Richardson — If all the Nutcrackers each season make you a bit nutty yourself, then check out Epiphany DanceArts. Each year they break from the norm to show that dance does not have to revolve around the classical ballet icon during the holidays. This year’s Winter’s Dance at the Eisemann Center in Richardson celebrates the company’s five-year anniversary with the most requested Christmas works since its beginning.
Artistic Director Melissa DeGroat thrives on collaboration, whether it’s with guest choreographers or artists in other art forms. This show is no exception, with live music from Chad Evans and photography by Debra Klawetter. Although most of the works are recaps, they take on new meaning with some reflection by DeGroat. Through these narrations, we’re given a behind-the-scenes look at the significance of the dances.
The familiar red cloth returns, symbolizing various concepts including grief and joy. Dancers break the fourth wall by entering from the audience, each with streaming crimson fabric trailing behind. Costumes remain simple and fairly consistent throughout, either a red or white loose dress with a shimmery overly. A lovely blue fabric sometimes makes up a skirt or dress.
The first dance Joy maneuvers through a plethora of winding floor patterns, various leaps, and other lighthearted movements. The number of movers on stage plus the fabric make for a dizzying picture which calms in the next piece with a series of canons set to “Carol of the Bells.”
The mood turns somber with DeGroat’s contemplative solo Breath of Heaven, joined by some of her dancers. Clad in a navy leotard and shimmery skirt with matching colors, she elegantly extends her limbs in between passionate looks towards the audience and upward. The slow, luxurious air of her movement permeates the next section as well, a very simple Ave Maria. DeGroat then invites the audience to join in the reflection for The Vigil with their own electronic tea lights.
Lighting the Way: Reminder & Beckoning the Brave provides a welcome change, with sounds from Mumford and Sons and black costumes. Movement patterns repeat from previous works, but the differing context breathes fresh air into the motifs.
Evans supplies the live music for four pieces scattered throughout the rest of the concert, and he remains the focus during each one. The dancing side of it mostly consists of a cutesy, literal interpretation of the song. Armed with an acoustic guitar and singer/songwriter-style voice reminiscent of John Mayer, Evans moves the audience with folksy renditions of “Let It Snow,” “Joy to the World,” “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree,” and “O Come All Ye Faithful.”
First Light and Holy Night repeat the ambiance of early pieces, while The Christmas Gift acts out a party with a surprise gift that gives a nod to The Nutcracker. Longer, more developed sections arrive with Loss and an uplifting Sacred Reflections.
The former is the tearjerker of the evening. Three vignettes portray differing responses to loss, but “Flying” pulls the heartstrings the most, with a delightfully poignant solo by Anna Wueller.
It’s interesting to note the contrast from their October performance. While the Christmas pieces are lovely works in and of themselves, most of them tend to be very similar, not only in theme but in vocabulary and staging. Much of it happens in unison and takes phrasing cues from classical ballet and liturgical dance. Judging from this concert, one might deduce that a bit of creative stagnation has occurred. Diamonds, on the other hand, displayed tremendous growth choreographically. More complex patterns and a wider range of maneuvers with a strong narrative theme woven throughout made it the most exciting Epiphany show to watch.
This is not to say that the Christmas show was dull. The audience members clearly adore the pieces, and the comments uttered after the show and written on their Facebook wall prove the lasting impact of the performance. The DanceArtists exhibit fervent devotion to their craft, not only in performance but technical execution. If anything, this reflection over the past five years juxtaposed against Diamonds only demonstrates how far the company has come and illuminates the bright path ahead of them.