UI Dance Department's annual Dance Gala to feature 72 UI undergrads and five graduate-student dancers


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Twelve slowly walk on the stage, and after three minutes, their energy builds up to huge movements as two of them break into a duet.

Their home away from home is Halsey Hall. They are talented, and they are passionate. And year after year since 1981, dancers bring something new to the stage as they celebrate the UI Dance Department’s annual Dance Gala.

Starting this evening, 72 UI undergraduate and five graduate-student dancers will perform seven quite different pieces choreographed by University of Iowa dance faculty and a world-renowned guest choreographer from New York City.

The 32nd-annual Dance Gala will begin 8 p.m. today in North Hall’s Space/Place; it will continue through Nov. 4.

The performances include a wide diversity of themes, including a Spanish contemporary ballet and a Brazilian contemporary ballet.

New York City’s Julliard graduate Jennifer Muller — who has produced more than 100 pieces, including seven full productions that have been staged in 41 countries — will be first to hit the stage at tonight with her “Speeds.”

The Louis Falco Dance Company premièred “Speeds” in 1974 at the Alice Tully Hall in New York City.

This performance “takes the UI faculty to new areas of exploring and researching movement vocabulary in the piece,” said George De La Peña, the UI Dance Department chairman and Dance Gala director. “It sets the tone for what came later [in the dance community]. The faculty here at the UI is contemporary, and they’ve been influenced by the past, and they bring [these influences] forward today.”

UI junior Zach Bird, a dance major who will be one of the 12 dancers performing in “Speeds,” said the piece gained respect since its first performance.

“Back in the day, when it was performed in the ’70s, it was critiqued heavily, because there were different techniques in it and a lot of walking on stage,” he said. “But [Muller is] a modern dancer, and she pushed the dance forward in that aspect, and now, it’s looked upon as a very iconic piece. People now think it is one of her best and influential works.”

Bird said “Speeds,” a piece about variation and polarization, is a good beginning for the show because its unique movements engage the audience members and get them ready to watch the rest of the performances.

“[The movements] are very shape-oriented and very focused on the lines of the body,” he said.

“[Muller] really likes to play with shape; there is a lot of curvature of the body and really deep, juicy pliés and bending of the knees.”

The music for “Speeds” was composed on a handmade synthesizer by Burt Alcantara, an Italian composer.

With the various layers of harmonies and melodies instead of one note at a time, Bird said, the music was like nothing he had ever heard before. It “makes the audience [members] sit on the edge of their seats, wanting to figure it out,” he said.

“There is a lot of instrumentation, melodies, and harmony all put together,” he said. “It couples really well with the movement, because it is very rich in texture.”

The third-year dance student said that while the costumes are all white, they are perfect for the piece, because they complement the movements and the music, adding texture to the performance.

“You’d think that makes a kind of a blah-ness about the piece, but [the costumes] are very texturized,” he said. “They’re not just one level; looking at them, you can see the depth of the layers on the pants and the shirts, and it goes really well with the movements of the piece, because there are textures in the movements, too.”

The dancers will each have two to three changes in the piece, and although they remain white, they add a new and playful energy as some dancers wear baseball caps and others sunglasses.

De La Peña said the show will end with a unique Brazilian-inspired piece choreographed by Armando Duarte, a UI dance professor of 20 years. The piece is titled “Noiva.” 

“It has this beautiful tension in it about preparing for a wedding,” De La Peña said.

The success of the show selling out each year is because in part to the dancers’ hard work and outstanding talent, he said.

“Our dancers are just fantastic, and they’re doing such a great job in their performances. I am forever impressed about how skilled and versatile our dancers are,” he said. “It’s going to be an exciting show full of variety and intelligence. The energy and the exuberance of the dancers is just winning.”

“In Three Easy Steps”

Jennifer Kayle loves Dominican culture and social dance.

The eighth-year UI dance assistant professor and co-graduate program associate director and recruiter will perform her piece “In Three Easy Steps.” It includes music composed by Latino artists including Carlos Cuellar Brown, Merengue de Calle, Juan Luis Guerra, Milka La Mas Dura, and Omega.

