Dance Canvas: Introducing the Next Generation

I went to the Guthman finals at the Ferst Center a couple of weeks ago and found that the new seats don’t aggravate the problem with my back if I use the lumbar pillow that I keep in my car. That meant that I could actually attend this year’s Dance Canvas showcase, Introducing the Next Generation, last night. There were some really good pieces in it, too, so I’m glad that I was able to go.

The first piece on the program was Judas by Elena Notkina. This was a duet for two men inspired by one of the interpretations of the Gnostic Gospel of Judas, in which Judas Iscariot’s betrayal of Jesus is actually done at the request of Jesus. The men were dressed in slacks, with a taller man in a shirt and suit jacket and a shorter man shirtless. The taller of the two seemed to be struggling to get the shorter to comply with his wishes. The choreography was mostly slick and well controlled, with the exception of a few moments where the conflict between the two involved somewhat less graceful shoving. It was well performed and I thought it was a gorgeous and moving piece to start out the show.

Sarah Todd Emery’s Beautiful Dysfunction, for two men and three women, was next. It was also pretty slick but was more fun and funny than emotionally charged. It played wonderfully with the music that accompanied the dancers, “T.W.T (Tom Waits Tango)” by Tom Waits and “Funkier Than a Mosquito’s Tweeter” by Nina Simone. There was a lot of really good partnering work and overall it was quite delightful to watch.

Third was Jessica Bertram’s Wink. It was set to a sound design by Santiago Páramo that included snippets of an interview that sounded like it was between someone and her grandmother or maybe mother. I remember liking it but for some reason the actual dancing didn’t stick with me. My notes just say “Interview” and “Broad brush-strokes,” which I take to mean that Bertram used her choreography to express general emotional responses to what was being said. My lack of memory of the piece shouldn’t be taken as a statement of it’s quality: it was Friday and it had been a long week at work.

The first half of the program rounded out with Madi Nelson’s what you say set to “Warriors” by Too Many Zoos. This piece featured seven dancers, some tapping and some barefoot. The focus seemed mostly on the tap for much of the piece, with the barefoot dancers coming in to engage the tappers, but there was a segment with no tap. It was a pretty interesting piece and enjoyable to watch but felt kind of like a rough draft being taken almost directly from a storyboard. I suspect that it could be refined into something even better.

The second half began with Sarah Stokes’ Imprint VI. I’m pretty sure that I’ve seen this piece before in something that I didn’t get around to writing about. The choreography had a mid-90’s industrial aesthetic to it, though the costuming didn’t. It was ok but never really grabbed me.

Charly Santagado’s Translation Studies No. 4 & 5 was really interesting. Santagado took two pieces of poetry by herself and Matthew Menchaca and assigned a movement to each word, the choreography for the piece being a literal translation of the poems into movement. What’s kind of amazing about this is that the dance piece was coherent and aesthetically engaging. The poems did not seem written with the express intent to make them easily converted to dance: as poets, the authors seemed to have an eye on decent aesthetic use of language. The symbolism in the movements was interesting: sometimes obvious but other times much more figurative, with the movements saying as much about Santagado’s thoughts about the specific word being translated as the word’s context in the poems. It was a really neato piece.

The most emotionally poignant and engaging piece on the program was Dorse Brown’s MisEducation of “Me”. Featuring five male dancers, including the choreographer, Brown’s work was an expression of overcoming the stressors of being Black in America and finding a way to define oneself in the face of an ongoing story of oppression. The choreography was a rich tapestry of styles melded together quite well to create a work that was exceptionally rich, even when dancers were soloing.

The evening ended with Gabrielle Gambino’s Arriving not Passing, which probably had the strongest ballet roots of the pieces on the program. Set to excerpts from Richter’s Infra, I found it enjoyable. This is another one that I can’t quite remember beyond my reaction to it. Again, my lack of memory isn’t really a statement on the quality of the work.

Overall, I left the show pretty pleased with what I’d seen. The worst of it was still pretty good and the best of it was exceptional.

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