STREET: eXpressions’ ‘Evolve’ blends classical and contemporary in ambitious show

Eric Shi :: Staff Photographer © 2013 The Daily Princetonian Publishing Co.

Eric Shi :: Staff Photographer © 2013 The Daily Princetonian Publishing Co.

By KELLY RAFEY
Contributor

eXpressions Dance Company challenged itself in its spring production to explore what it means to “Evolve,” a concept the company faithfully explores throughout its entire performance. eXpressions does not merely examine a physical evolution — it is an evolution of emotion, an evolution of intricate movement, an evolution of sound and ultimately the evolution of the company as a dance group on campus. eXpressions has chosen a brilliantly dynamic theme for its spring show, and the dancers serve themselves well by employing this theme as the driving concept of all 11 of their pieces.

“Evolve” runs for roughly an hour and 15 minutes. The 11 original dance pieces are separated with an amusing video filler, a short intermission, performances by Fuzzy Dice and one of three different a capella groups (Old NasSoul on Thursday, the Katzenjammers on Friday and the Tigertones on Saturday) and an improvisational dance performance by several members of eXpressions. On Saturday, the improvisation will be replaced by a performance by guest dancers Roman Wilson ’14 and Seth DeValve ’15.

The concept of evolution gives cohesion to eXpressions’ entire production, and it is clear in every piece that the dancers are striving to evolve still further. The dance company uses its performance to push itself to new limits, making use of every element at its disposal: costumes, lighting, staging and, naturally, dance.

eXpressions incorporates a blend of classical ballet and contemporary dancing into their choreography. Though more often than not this combination of disciplines is reconciled, there are moments the two dance genres clash. The third piece, “Crystallize,” choreographed by Jean Smith GS, explored this relationship of styles by placing ballerinas at odds with contemporary dancers. Though the piece is beautiful in its own right, it unfortunately underlines eXpressions’ only distinct weakness: the company’s lack of overall technical precision in classical dance.

It is clear that the majority of the company members have received a reasonable amount of classical training. Some dancers, indeed, catch the eye for their truly polished technical ability. Every single dancer in the fourth piece, “Hold Fast,” shone throughout the entire performance, particularly artistic director Sarah Rose ’14. However, though the entire company can only be applauded for their committed performance, there is a visible imbalance of technical ability in their production.

The pieces that are predominantly contemporary are largely unaffected by this disparity. Some of the dances that are deliberately simple are tremendously benefited by it. “Hold Fast,” referenced above, was a brilliant example of the effectiveness of this choreographic style.

Some of the choreographic moves, however, are quite daring. The opening piece, “Fallen Angels,” is perhaps too courageous in its decision to make all 20 dancers perform a series of fouette turns consecutively (a feat that even the NYC Ballet would be hesitant to choreograph in such a confined theater). However, in general the choreography is intelligent, plays to the dancers’ strengths and shows careful cohesion within each piece. There is a nice balance of solos that features each dancer beautifully and corps work that shows off the company’s synchrony and teamwork.

The dancing is well complemented by the musical selection, which never overpowers nor distracts from the dancers themselves. More enthralling than the music, however, are the sounds created by the dancers themselves. Sometimes this would take the form of snaps, claps or stomps across the floor. In more interesting moments, however, such as the Act I piece “The Quickening Hues,” the dancers would exhale simultaneously and exaggeratedly. The effect of this simple and subtle layer to the choreography is remarkable.

The lighting design also shows a great deal of thought, meshing well with the music, the choreographers, the costumes and the dancers themselves. It is consistently innovative and interesting and very rarely crosses the thin line between artistically engaging and excessive.

The costumes, in particular, are worth special mention. Each one serves to complement the dancers, music and choreography beautifully. The only flaw with the costumes are the black gloves in the Act II piece “Web.” Though they look gorgeous when the dancers stand still, the dark colored gloves tend to blend in with the backdrop and shorten a dancer’s line, which can be visually distracting. This is, of course, a small complaint to an otherwise beautiful collection of costumes.

The production takes itself seriously with ample reason, and proves eXpressions to be a dance company that places greater emphasis on the conceptual and thought-provoking side of dance than on showy entertainment. Dance is primarily a form of art and expression, and eXpressions has not forgotten that as it creates a production that marries entertainment with artistry.

“Evolve” is faithful to its name. It is not a perfect production, but it is a beautiful one, and one that promises that eXpressions is constantly evolving in a positive direction.

4 out 5 paws.

Pros: Artistic, not just showy. Cohesive. Good use of lights, costumes and music
Cons: Unbalanced technical ability, simple choreography

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