members held too much tension in their chests, causing their forms to shrink instead of expand. The dancers’ diagonal pathway was a great use of symbolism, cleverly used throughout the show.
With a playlist that included music by the Piano Guys, the XX, Two Steps from Hell, Fort Minor and Bruce Rowland, choreographers DeGroat, Koval and Jennifer Guess challenged the dancers with tricky ballet sequences and sharper movement quality. In one of the most dynamic dance sequences, the dancers had to dig deep to control their leg extensions and stag leaps while their hands remained bound. The dancers rose to the challenge with seamless standing-to-floor transitions and wicked pirouettes.
The group also got to exercise their acting chops in sections such as “Hurting People Hurt People,” where they stood whispering and ignoring people before physically engaging one another. Later, as Diaz contorted into various yoga-type poses, the others stood making faces in the background.
The final dance, performed to an instrumental medley of “Over the Rainbow” and the Shaker hymn “Simple Gifts,” encompassed everything audiences have come to appreciate about Epiphany DanceArts, including elegant technique, unique musicality and strong emotional content. This has been the company’s most cohesive and captivating production to date. It will be interesting to see what it brings to the table for its December holiday performance.
» Katie Dravenstott is a freelance writer and dance instructor in Dallas. Visit her blog at www.kddance.wordpress.com