Modern, jazz, ballet and hip-hop combine in YaleDancers’ entirely student-choreographed fall show, notable for its verve and energy.
“Freedom Cry,” choreographed by Katy Henderson ’04 and Kathy Baillie ’04, opens the show in an African-inspired vein. The first part of the dance, set to Bob Marley’s “Exodus,” is incongruous — the dancers’ sinuous movements don’t reflect the percussiveness of the music. But with a change of music to Buju Banton’s “African Pride,” the sway turns to a groove, and the dancers seem more directly connected to the propulsive beats. The addition of white cotton skirts over their costumes gave the dancers a jubilance reminiscent of a child in a Easter dress — their twirling, swaying enjoyment of the effect was quite beautiful.
The next piece, “The Way She Moves,” was a passionate YaleDancers tribute to wayward women everywhere. Choreographed to Billy Joel’s “She’s Always a Woman” and Jimi Hendrix’s “Foxy Lady,” the piece was sexy and precisely danced.
In a change of pace, the events of Sept. 11 — or rather, their aftermath — were the subject of the show’s third segment, the somewhat obviously titled “Everything’s Changed.” To the “tune” of recorded voice-overs of survivors and witnesses adapted by Dave Longstreth ’05, the company speaks with eerie fetal postures and flowing arms that represent the fear that has settled in the events’ aftermath. With black shroudlike shirts, they seem caught in a collective trance somewhat at odds with the violent scene narrated over their dance.
But when the accompaniment transitions to the spiritual Celtic group Talisman, the disparity dissolves and the piece achieves its full power, demonstrating well the power of movement to communicate feelings that cannot be put into words.
“Feel,” which closes out the first act, features smooth choreography by Sidra Bell ’01 but suffers from a series of awkward lifts by the company’s two intrepid Y chromosome-bearers, Ja-Shukry Shia and Alexander Jean, both juniors. The mannequinlike rigidity of their “cargo” coasting across the stage at intervals is merely disruptive and extraneous to the rhythm of the dance.
The opening of the second act heralds a return to the sexy sinuousness that lit up the dancers and quickened their steps in the first act’s “Moves.” To Alicia Keys and Zap Mama, the women of YaleDancers are on the prowl and clearly loving it. And the rhythm continues, with the exception of a quick detour for “An Unquiet Peace,” in which five dancers — the smallest ensemble in the show — move with somewhat forced laboriousness to a rather thin guitar accompaniment.
The show finishes on a high note with a couple of innovatively choreographed, foot-tapping pieces. “Yeah you do!” set to Craig David and Britney Spears, and “It’s Not About You,” to Bjork and Nelly Furtado, let the dancers loose on music they savor. Jean and Regan Merkel’s ’03 athletic, hip-hop influenced choreography in “Yeah you do!” is the first major divergence from the program’s consistently smooth feel. Shia showcases his skill and flexibility in a fast-paced solo with a break-dancing edge.
On strictly technical grounds, it would be relatively easy to pan YaleDancers — they are a motley crew composed of experienced ex-ballerinas and near-novices. The strong overall impact of the dancer’s often synchronized moments is occasionally not enough to mask minor slides off the rhythm and slipups. And the awkward division of each piece into musical halves makes it difficult for the dancers to join them into unified expressions.
But in some sense, it is this laissez-faire attitude — in combination with a devotion to art that has led YaleDancers to choreograph and then perform complex, exciting routines — that exemplifies the best of this show. Their risk-taking, even at the expense of perfection, exemplifies the guts and passion that makes the show fly.