Dancers end semester strong
This year’s Oberlin Dance Company concert will be presented this weekend in what is unquestionably the strongest fully faculty-choreographed show I have seen in my four years here. In five pieces, the show manages to supply the audience with beautiful dancing, feats of athleticism and raw emotion, while maintaining a sense of the concert’s continuity.
The concert opens with “Particulate Waves,” first choreographed by Carter McAdams in 1991. The reoccurring movement phrases are gorgeous, as dancers spin and dive or remain stationary in poses. For most of the piece, the dancers are organized impeccably in time and space. Yet there are instances when all nine dancers engage in chaotic movements and are crowded together, making the piece overwhelming to watch.
The dancers leave the stage and return in waves many times. After a few repeated exits and entrances, they unfortunately begin to resemble lemmings, for if one dancer leaves suddenly they all leave, blindly following with no impetus. If a dance is about beauty and quality of movement, as this one seems to be, the use of space and time must be purposeful throughout.
The concert’s second piece, “Dare #33,” choreographed by visiting artist Holly Handman, is refreshingly short. This piece combines incredible lighting played off huge swaths of cloth with Handman’s athletic, daredevil dancing. Handman’s presence is awe-inspiring, as is her visible muscularity. The end of the piece is sudden and startling: Handman shakes herself out of the dance, looks at her surroundings and settles upstage to view the hanging cloth along with the audience. This move is a dare indeed, and one well played.
Many audience members may remember “Crazy Dog” from the Spring Back concert. Choreographed by Sarah Shelton Mann in 1972, McAdams obtained the rights to have four Oberlin students perform the piece this semester. The 20-minute dance revolves around two damned mortals toyed with by two meddling spirits. If anything, the only flaw is that the mortals seem stronger than the meddling spirits, causing interactions to be less than believable. Junior Elise Sipos’s portrayal of a stoic warrior is flawless; her movement is filled with purpose and strength. She performs the biggest physical feats of the dance not only as she provides the stability in every lift but also during her solo when she arches back, balancing for a suspended moment on one foot, finally flipping over and greeting the floor with her hands.
The show’s second half shifts gear, opening with a modern African piece, “Prayer for Forgiveness,” choreographed by Adenike Sharpley. This piece is a lovely, colorful dance using steps from the Greater Mali empire. Its purpose is to offer a prayer from Africans in America to those on the continent, to aid in repairing the damage caused by the latter’s part in the transatlantic slave trade. Sharpley’s program notes call this dance “an offering to diminish differences caused by that separation.” The dancers demonstrate passion and conviction, enabling the piece to transcend.
“Reworkin’ Strange Fruit,” also choreographed by Sharpley, is the program’s final piece. The piece is narrated by Billie Holiday, and played by junior Francisca Chaidez-Gutierrez. The set, although detailed, encompassing and striking, is nothing compared to the raw emotion dealt with by the diaspora group. James Anderson sings a soul-shaking version of “Strange Fruit” while lynched bodies are taken down from a giant tree, upon which names and dates of lynched individuals are projected. Pia Murray leads a group of five women who dance in whiteface or with fans, embodying the elitism of the south to which Billie Holiday found herself a slave. The piece makes three cycles through narration, dance and funeral services. It demonstrates the “metaphorical lynching that occurs when people are denied basic human dignity,” through the use of the many characters and Billie Holiday’s story.
“Reworkin’ Strange Fruit” is the best professional piece I
have ever seen from the Oberlin dance department. Sharpley raises emotional and
political issues that have implications throughout our lives and culture, and
she accomplishes this feat with eloquence and a fine-tuned knowledge of how to
craft a story in time and space. This piece puts the finishing touch on an
already superb concert worth time and money — and, more importantly, worth