Behind a simple purple curtain in the Little Theatre lies the “Spring Dance Theatre”, displaying such a variety of dance pieces that it is hard to think of anyone who wouldn’t be captivated by at least one performance. While not all of the performances were memorable, the standouts remind audiences of what the arts are able to produce when unrestrained by traditional story structure. Even the smallest moments can send chills down the spine.
To critique the show as a whole would miss the point. Each piece stands independently from the one before, with its own unique flair, making the admission price of $14 well worth it.
The first piece “Leaving Dysphoria” (choreographed by Dylan Ochoa) is a solid introduction with a clear and easy-to-follow choreography and central theme. It is neither too abstract nor too literal, as many of the later pieces seem. White lighting is angled to illuminate the dancers who are in formal wear and move in couples. They soon form a single stoic unit, grouped together without moving. Until the end, where they each begin to break off.
All except for one couple remain in the center, whose locked handshake makes it difficult for the other dancers to tear them apart. There is a hypnotizing beauty in its simplicity and lays a solid foundation for some of the more challenging pieces.
“Windows & Doors” (choreographed by guest artist Leslie Scott) bordered more on the abstract, as dancers moved to a piece far less conventionally pretty than the one that came before it. Ticking and gunshots make up much of the musical score, building in intensity to such a pitch that it can be difficult to listen to, yet darkly enchanting. The dancers performed admirably, given that the music has such blatantly disturbing undercurrents.
“Now” (choreographed by faculty member Alvin Rangel) shifts the tone, featuring two men dressed in hoodies and gym pants dancing with one another. Casual wear mixed with the grace of the choreography created a romantic and playful scene. Stage lighting is even and consistent, acting not to disrupt, but to draw the audience into the onstage struggle. Choreography comes off as flirtatious, romantic and reluctant. It is great to see a piece featuring a same-sex relationship, and there is a good chance that the piece will resonate especially with LGBTQ audience members.
“General Admission” (choreographed by Abigail DiGrazia & Victor Sanchez) can be quite jarring coming out of the third, featuring a classroom filled with students in red flowing open robes. It begins with a moment of dark comedy, as they fall over in their chairs, but it quickly becomes unnerving.
A pulsating beat accompanies the dancers as they pull off numerous stunts with the chairs available. It makes one think of a “1984” inspired university gone completely mad. The music seems to be in complete control of the people on stage. An abrupt and jarring conclusion involving dancers running in a circle as they slowly begin to fall to the floor has the most impact of all. This piece can leave the viewer simultaneously confused, frightened and exhilarated. However, punctuations of dark humor and inspired stage lighting make it fascinating.
“Severed Ground” (choreographed by Jessica Vela) takes place right after the intermission and immediately plunges the audience into a very dark place. Dancers in black masks and nude leotards stand in a line in front of the stage, writhing and twitching. The piece is challenging to watch, with music that can feel as though it is assaulting the listener’s eardrums and choreography that feels like it slipped from the dark corners of a fever dream.
Yet, there is no denying the impact that it leaves, as it is the most powerful and memorable performance. From the silhouettes that the dancers leave on the back wall of the stage to the writhing lines of bodies that they form on stage, the choreography created images and moments of dramatic dissonance that this reviewer won’t soon forget.
“Liminal Breath,” (choreography by faculty member Lisa D. Long) had a visual motif that was far more elegant. Dancers dressed in green are in front of a large flower, that takes up the entire back wall of the stage. A projection of a man is directly on the flower as the performers dance around it. The turning point is when a man stands and begins to move himself, the music growing deeper and less flightful. It is a clever use of projection technology that doesn’t take away from the performances on the stage.
Sadly, the second to last performance of the evening titled “In Pursuit of Self” (choreographed by Alexander Caballero) doubles down on the projections in a way that is most distracting. Cobblestone-like pieces hang from the ceiling, and images like falling leaves to the cosmos are projected on them. All of this imagery is striking, but the story of a man exploring his dreamscape is told less through the dance itself and more through other forms of theatricality.
The opening narration in “In Pursuit of Self” echoes across the stage as the dancer responds to it, as though they are his own thoughts that he can’t keep under control. Later, we see the same individual lay in front of the audience and fall asleep on a pillow. Another similar looking dancer enters the stage and gazes at the wonderful projection work around him. Since everything is spelled out, and so many colorful images swirl around all at once, it is easy to ignore the dancers, who should be the center of attention. While not bad by any stretch, it is the most visually bombastic and least interesting piece.
The finale “Roof Top” (choreographed by the dean of the College of Arts Dale A. Merrill) brings everything to a close and will appeal to fans of the recent Hollywood hit “La La Land.” The jazzy piece, featuring dancers all wearing visually interesting costumes, has a casual tone that caps off the evening well.
Everyone on stage looks like they are having a lot of fun, and their enthusiasm is infectious. One can only imagine the nightmares that might have haunted audiences if “Severed Ground” was selected as the finale. In terms of sheer choreography and dance talent, “Roof Top” is the tour de force of the evening that will leave audiences in a good mood.
It is refreshing that in a theater world often dominated by Shakespeare and modern heavy-weight playbillers, Cal State Fullerton can put on a series of dance performances and execute it with such skill and variety that it can convert the non-dance enthusiasts. It is a showcase of how dance has the unique ability to not only entertain, but also to shake up and move.