In the faculty and guest works in DanceTCU’s “Flying Into Fall” showcase, classical and modern dance are on display, with every performance representative of the confident dancers that Texas Christian University produces. Even when the works tend to more modern, a classical body type is exhibited: young, skinny, agile, flexible, dynamic, sharp and serious.
One of the highlights of the show is Elizabeth Gillaspy’s Vigil (2005). This contemporary ballet presents a heightened use of musicality, spatial relationships and gesture to portray three women who are lost and searching for solace. Interestingly, the solace they are looking for is not in themselves nor in each other, but in something that exists beyond the stage.
The dancers start out in a formation of a wide triangle. As they move out of this formation, with an inner focus, they do simultaneous variations of each other’s movements. The trio never comes into unison until the climax of the dance, in which all three young women stand downstage left and scan the horizon, out into the audience, with their eyes and faces. This external use of focus is echoed when a solo dancer repeats the unison gesture of the visual scan in synchronicity with the last climactic note of Arvo Part’s haunting music (frequently used by many choreographers). Although the dancers are proficient in the technique, one wonders if these young women really understand the anguish they are portraying in Gillaspy’s poetic work.
The last piece on the program is Scorching Bay, by former Battleworks, Mark Morris and Ailey II dancer Kanji Segawa. This piece is the most polished and cohesive on the concert and plays with alternating phrases and spatial formations of bounded lines and free-flowing curves.
In it, many interesting uses of group forms catch the eye. The dance begins with a man standing stage left and a woman running toward him and jumping into his arms (as if to quote Esplanade by Paul Taylor). After several runs, each of the dancers on the floor lift up one arm in rapid succession as the woman runs past. This cannon allows the dancer to move through an abstract architectural environment that creates a visual separation between the principle dancers and the audience (the lighting by Roma Flowers and the costumes on loan from the Ailey School help this effect).
Another interesting moment comes in the middle of the dance, when most of the cast is spread across the stage, holding a group shape made up of duets and trio. This crowd moves seamlessly off stag eright while holding the group shape―like a finger swipe on a giant Iphone. Behind this image, a trio emerges that focuses on another male/female duet. The two highlighted female dancers, Elizabeth Alvarez and Alexa Moore, are sharp, clear, grounded, risky and confident in attacking Segawa’s movement style and vocabulary. The dance ends with the first female soloist running in a circle downstage center, as the lights fade.
The ongoing backwards running throughout the last half of the dance suggests that the woman by the end of the piece is trying to return to where the dance started―jumping into the arms of a man. Or, perhaps now that she is by herself, no longer in a duet, she is running for her freedom, with the pulse of the music supporting her escape. Choreographically it seems as if the end of the piece could easily segue right back into the beginning, and the whole dance could be on an endless loop cycle.
Because there is no linking theme or stylistic connection to the pieces on "Flying Into Fall," the programming leaves much to be desired. While much of the inquiry and creative exploration does not dig terribly deep, the classical body of ballet and modern dance is showcased with confident technique.
The remainder of the program includes works that highlight this confidence, choreographed by John McFall, Jenny Mendez, Susan Douglas Roberts and Heinz Spoerli (re-staged by Li-Chou Cheng).
◊ Ellie Leonhardt is a Lecturer in Dance at the University of North Texas. She lives in Denton.