‘Spring Dance 2020’ Showcased Dance at Its Peak

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Published May 13, 2020
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The Montclarion
Senior dance majors José Baez and Jalyn Gill mirror one another in a duet in Graham's "Ritual to the Sun" from "Acts of Light." Photo courtesy of Robert M. Cooper

Montclair State University’s Department of Theatre and Dance presented “Spring Dance 2020” at the Alexander Kasser Theater. Performances ran from March 4 to March 7.

The production began with “Ritual to the Sun” from “Acts of Light” choreographed by Martha Graham in 1981. The dancers were monochromatic in their gold-colored unitards. All 17 dancers radiated like sun rays in their costumes as they seamlessly performed Graham’s choreography and technique.

The entire performance was just as its title suggests: A ritual. It was in honor of the sun, as perhaps was intended by Graham, but it served as a brilliant welcoming to the audience at Kasser Theater and a powerful start for the performances to follow.

Swagger, power and dominance were at the forefront of the next performance, “They Might Be Giants.” The dance was choreographed by Christian Von Howard, an associate professor of theatre and dance at Montclair State, and was the first premier of “Spring Dance 2020.”

The dancers sported loose-fitting white costumes that added an extra layer of texture to their movement. As dancers pounced forward, their garments followed soon behind.

“They Might Be Giants” resembled the warmup and performance of a group of athletes showcasing their talents at a championship game. The choreography was set to a medley that ranged from intense and intimidating computer-generated tracks such as “Interstice” by Emptyset and “Black Diamond” by Jlin, alongside instrumental songs such as “Throw It On A Fire” by Bell Orchestre.

The audience at Kasser Theater was taken on a “Ride” in the following performance. “Ride” was choreographed by Joshua Manculich and was set to “Dark Full Ride” by Julia Wolfe. The performance was lively, upbeat and filled with sophisticated moments of recklessness.

The dance began with a center spotlight on one dancer as she finessed her movement in silence while five other dancers stood still beside her in the dark. The dancers then moved intricately to the tempo of the drums. “Ride” had moments where dancers got to perform by themselves before their fellow castmates joined them in a choreographic phrase.

The dancers’ bodies effectively served as the vehicle through which they navigated the dance. Despite differences in movement, one dancer’s energy would seamlessly be transferred and reciprocated by another dancer’s movement.

After a brief intermission, the dancers led us into “Secret Garden” for another premiere. This performance was choreographed by Kathleen Kelley, an associate professor of theatre and dance and artistic director of “Spring Dance 2020.” This act was especially unique in that it featured projection design and a performance by Lauren Carr, an associate professor of art and design at Montclair State.

Senior dance majors performing Martha Graham&squot;s, "&squot;Ritual to the Sun&squot; from Acts of Light. (Kelly Beck, Kristilee Maiella, Christopher Odoms, Khalid Dunton, Alfonse Napolitano, Naimah Ray, Madalyn Rupprecht) Photo courtesy of Robert M. Cooper.

Senior dance majors performing Martha Graham’s “Ritual to the Sun” from “Acts of Light.” Photo courtesy of Robert M. Cooper

The choreography and projection design contributed to a truly rapturing performance. The soundtrack also allowed for it to achieve a dreamlike quality. Pastel colors were projected on the dancers and the wall behind them as they danced through a “Secret Garden.”

The following performance, “On Edge,” was choreographed by Mark Harootian. The piece was set to “Passacaglia XVI in G Minor for Solo Violin.” The dance featured nine dancers dressed in black with corset-like tops that varied in color. The dancers gracefully moved to the notes of the violin.

The evening also featured choreography and costume design by Olivia Passarelli, a senior dance major at Montclair State.

The dancers reflected Passarelli’s design and choreography talent during “For This Is So,” which is set to Dario Marianelli’s “Dawn,” performed by Jean-Yves Thibaudet. It was paired with Gertrude Stein’s recitation of her poem “If I Told Him, A Complete Portrait of Picasso.” Needless to say, the performance was poetry in motion.

“Spring Dance 2020” concluded with “Echad Mi Yodea,” which was choreographed by Ohad Naharin in 1990.

The performance featured 17 dancers sitting in a semicircle on stage dressed in black suits, white button-down shirts and black shoes, all of which were progressively thrown into the middle of the stage in a frenzy. The performers executed a series of repetitive movements on their chairs and stood and shouted the phrase “One is our God, in heaven and on earth” in Hebrew.

“Spring Dance 2020” was a wonderful prelude to the actual spring season. The performances were held before Montclair State transitioned to online instruction due to the coronavirus. Those who were unable to attend the event can watch the remote collaboration of Montclair State dance seniors in “Ritual to the Sun” from “Acts of Light” on YouTube.

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