The opening act of the Yaledancers Spring Show, performed to Jackson Browne’s “Doctor My Eyes” and choreographed by Samuel Gottstein ’10, is something like an extended Gap commercial — colorful, tasteful, entertaining, maybe slightly ironic. It sets a playful tone that is tentatively maintained throughout the show, meaning that a few pieces do appear to be serious, emotional and deeply felt, but that the whole show is really just a fun, upbeat display of talent.
Think of it as an all-you-can-eat dance buffet, since it offers plenty to feast your eyes on. Music of various genres (Motown, chick rock, bebop, Hawaiian, show tunes, classical violin, “Fergalicious” — to name a few) inspires energetic choreography and a series of passionate, if slightly under-polished and disconnected, performances. But even when the dancers fail to time everything just right, they succeed in redirecting the audience’s attention to what’s really important — having a good time.
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Eighteen dancers, including three law students, pick their own music, choreograph the moves and perform in Yale’s oldest dance group, which was founded in 1973. Two acts, roughly an hour each, speed by at the ECA theater at 55 Audubon St. Onstage, the dancers appear relaxed, comfortable and sexy — which is impressive when one considers how athletic dancing can be.
The program features a total of 14 inter-generic pieces with titles such as “3 on Three” and “YDivas.” This series of performances is punctuated by eight interludes — short dances that allow time for costume changes and a moment for some dancers to catch their breath. The interludes, usually solo numbers, provide the chance for some dancers to do their best work. Particularly memorable are Stephanie Rosenthal ’10 (in an angsty take on “L.A. Song” by Beth Nash), Nicole Fish ’09 (beautifully to “The Chase,” composed and performed live by Joe Kye ’09) and Kristen Saruwatari ’07 (to “Maunaleo” by Keali’i Reichel choreographed by Kim Shibata and Christy Lopes).
The line-up, while consistently entertaining throughout, saves the best for last. The “senior dance” — an imitation of “The Cell-Block Tango” from the movie version of “Chicago” — is the icing on a multi-layered cake featuring other knock-offs, such as a spot-on “Napoleon Dynamite” impression by Gottstein and a pop-medley dance-off.
But there’s no reason to suspect that the various performances are meant to have some underlying connection that’s supposed to justify their placement next to each other. The Yaledancers Spring Show doesn’t have a cheesy, over-arching motif like, say, songs that have the word “girl” in the title. But for that reason, each piece of Spring Show adds something to a puzzle that, by the end, isn’t quite clearly put-together. Still, it’s obvious that the dancers relish their freedom from the tyranny of a theme — it allows them to sandwich a sunny ballet between hardcore hip-hop and a funny, dramatized piece without breaking any of their own rules.
Production and costume design is, as it should be, kept simple. A color-changing scrim and a few spotlights add to the dancing, rather than distract from it. Of all the costumes, the best might be the masks worn during “Pilobilus,” a stunning modern, tribal-influenced piece choreographed by Mamie Air MED ’08.
The most important thing about the Spring Show is that Yalies don’t have to be dance-o-philes to enjoy it. There’s something for everyone — from professional dancers themselves to those who have never even heard of pointe work.