Yale Dancers own their bodies. In their spring show, which runs this weekend at the Educational Center for the Arts at 55 Audubon St., they remind you of this again and again: Their faces radiate self-assurance as they saunter across the stage, or tap their feet in unison, or methodically glide their hands through the air.
I should say: I have approximately no personal experience with “owning my body.” Once, I fell through a hole in the stage at Toad’s. But this made the experience of watching YD — who prove that they can master classical moves as well as playful pop rhythms — all the more thrilling. There is something distinctly empowering in watching this group of confident women sail through emotional ballads, sugary pop numbers and most everything in between.
From their very first moment on stage, the dancers asserted their mastery and general badassery. “Femmebots,” choreographed by Ajua Duker ’15, an electric and high-energy performance to M.I.A.’s “XR2” (a spinning class favorite) opened the show and shook awake any sleepy audience members.
The “badass female” motif continued when the group’s newest dancers performed “New Girls on the Block,” choreographed to the famous femme-fatale anthem “Cell Block Tango” from “Chicago.” Flashing the occasional knowing smirk, the girls fired finger guns at the audience and clicked their heels across the stage, owning the undeniably sexy routine.
Some of the first act’s most technically exceptional moments came in its two duets: “Shadow,” choreographed and performed by Gracie White ’16 and Luyi Chen ’18, and “Catch Me If You Can,” featuring Duker and Kellyanna Polk ’16. These four dancers appeared among the most confident and skilled in the ensemble, and the two duets allowed them to showcase individual strengths while also responding to and working with one another.
YD’s three seniors, Laura Bass, Duker and Theresa Oei, accomplished the impossible with “Closing a Chapter”: a graduation swan song to “Landslide” that did not elicit eye rolling. Wearing sundresses and slowing down the choreography in a departure from some of the show’s more frenetic moments, the trio performed a subtle number that evoked classical ballet alongside more avant-garde elements.
Another slower, more emotional number came from Eliza Dach ’17, who choreographed “Parentheses” for five others to perform; cool blue lighting provided a stark contrast to risqué routines like “New Girls on the Block.” Any choreography to the Paper Kites’ melancholy “Portrait 19” could have veered into cliché angst. But, again, unbreakable poise and original choreography made “Parentheses” a spellbinding and moving achievement. YD proved that, while owning their sex appeal and energy, they could also access a full range of emotions.
The first act closed with White’s “Never Changing,” an acrobatic solo act performed in and around a large metal hoop hanging from the ceiling. Acrobatic feats have become a signature of White’s and a highlight of most YD shows since she joined the group — and, as usual, White delivered a mesmerizing performance. It’s hard to imagine a sharper pinnacle of self-possession than White, grinning and extending a hand to her audience while suspended some twenty feet in the air, barely attached to a rope.
I’ve been told that, in any discipline, the true marker of talent is the ability to make a hard act look easy. This was a recurring theme in the YD show. Only after White finished, and other dancers came to clear away the hoop, did I notice how hard she was breathing, like a distance runner or a swimmer. Watching her perform, I failed to realize how taxing those contortions and gymnastic acts must have been. And throughout the show, the only sign I could catch of the dancers’ exertion came just before the lights went down at the end of a song: a quick glimpse of rapidly rising and falling chests. Never did their faces betray a single sign of toil. They smiled, smirked, even winked and giggled. In spite of the rigor of their performances, they never looked tired, or confused, or concerned.
And so it was easy, watching, to forget that I once fell through the stage at Toads. Or that my party dancing has been described as “totally free and unfettered in, like, maybe the least sexy way possible.” The YD spring show is well worth the trek up Audubon. It is more than just watching very talented people excel. Yale Dancers are so good, and make it all look so easy, that they make you feel like you could keep up. (But, let’s be clear: You couldn’t.)