Dallas — When studying choreography and composition, one of the six main elements that is highlighted is the idea of structure and how it conveys the overall mood, atmosphere, and message. Within exploring the structure of a dance, choreographers tend to talk in general terms during the rehearsals, focusing on themes and concepts. These abstract ideas sometimes come together as linear narratives, stories; other times, they remain theoretical, intangible theses. But they provide a way to approach and understand dance no matter what your knowledge of the art form may be.
During the second annual performance of the Wanderlust Dance Project at the Majestic Theatre in downtown Dallas on Aug. 6, themes and concepts were on full display. From emotional journeys to explorations of status to textbook illustrations of choreographic elements, each work attempted to create all-encompassing stage pictures that are indicative of the growing trends of contemporary dance.
With ‘Perfect’ Paradox, Madison Hicks, the youngest choreographer selected for the Project, evoked the innocence of youth. She employed definitive contemporary dance movements—strong and controlled leg movements, fluidity in the spine, and dynamic shifts in levels and energy usage—to construct a loose narrative of growing up and leaving the nest.
In Brian Stevens’ Are You a Boy or a Girl? the dancers quickly moved through an emotional tension-filled contemporary work that dealt with identity. Stevens’ movement choices pushed the musicality of the sound score forward, at times, making it almost more important than the story itself. It’s a fine line though, as the balance between inspired movement and movement inspired by text can quickly be disrupted, minimizing the intend value of the work.
Kevin Jenkins’ Farewell, My Lovely, was a cinematic duet between real-life couple, Dara Oda and Gabriel Speiller. The emotional journey explored here was one of love lost too soon, and like Stevens, Jenkins’ choreographic style is extremely musical. But unlike the other pieces in the show, it was the only one that utilized ballet technique. The duet incorporated some rather classical elements and maintained the system of a pas de deux. And it functioned well as that. What hindered the overall success of it was the chorus that seemed to be an after-thought. Their appearance did not help to establish the scene, nor did it serve a purpose in pushing the plot forward.
Another theme that came out from the evening was that of one’s position within a social group. It’s a prevalent theme in our daily life, so it’s no surprise to see it reflected on stage. Guest Artists, newly formed Bombshell Dance Project, took a more general stance on the theme, exploring the role of women in 1950s society. But that’s a big topic to tackle and it’s one that has been done before, many times over. Coming up with a new and fresh approach, and defining a voice within the lexicon takes time. Mature storytelling is the biggest challenge for any performer. There is a subtlety and attention to detail that only comes with more experience.
The other works playing with in this theme were more successful. Dana Metz’s Still also approached the concept from a general standpoint but allowed the audience to create their own story within the dance, first, by using non-specific, timeless music, and second, through movement choices that allowed the individual dancer to shine through. This was the first piece of the evening that clearly incorporated improvisational techniques to create lifts that were both risky and inventive, and the first to use large, sweeping ensemble phrases to its benefit.
Jess Hendricks’ Shedding Skin was another highlight of the evening as it was the most successful in both illustrating a theme and creating an environment in which the dance existed. The dancers found personal entries into the emotional weight of the work, and committed themselves to the hyper-physicality and aggressive nature of the movement. Movement that tested their physical limits, as well as how far they were willing to go to push and pull each other.
The same can be said for Kevin Pajarillaga’s Coalescence in Progress. It was the most unique of the evening, and the most dramatic. There were many references to Betroffenheit, from the costume that the devil clown character wears, to the theme of coalescence in general. But Pajarillaga separated himself from his former employer’s overt theatrical qualities to a more ritualistic movement style.
While the works previously mentioned all employed dramatic elements as a lead storytelling device, others relied more on structure and technique to construct the narrative. Tenley Dickey’s And the Days Are Not Full Enough was the only jazz piece of the night that evoked that feeling of Americana. A sort of 20th-Century optimism—or 21st-Century pessimism.
Vincent Hardy focused on lines, levels, and layers in RE-CON-STRUC-TION to deconstruct traditional modern technique. It was an energetic, explosive, physical work that challenged the dancers, but the cast size and complexity in the geometry of the movement patterns seemed at odds with the performance space—as if there were not enough room for everything to exist on stage.
Samuel Asher Kunzman’s Ghost Ship was the opposite in energy and spatial awareness. It was subtle, almost meditative, and oozed with ease across the stage space and into the air in long, sweeping lifts. It left the viewer with the feeling of floating.
The mission of Wanderlust Dance Project is to bring together young, emerging dancers to dance and train with seasoned professionals. This concept creates a lab environment in which new ideas and rising trends can be explored and tested. The result is certainly both an entertaining and educational opportunity for young dancers and the audience. It will be interesting to see how the Project grows into next year.
Clarification (Aug. 14, 2017): Choreographer Kevin Pajarillaga worked with Jermaine Spivey at Springboard Danse Montreal, where he was chosen to be in a restaging of "10 Duets on a Theme of Rescue." He has not worked with or been employed by Kidd Pivot, as originally stated.