While “Requiem and Other Dances” presented moments of brilliant choreography and performance, overall it seemed rather complacent in its efforts.
Cal State Long Beach’s Department of Dance has a strong regional reputation. The department’s talent was on display this past weekend works with from faculty members Andrew Vaca, Lorin Johnson, Susan McLain, Keith Johnson and guest artist Jacqulyn Buglisi.
Twelve female dancers brought to life Vaca’s “The Only Dance That Matters,” an energetic tribute to British punk band The Clash. Alesha Rabe and Brittany Ullestad performed a duet to the opening of “Should I Stay or Should I Go,” during which both dancers embodied a combination of punk esthetic and jazz dance that was representative of the entire piece.
Yet, one sequence midway through the dance strayed into a fluid lyricism that seemed to contradict the premise. Otherwise, Vaca’s handling of choreographic form was entertaining.
While Vaca’s work created spectacle, Keith Johnson’s “We Make Way” (parts I and III) presented a work-in-progress that gestured toward larger social issues. A quartet of men and women dressed in ill-fitting pink costumes strove to instill the choreography with a sense of camaraderie. Unfortunately, much of the movement was distorted by a lack of precision and dynamics.
The concert also saw the premiere of Lorin Johnson’s piece, “Shadow Play.” Eight female dancers, four dressed in black and four in white, short-legged unitards, were often left lost within a piece lacking definition.
The curtain opened to dramatic lighting contrasting black backdrops against a white cyclorama with a stage of shadowy light. As the dancers entered the space, they alternated between movements of feminine sensuality and ballet technique.
While the piece incorporated partnering and two distinct groups of dancers, the choreography failed to develop the concept of shadows beyond that of a color and lighting scheme.
Perhaps the most visually stunning piece was guest artist Buglisi’s “Requiem (2002).” Five female dancers manipulated silk, backless dresses and enormous multi-layered skirts, whose draped fabric produced sculptural designs.
Five boxes aligned in a V-shape served as the set and foundation for the dancers as they suggested sculptures of grieving women brought to life by the music. “Requiem” displayed a range of images, from the vulnerability evoked by the naked backs of the performers to the loss of life conveyed by dramatic contractions.
At times, the dancers sat on the boxes initiating movements through their backs, while at other times stood on the boxes animating the costume’s fabric and creating angel-like figures. Unfortunately, the dramatic lighting and costumes often overwhelmed the expression of psychological turmoil.
No performance was more reflective of the concert’s recurrent theme of underdeveloped concepts than McLain’s “Mirror U.” The piece featured skilled performers Yu Kondo and Thaihoa Nguyen, who wore white dress shirts and boy shorts. Resembling each other in movement and esthetic, the duet attempted to question concepts of gender.
However, the choreography underused the dancers, never demonstrating their range of abilities as performers. Rather than relying upon choreography and movement to establish and question gender, McLain fell back on a tacky use of props and costumes.
“Mirrors” suggested the idea of the dancers as mirror images of each other and partnering established a relationship between the two. It was only by having Nguyen assume his place behind the upstage mirror and donning a shirt, tie, skirt and pumps that the gender question became evident. Of all the routes taken by the choreographers, McLain was the only one to blatantly use props and costumes to manipulate the audience into seeing content that wasn’t embodied in the choreography, leaving the viewer feeling slighted.
The concert contained numerous positive facets that were often, and unfortunately, counteracted by underdeveloped ideas. It seemed as though the choreographers were unwilling to challenge themselves and established concepts of dance in order to create original work.
Rather than continuing to investigate the art form of dance, the faculty relied on safe choreographic forms and comfortable movement styles to create works that were entertaining, but not substantive.