Specimens, a dance concert featuring both student and faculty work, acknowledged what it means to be scrutinized almost before the show had begun. Opening with a piece performed and choreographed by junior Kate Cochran and seniors Brian Humpherys and Krystle Liggins, the three sat onstage in the role of audience members.
The performers danced in response to lines of poetry read by spectators, and motions placed a heavy emphasis on circular movement. Although comedy was included, it always descended into something richer. Hugs between the dancers started as gleeful, almost silly, but evolved into something that evoked a farewell. After the piece, the dancers once again adopted the audience role, voicing comments such as, “What made that dance?” and, “I could do that.” In satirizing the fact that they were specimens being scrutinized, the opening piece eased the audience into a show that often caused them to hold their breath in anticipation.
Junior Cassidy Bires’ piece, “That Which Is Unavoidable,” was next. The dance took place in near-darkness, with dancers illuminated only by vague red lights. The dancers moved as if an invisible force contorted their bodies for them, inspiring a feeling of fascinated repulsion. The movements appeared less than human even while retaining enough humanity to establish a connection with the viewers. As the dancers moved towards the audience, they seemed to be reaching out, seeking something more. Incredibly effective at evoking emotion, the piece left one feeling haunted.
A solo choreographed by Assistant Professor of Dance Jennifer Smith employed not music but a narration of Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Raven.” With the viewer’s mind focused on the poem, the movement was not bogged by attempts to make logical sense of the story. Rather, it was forced to accept motion for its own sake. Smith’s movements, which responded to the text both literally and metaphorically, made the work accessible to viewers. The dance culminated in her challenging and staring down the audience.
Smith also choreographed a piece featuring several students, entitled, “Dis/Connect.” The piece celebrated existence, each dancer taking pure delight from being with others. However, as the piece progressed, the characters grew further apart, moving in isolation rather than as partners. With the dancers speaking words such as, “someday,” “sometimes,” and, “wish,” the piece expressed an aching longing for what once had been, communicating regret and a desperate reaching for something that had been found but lost in each other.
The tone was lightened by junior Karin’s Rudd piece, “TacTic.” When a container of Tic-Tacs was thrown onto the stage, one dancer lunged for it, instantly fascinated and setting off a struggle between the characters for control of the seemingly magical object. The piece was based as much in drama as it was in dance, with each person’s facial expressions and reactions to the other characters’ pranks communicating a brilliant, mischievous tone. The dancers loved, laughed, fought, and teased one another, their relationships providing a wondrously artistic hilarity. The movement was particularly skillful — even as dancers held entire limbs rigid, tiny movement tics conveyed a whole new level of expression.
Senior Jamie Eubanks’s piece, “Inapprop,” juxtaposed hip-hop dancers showing off fake vampire teeth against women in solemn black dresses and was concerned mainly with gossiping and primping. The piece ended with Eubanks breaking down between the two groups, making a sound that could not be distinguished as either laughing and crying. The work made interesting use of music, including a song that at one point sounded like the music from a jewelry box.
Cochran’s piece, titled “A Female Is Born But a Woman Is Created,” examined the concept of a woman’s identity and role in society. Cochran contrasted three robotic, overdressed dancers with two dancers taking on the role of young girls, who employed movements that were more circular and flowing than their made-up counterparts. The robotic dancers eventually took charge of the other two, leading them over to a dresser and mirror where another woman was applying make-up. By the end of the piece, all of the dancers had been transformed into stylized robots. Making clever use of beauty ads mixed with mechanical static sounds, the piece effectively and artistically conveyed a strong message about society’s role in defining what makes a woman.
“Elastic Architecture,” choreographed by dance professor Kathleen Ridlon in conjunction with the dancers, caught people’s attention right off the bat with dancers dressed in white jumpsuits and helmets covered with white tape. Carrying long white elastic bands, the four dancers began as a group, imitating each other’s movements and bouncing up and down with the curiosity of children finding something new. The dancers eventually spread out across the floor, stretching out, pulling back, and reaching through the elastic bands. Communicating innocence even as the characters learned more about their world, they nonetheless came together once again at the end of the piece.
The show culminated with Humpherys’ piece, “Life Lines.” Making heavy use of jumping, leaping, and reaching upwards, the piece communicated an incredible longing between the dancers as they searched for connections with one another. At one point, a dancer was left ignored in the middle of the stage as commuters passed by, unheeding of his pleas. The dance told a story of creation even as its creations called out for something, searching for what perhaps not even the dancers could put a name to. Ending as the dancers strung ropes between themselves, finally connected to everyone around them, “Life Lines” concluded Specimens with the idea that connection truly exists amongst everyone.