The 18-minute piece took more than two months to perfect. The brainstorming of ideas began in May, and intense five-day-per-week practices started in September. The choreography was influenced by Kayle’s experience on a cultural exchange trip to the Dominican Republic five years ago. There, she learned the common steps of social dance, including the meringue, and it’s where she met her Dominican husband, to whom she dedicates the piece.

Kayle said as much as the piece contains a lot of meaning to her, it is more about being an outsider and the display of male and female intrigue.

“I don’t want it to be just about me,” she said. “I definitely want it to be something everyone can relate to.”

The eight dancers who will perform “In Three Easy Steps” include four males and four females who alternate partners throughout the performance.

The Latino music wasn’t new to all of the dancers.

UI junior dance major Dakota Gonzales said he has worked with Kayle before, but his background helped him have some experience for the rehearsals.

“My dad is from Guatemala, so I grew up dancing to this music,” he said. “But now, it’s different, because instead of dancing with my mom and dad, I am dancing with colleagues, and it’s a great experience.”

Ashley Michalek, one of his partners for part of the performance, said a big part of the process of learning the piece had to do with learning about how her partners move.

“The whole piece looks bright and defines each one of our personalities,” said the UI senior dance major.

She described the skinny-jean, bright-colored top, and high-heel costumes as being very “clubby” and noted that the theme of the piece is somewhat of a “bar scene.”

“[Kayle] told us to bring heels to class one day, and when we did, she told us, ‘OK, now, put one heel on and dance,’ ” Michalek said. “The whole point of it was to look sloppy but fierce at the same time.”

She said her and her colleagues see the piece as a relationship between a girl and a boy. 

“We throw our heels at the boys and then storm off,” she said.

The heel section was not only appealing to Michaleck; the men said they enjoyed it, too. Bird, who will also perform “In Three Easy Steps,” said he found the different male/female movements in the piece amusing and fun.

The contrast between the body languages of the males and the females played a big role in the performance, he said.

“We made a hand-gestural phrase, and we didn’t know what to do with it at first,” he said. “Then we put it with the scene of the heels being thrown at us, and we thought it’s perfect, because this is what a man’s response would be. We are talking as if the heel is the woman, and we are mad at it.”

UI senior dance major Topeka Ellis, who has danced in Kayle’s previous pieces, said this year’s piece stands out when compared with Kayle’s previous work.

“She wanted to break all of her choreography rules,” Ellis said. “But the piece still has a [Kayle] feel about it in the movement.”

Carolyn Kalscheur, who has performed in Dance Gala for the past two years, agreed with Ellis.

“Watching the piece, you can tell it’s hers because of the cockiness,” said the UI senior dance major. “It’s fun to be a part of that process.”

Kayle agreed that this piece is nothing like the ones she has choreographed for the six Dance Galas she has participated in previously. She described the performance as being exuberant, witty, enjoyable, instructive, and informative about the form of merengue and bachata, and she hopes it will make people want to dance.

“I’m not asking the audience to be patient, and I’m not challenging how they feel,” she said. “But while I have that suspicion, I won’t assume what the audience will perceive, so we will have to wait and see.”

Dance Gala 2012
Where: North Hall Space/Place
When: 8 p.m. today, Friday, Saturday, Nov. 1, 2
2 p.m. Oct. 28 and Nov. 4
Admission: $20 for general public, $15 for senior citizens, $10 for youth (17 and under), $5 UI students (with valid IDs)

Performances include:
• “Speeds,” by Jennier Muller
• “Bach Concerto Rework for Nine Women,” by Deanna Carter
• “Beyond Anatomy,” by Charlotte Adams in collaboration with the dancers and Gregory Colburn and Kimi Eisele
• “Untitled Dance,” by Alan Sener
• “In Three Easy Steps,” by Jennifer Kayle
• “Bajo los Puentes del Silencieo,” by Eloy Barragán
• “Noiva,” by Armando Duarte in collaboration with the dancers

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