Ars Longa Vita Brevis, UNM Faculty Dance Concert
Review by Jennifer Noyer
The saying from Hippocrates that ‘art is long while life is brief’ underlies the dominant artistic probe of the Faculty Dance Concert at the University of New Mexico’s Theatre and Dance Department. Five technically brilliant and conceptually intriguing works of choreography were offered Friday, February 24 at Rodey Theatre. Artists- in-residence at the Dance Program joined gifted faculty choreographers in this stunning program. This is a ground-breaking artistic expression is a must-see for Albuquerque audiences.
“Leaving Pusan (2001)”, choreographed by Dana Tai Soon Burgess, contemplates the immigration of her grandmother from Korea to Hawaii in 1903. The movement is highly stylized as two figures face each other on a long diagonal line in the opening moments, each clothed in white, the traditional color of mourning in Korea.
The protagonist at stage left wears a mask representing the masked dance of a young unmarried Korean woman. The male dancer at stage right, back to the audience, slowly turns to face her as four dancers move on stage. The quartet of ethereal spirits reach their arms out toward the woman, a movement motif repeated throughout the piece. She glides slowly to meet the male ancestor at stage right, grasping a round, white travel case to her breast.
Opening the case, the woman removes a white, silky veil, thrusting it high in the air like a breath from the past and then almost cradling it in her arms and rocking it, a motif embraced by the spirit group of dancers and evoking past shapes. This interplay continued, contrasting past and present reality. After the protagonist removes the white kimono and mask, she begins to move quickly, desperately between and around the group of ancestral spirits, seeming to seek forgiveness or understanding before she exits to the new land.
The patterns of the design in space included strong use of all levels, from long extended slides to the floor, to side lunges and sharp turns. Haunting music by Jason Kao Hwang opened with the roaring sounds of the ocean. Here we see timeless emotions communicated in the non-verbal, abstract expression of dance.
“Ciertas Dancas” was choreographed by artists-in-residence Rafael Estévez and Valeriano Paños to a fusion of the music and rhythms of Gaspar Sanz, Santiago de Murcia, Estévez, Paños and anonymous. Here the historical impact of ancient places and times is imaginatively expressed with a contemporary perspective in dance. The stage was quite darkly lit, the dancers costumed all in black evoking both the concept of distance in time and place, and subtly suggesting the visual artistry of famed Spanish painter Francisco Goya. This was an historical examination of Spanish music and dance, fusing styles that eventually became flamenco. Two solo dancers opened the piece, each frozen in poses, as though waiting for life to begin. Then 14 dancers entered with graceful, almost courtly exchanges of movement greetings and glided across the stage, with only occasional eruptions of percussive foot patterns. Lyrical smooth turns in space accompanied delicate foot-pointed extensions and taps. Movement flowed, then suddenly each dancer’s pose froze in space. These moments returned throughout, presenting a passing in time and style, as well as in lives interrupted by death. The pace accelerated as the use of space extended and foot rhythms increased in length and speed, and the lighting transitioned from dark to red. Finally the speed of footwork evolved with total body percussion, using snapping fingers, body slaps, and vibrating foot rhythms.
“The Northern Sky, A Westward Facing Window” was choreographed by Amanda Hamp and inspired by the story of Harriet Jacobs, a slave self-confined in an attic room to secure freedom during the time of the Underground Railroad. A large hanging sculpture designed by Inseung Park suggested crossbeams and bare light bulbs at stage right. Eleven dancers explored motifs of sinking, curving body moves and contrasting high reaching arms in a search out of confinement. They moved from tightly confined spaces toward expansiveness. The music included songs such as “Message to Bears” and “Hungry Cloud.”
Lucia Alvarez Howard, another artist-in-residence, created “La Serrana” with a traditional flamenco structure with rhythms similar to the seguirya. Howard says she was inspired by singing that evokes the countryside of Cadiz in Andalusia. Eva Encinias’ vocals opened the piece, followed by Calvin Hazen soloing on guitar. Six dancers in black-fringed costumes moved in fast, multiple turns and stunningly fast foot patterns that were meant to evoke hard work of farm laborers. The dancers were remarkable in both strength, skill and endurance.
The concert concluded with the “Ecce Etude,” an excerpt from “Ecce Homo (Behold the Man)” choreographed by Danny Grossman to the music of J.S. Bach’s Cantata #78. The “etude” is part of the American Dance Legacy Initiative’s Repertory Collection. The performance was made possible by the partnership between ADL and the UNM
The six dancers’ movements were as crisp, quick and delicate as Bach’s music, and supposedly inspired by paintings and sculptures by Michelangelo. They appeared to this viewer as rather whimsical, even with a slightly comic statement. The costumes were little raggedy hemmed skirts on pink camisole-styled body suits that suggested delicate underwear. The steps were sharp and quick, prancing into forced arch foot placement, weight pressed forward, then quickly jumped into tight prances.
What: Faculty Dance Concert, Ars Longa Vita Brevis.
When: Thursday, March 2, Friday, March 3 and Saturday, March 4 at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday, March 5 at 2 p.m.
Where: Rodey Theatre, UNM Center for the Arts.
Tickets: UNM Ticket Offices in The UNM Bookstore and The Pit, or call 925-5858, or online at http://www.unmtickets.com