Traces Of…

January 2, 2011

From the thought-provoking title, “Traces of…” to the bold experimental movement and improvisation, the Harvard Radcliffe Modern Dance Company left much of the interpretation up to the audience at its show this past weekend. At the Harvard Dance Center on Saturday, December 4th, performers, choreographers, and technical artists all put forth a comprehensive display of modern dance to challenge the individual’s imagination.

The innovative efforts of choreographers, both established and less experienced, were particularly impressive. In addition to interesting movement, the artists utilized sound, lights, and outside materials to create stunning visual effects, elements of surprise, and moments of discomfort, testing the minds of audience members. For the non-audition, company piece “Reset Reconstruct Rejuvenate,” choreographer Selena Sullivan ’12 made excellent use of the large number of dancers with powerful, synchronized group moments that were pedestrian but profound.

Especially notable was the improvisational piece “Other People’s Children,” with movement score by Halimeda Glickman-Hock ’12. Spoken words and song performed by the dancers as they dictated their own movement made for a wonderfully elusive number. Later, in Ariana Siegel’s “Tender,” performers ran and threw themselves at the floor, creating bold visual effects to contrast the smooth, clean, and indeed “tender” partnering work. Both of these pieces were significant for their exposed, honest presentation of human themes, though perhaps uncomfortable to those unaccustomed to this type of modern dance (as evidenced by a few scattered chuckles among audience members at especially unusual moments).

In “Page 97,” a sweet story of a young love jumped gracefully from the pages of the book the performers read onstage. As a whole, though simple, the number demonstrated significant choreographic development on the part of Xi Yu ’13 when compared to her previous works for HRMDC. Visually pleasing canons and an interesting use of bodies as props were present in Stela Gaitani’s “Our Life- Or How We Lost it,” and flowing costumes complimented soft, quiet movement in “Where is the World,” choreographed by Stephany Lin ’11. The number “For a Friendship” by Thuy Pan ’12 demonstrated a promising blend of Bhangra music and dance, although the choppy musical transitions and somewhat unclear choreographic intention left a sense of discontinuity. Alum Marin Orlosky Randow’s ’07 “A Palace Apart,” though slightly long, paired the circular scales of piano music with the rise and fall of partnering movement between two female dancers in the role of friends reunited.

Much anticipated was the avant-garde piece entitled “Stripped,” which closed the first act and was choreographed by Julia Havard ’11. Havard delivered a unique and shocking work of theatrical performance art, in keeping with her previous pieces for HRMDC and other productions on Harvard’s campus. The ambitious three-movement number began with pulsing beats and thrashing movement by the large group, as individual dancers simultaneously took turns exploring strange circular objects made of tin foil on a piece of blue tarp downstage center. Dramatic expressions of alarm soon broke out as the unknown idea represented by the objects downstage spread like a virus. The chaotic, piercing music climaxed; shirts were torn, along with a large sheet of rustling metallic paper. Lighting Designer, Joseph Seering ’13, also showcased his talent, beautifully following the developing themes of the number with complementing colored light, dark shadows, and moments of intense brightness. The tension resolved with the discovery of a blue substance in the tin foil circles, which for the remainder of the piece dancers sensually spread on their bodies.

HRMDC presented two works choreographed by Elizabeth Weil Bergmann, soon to be retired from her long-standing position as Harvard Dance Program Director. Restaged, and rehearsed to perfection by Dance Program instructor Jodi Leigh Allen, these pieces opened and closed the show, and were a center point of the afternoon. Additionally, the directors of HRMDC made clear the company’s gratitude toward Bergmann by dedicating the entire performance to her before it began. In Bergmann’s first number, “Bach Étude,” the floor of the theater seemed elastic as dancers bounced effortlessly with sautés to match the lively plucking of the mandolin. At the same time, the movement was controlled, with Graham-influenced arms and grounded running strides. Joyous expressions on the dancers’ faces aligned well with their soaring leaps and contributed to the bright and strong energy on stage.

Bergmann’s second piece, “Solitary/Solidarity,” depicted a more complicated emotional development on the part of both dancer and choreographer. As the sounds of the marimba and exotic strings resonated through the theater, members of group engaged one another in a playful, easy manner. As the pulsing percussion took over, however, an abrupt, almost alarming change occurred in the mood of the group. Expressions of distress and fury spread from one dancer to another, developing into an intense struggle between individual and group that lent great meaning to the choreographer’s choice of title. A powerful solo by standout Natalie Cameron ’11 featured rapid movements of the legs and haunting expressions of anguish, as other members of the cast entered and exited periodically with glares of rejection. This segued into a final segment of loud stomping and rigid, sharp movement, which culminated with an intense group attack on the frozen audience.

As is customary at HRMDC performances, the cast finished with a company improvisation to a song unknown to both audience members and dancers. This appropriate finale once again gave the audience an opportunity to interpret the many movements on stage, completing the phrase “Traces of…” as they saw fit.

- The Harvard Art Review Dance Board

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