Remember your high school dance team — i.e., cheerleading for people that didn’t make the squad.
Insert Britney Spears medley, and the unspoken mantra, “If you can’t dance, then smile, smile, smile” and you have yourself a recital. When the pickings are slim, and everybody seems to get in, the results aren’t always pretty.
Conscious to avoid appearing amateur, Yaledancers, for the most part, smartly shirks the cliche dance party soundtrack of typical dance recitals (although it comes close with “Big Spender” and “Rhythm of the Night.”) Astute if not always effective, their 90-minute spring show strives for a legitimate exploration of music and choreography.
Not being technically expert dancers, the group stands guilty, if anything, of being too ambitious for its own good.
The evening’s big gamble is the music selection, netting uneven results with a repertoire which showcases Chinese nationalist folksongs, contemporary classical piano, trip hop, and silence. Though they should be commended for a willingness to forgo mainstream pop and ballet etudes, Yaledancers too often falls to the temptation of relying on music as the sole means of creating mood, limiting their choreography to typical jazz combinations of jetes and pas de chats.
The two most effective pieces, both choreographed by freshmen, draw on the music’s subtle contours instead of fighting against them. Allegra Long’s ’08 “Only You” evokes the eerie noir feel of the Portishead song by the same name. Though the song’s lagging, irregular tempo does not suit itself to being easily choreographed, Long employs a harsh spotlight, casting the bodies’ contorted lines against the lethargic beat to great atmospheric effect.
Clad in collared button downs, five dancers induce a smug sort of middle-aged ennui, as the self-assured buildup of tightly controlled energy juxtaposes with sharp movements and lingering stretches. The movements betray none of the lovelorn peevishness of the lyrics: “It’s only you, who can tell me apart/ And it’s only you, who can turn my wooden heart.” It is a dance that is self-consciously ironic — although by the end, you can’t be sure if the song’s theme of male adulation or the audience is the object of such detached contempt.
Either way, you admire the cocky arrogance it takes for a group of girls to indulge in contemplative boredom while maintaining a reality of youthful brassiness.
Open space figures predominantly in first-time choreographer Ryan Webb’s ’08 “Static Silence,” a dance which matches composer Philip Glass’s idiosyncrasy. Dancers stand alternately in and out of five pools of light, occasioned by several fixed spotlights, with the black space corresponding to the piano solo: single notes separated by thoughtful silences.
For an audience member accustomed to being able to see something onstage by adjusting her head, a sense of unease develops, as dancers fluctuate towards the bordering darkness, and visibility is no longer simply a question of moving one’s position. Whether Webb meant to or not, his piece accentuates the powerlessness of the audience member’s situation.
In a far-too-short interlude performed by Mike Apuzzo ’05 and Anne Ackerman MED ’08 engage in a pas de deux of playful interaction and heavy sexual tension, an admirable feat considering the two dancers remained always at least a foot apart. Apuzzo, by far the most technically advanced dancer, is the only one to successfully assert a stage presence that surpasses his physical body. His extended lines, high jumps, and flexibility on full display, Apuzzo fiercely, with conviction, reminds us what the show could and should be.
Too bad such moments are rare in a show that gives the impression that the fun is over and it is time to go to work. In their quest to be recognized as a legitimate company, Yaledancers seems to forget that at its best, dance should make even the Lucy Ricardo of dance want to run on stage and be part of the fun. Ironically, it is often admirably uncomplicated material that allows the cast to shine.
They are at their collective best with the intentionally campy (we’re talking pompoms and confetti) “Can’t Stop the Beat” from the musical “Hairspray.” That ending number captures all the exuberance you know this company is capable of, a feeling you wish they would indulge in more.
Little white mistakes riddle the show, preventing it from attaining the level of perfection. A few dancers can’t quite sustain their arabesques in slow songs or can’t quite round out the double pirouettes in fast ones.
Midway through the first act, you cannot help but wonder, would if have been so bad to indulge in a little high school camp?