In the mission statement printed in the program for their fall 2005 show, Yaledancers describe themselves as “a company of dedicated individuals” who “share a common love of dance.” Melding a variety of dance styles, musical genres and theatrical elements, these performers happily prove their love while providing an entertaining visual experience for the audience.
Concentrating on the purity of the movements rather than elaborate costumes or staging, Yaledancers’ emphasis on technical skill is emphasized by the large expanse of black-walled space that is the ECA theater. The audience has nothing to focus on but the dancers, with the occasional filter of soft lighting effects, and this close proximity lends an intimate nature to their movement.
The use of space and lighting in conjunction with dancing is especially effective with pieces such as “In the Mood,” choreographed by Kat Ogletree ’07. It’s a jazzy number reminiscent of an Esther Williams water ballet that sets the tone for the show. Dancers clad in colored leotards flow onto the stage, intertwining staccato jazz steps with lyrical leaps and twirls, often in formations like those of synchronized swimmers. Against the soundtrack of Glenn Miller and George Gershwin, the upbeat moves and radiant smiles on the dancers’ faces make the piece a fitting introduction.
In pieces such as Dionna Thomas ’06’s “Untitled” and Eliza Kelley-Swift ’09’s “Variation on a Storm,” there is a more theatrical feel. The former has dancers dressed in black cocktail attire and clustered in a group, spotlit against the dark stage. When the audience hears the soulful chant of the music, Sweet Honey in the Rock’s “Motherless Child,” and sees the performers sway in syncopated tribal rhythm, the juxtaposition of the modern costume and primal movement proves jarringly powerful: The dancers mimic the rocking of a child while the music intones, “Sometimes, I feel like a motherless child.”
“Variation on a Storm” is dramatic not just because of Kelley-Swift’s choreography, which has the dancers “blowing” onto the stage like well-placed tornadoes, but also because of her musical choice — an instrumental version of The Doors’ “Riders on the Storm” arranged by Michael Rataj. The three dancers in the piece (Ogletree, Michelle Weitz ’06 and Rachel Geronemus ’08) spin against a blue-green background, interacting lyrically with the tense and foreboding soundtrack, which one expects to erupt into thunder at any moment. Interestingly, the performers seem to embody both the storm and those affected by it: Their sinewy movements perfectly embody branches blowing in the wind or leaves scattered by a gust.
Other insightful pieces include “Been Here Before,” choreographed by Amelia Reed ’06, which uses the hauntingly beautiful Sia song “Breathe Me,” and “Man’s Ego,” choreographed by Brienne Leon ’06, which features all male dancers in undershirts moving to Radiohead’s “Paranoid Android.” While distinctly different in style, both pieces seem to offer a visual perspective on gender roles, whether it is to comment on love, societal constructs or just ironic humor.
And if you thought Yaledancers didn’t have anything else up their sleeves (very puffy sleeves, in fact), you would be wrong. With the piece “Trojka,” cleverly choreographed by Michelle Weitz ’06 to music sung by the Choir of the Red Army, dancers clad in peasant outfits enact the mating rituals of a bygone cultural era against the fitting background of bright red lighting. With plenty of fancy footwork, this piece reminds you of all the peasant dance scenes you see in movies — only better.
Yaledancers is certainly dedicated to its goal of creating art through dance, and their joy in doing so makes their creation a pleasure to watch. For aficionados of dance or those just going to support a friend, these talented Yalies have something to offer every culture-starved soul. Eat up.