Dancers’ Viewpointe II presented an evening of diverse dance numbers that left the audience feeling completely satisfied. The overarching thread of the show was an excellent connection between choreography and music in each of the pieces. Instead of merely watching movement that happened to be set to a randomly selected piece of music, each piece had a tight bond between music and movement, giving the audience the feeling that each piece was a complete story in itself. The show, a collection of very different dances that each contributed a unique element to the overall effect, enabled the audience to experience the movement through the music and the music through the movement.
The show featured seven different choreographers, five students and two professionals, who explored different areas and approaches to movement. The student choreographers were selected out of a pool of 11 applicants on the basis of experience, videotapes and the potential to benefit from professional mentoring. The students were guided all year by a staff of professional dancers and choreographers in order to strengthen their choreography and prepare them for the challenge of presenting pieces in concert with ones created by professionals. In addition to these offerings, there was a piece by George Balanchine and a performance by the Crimson Dance Team.
One piece in particular had the dancers perfectly representing the sounds of the music with the movements of their bodies: “Percussive Us,” choreographed by Jeff Shade, Dance Program instructor and Bob Fosse protégé. In this piece, Shade used music by Jim Perry that was a series of percussion riffs strung together. The dancers wore black costumes and moved in unison to different drumbeats at the beginning of the number. As the beat or the instrument in the song changed, the dancers adapted their movements to embody each particular instrument.
The dancers avoided eye contact with the audience, undermining their individuality so that they appeared nearly to become the drums pounding all around them. As the piece progressed, the dancers began to find their own identity within the music, shedding their black shirts for various colored ones and dancing in small groups instead of in one synchronized body. The overall effect was heightened by the impressive technical skill of the dancers, who made the transitions throughout seem natural and fluid.
“De-mystifications,” a piece by Sangita Shresthova, a graduate student at MIT, showcased a similarly strong connection between movement and music. Shresthova choreographed in the style of Bharat Natyam, a classical Indian dance form, hoping to give her audience a feel for the great spiritual importance of this dance. Shresthova moved in a manner completely different from the movement in pieces like Shade’s “Percussive Us,” but the difference was appropriate for the music and stunning in its own right. With captivating images in red and black, accompanied by staccato head and arm motions, Shresthova invoked the earth and sky, each movement precise and loaded with meaning. The audience was drawn in by the incredible stage presence of Shresthova and the obvious joy that accompanied her every movement.
“Caprice,” choreographed by Adrienne M. Minster ’04, was a bouncy, ballet-infused jazz piece set to a medley of swing music. The simpler choreography allowed the dancers to revel in the high energy of the piece, at times merely exuberant while at others sexy. “Caprice” was not as clean as it could have been, especially in contrast to the other pieces in the show, but even this small defect did not detract from the value of the number. The light, sometimes almost mischievous tone made the piece highly entertaining for the audience, adding to the atmosphere of show as a whole.
The Balanchine piece, some excerpts from Who Cares?, had a similar air of lyrical lightness. A more traditional ballet danced en pointe, Who Cares? allowed Harvard’s ballet dancers to showcase their technical ability. While the dancers illustrated the requisite technical level for this piece, some of the captivating stage presence and connection with the audience was lacking in this number.
Despite this, the audience was given the opportunity to watch a well-executed, traditional ballet that provided a contrast to the modern and jazz pieces in the rest of the show. When dancers perform a Balanchine work, certain standards and requirements must be met in order to ensure that the quality of the original is maintained in every performance. Therefore, it is an honor and a testament to the skill level of the Harvard dancers for the Dance Program to be able to present this piece.
Tina Y. Tanhehco ’05 also contributed to the lighthearted aspect of the show with “Stripped,” which explored gender roles and power structures within relationships in a rather comic manner. Tanhehco’s piece started with a male and a female dancer (danced by Tanhehco herself) exchanging both clothing and body language, as Dar Williams’ lyrics, “I will not be afraid of women” blared in the background. The piece examined the roles that men and women are taught to play with each other, tempering the initial comedy with darker intimations of physical violence on the part of the males.
Tanhehco’s character emerges victorious as a strong woman at the end of her piece, just as Tanhehco herself has emerged victorious in the larger dance world recently. “Stripped” was presented to great acclaim at the New England Regional American College Dance Festival held at Boston University. The piece was selected for the gala performance at the end of the weekend as well as for a showing at the Kennedy Center to be held in May. In addition, director Liz Bergmann said that Tanhehco has been nominated for Outstanding Student Performer by Dance Magazine. Another piece in Viewpointe, “Sketches,” by Ryuji Yamaguchi ’03, was also selected for the festival.
Dancers’ Viewpointe II proved that the Harvard dance community is both strong and talented. The show, a production of the Dance Program of the Office for the Arts, demonstrated a concerted effort towards achieving an air of professionalism at a school where there is no academic dance program. The Dance Program offers opportunities for those with aspirations working at the professional level as well as those who have no prior dance experience. With around 700 students involved to some degree each semester, the Dance Program has been growing since Elizabeth Bergmann took over as director two year ago. Bergmann says that her ultimate goal is to “see everyone dancing.”
Before the show went up, Bergmann said, “I am really, really happy with what I’m seeing,” and she should be. With this show, the Dance Program has proven that it can cater to all Harvard dancers, moving in the direction of professionalism while still maintaining opportunities for those with little or no experience.
Dancers’ Viewpointe II
Artistic Director Elizabeth Bergmann
Produced by Susan Larson
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