Case Western Reserve University’s ‘Au Courant’ an Emotional Journey

Ensemble dancers in Shannon Sterne's "Inundation".  From L to R: Christina Coppel, Kristy Clement, Andrea Alvarez, Emma Steele, Karlie Budge and Abbey Hafer. Photo by Brad Petot.
Ensemble dancers in Shannon Sterne’s “Inundation”. From L to R: Christina Coppel, Kristy Clement, Andrea Alvarez, Emma Steele, Karlie Budge and Abbey Hafer. Photo by Brad Petot.

Case Western Reserve University Department of Dance – Au Courant
Mather Dance Center at CWRU

Cleveland, Ohio
November 1, 2013

Reviewed by Steve Sucato

Fervent emotion appeared to be the underlying theme of Case Western Reserve University’s Department of Dance Fall concert Au Courant (aware). The mixed repertory program performed by students, faculty and guest dancers at CWRU’s Mather Dance Center, explored a range of emotions in four diverse dance works including Mark Morris’ delightfully playful “Canonic 3/4 Studies”.

ZiYing Cui in Karen Potter's "Veiled Tears". Photo by Brad Petot.
ZiYing Cui in Karen Potter’s “Veiled Tears”. Photo by Brad Petot.

The program led off with dance department chair Karen Potter’s new work “Veiled Tears” set to music by composer Henry Purcell. It began with a woman’s shrilled moaning cries of woe and despair that pierced the darkness of the theater. The stage lights then slowly came up on guest artist Beth McGee (the one moaning) along with several other dancers veiled by portions of their long tulle skirts pulled up over their heads. In fits and starts the work’s eight performers then scurried about the stage as if lost and anguished.  Potter’s simplistic choreography for them ran through a variety of formations that appeared to merely shuffle the performers around to little end. Beyond a sense of foreboding by the dancers who at one point executed a succession of seemingly self-punishing, violent jumps in the air with arms rod-stiff at their sides and a few visually beautiful scenes of posed veiled dancers in deep knee lunges, arms raised as if buoyed by them, “Veiled Tears” did little to engage an audience. The program’s next work, Shannon Sterne’s “Inundation”, proved the opposite.

Set to an eclectic mix of music from French singer Coralie Clement to Canadian modern chamber music group Esmerine, Sterne’s large group work in five sections exuded the range of dark emotions associated with the breakup of a romantic relationship.

Shannon Sterne and Ryan Andrew Dick in Sterne's "Inundation". Photo by Brad Petot.
Shannon Sterne and Ryan Andrew Dick in Sterne’s “Inundation”. Photo by Brad Petot.

In the work’s opening section “Effusion”, Sterne and former Dancing Wheels company member Ryan Andrew Dick danced a duet to Clement’s music that pointed to a dissolving of said romantic relationship. On a stage filled with horizontal rows of wooden dining chairs, a troubled Sterne, costumed in a black dress, reached out desperately to her mostly unreceptive partner. The pair engaged in a back and forth dance filled with arching lifts and unrequited embraces on Dick’s part.  That section gave way to another entitled “Agitation”, in which an ensemble of eleven female dancers also in black dresses seemed to embody the varying levels of hurt and anger going on in Sterne’s character’s mind. Dancers Karlie Budge as an angry, pouty incarnation and Kristy Clement as a somber one, made the strongest impressions of the group.

The rest of the work saw a return of Sterne and Dick’s duet only more desperate and tumultuous, and the ensemble from “Agitation” again only this time climbing along a winding path chairs.

The nicely crafted and performed work’s finest moment however came in its final section “Submersion”, where Sterne’s character joined several of the emoticon-like ensemble dancers onstage. As the others acted out their various emotional motivations Sterne stood hauntingly still, staring out into the audience, sadness pooling in her eyes, beckoning humanity for comfort.

Dani Dowler and Karina Browne in Gary Galbraith's "Remote Encounters". Photo by Brad Petot.
Dani Dowler and Karina Browne in Gary Galbraith’s “Remote Encounters”. Photo by Brad Petot.

Reminiscent of the interactive digital media works by New York dance troupe Troika Ranch, Case dance department artistic director Gary Galbraith’s “Remote Encounters” (2012) was a duet that utilized video cameras in front of and behind a large video screen and partition that fed real-time images of dancers Karina Browne and Dani Dowler to that screen as they danced. The effect was to make it appear as if each dancer at various points in the work was being echoed in or even sucked into a digital realm a la the TRON movies.  The pair also took turns partially appearing from and disappearing behind the video screen in choreography that made them look as if they were caught between the digital and real worlds. While the work’s premise was an old one and the technology used was somewhat rudimentary in this day and age, “Remote Encounters”, and the two dancer’s performances in it were pleasing.

For Au Courant, the best really was saved for last.  Morris’ “Canonic 3/4 Studies” ─ which the Mark Morris Dance Group performed in Cleveland just this past March ─ was a thoroughly entertaining lark.  Set to a collection of piano waltz’s arranged by Harriet Cavalli and played beautifully by Karen Tooley, “Canonic 3/4 Studies” was a clever and humorous study in the manipulation of a dance phrase. Morris once likened his choreography for the work to the more creative variations on the song Row, Row, Row, Your Boat.  The deliciously constructed and musical piece was in part a tongue-in-cheek bashing of ballet’s somewhat rigid conventions. It had Case’s dancers on the floor, in the air, and marching around as if staring into the pages of an imaginary book. Perhaps the work’s most memorable moment was when dancer Richard Oaxaca in a trio with two female dancers circling him, gave each dancer a slight lift in the air as they passed in front of him coinciding with Tooley dinging a bell. The comedic bit continued for a time with one of the women reversing direction to add a delightful twist to section.  While Case’s student dancers lacked the technique and poise of say Morris’ troupe in the work, their performance was respectable.

Copyright Steve Sucato – 2013

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