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Dancing past boundaries

BY ISAAC HAMLET | DECEMBER 12, 2013 5:00 AM

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Dance is a collaborative art.

Dancers are often required to lay their physical well-being in the hands of another, requiring trust in their partner. But it is also true that if told to perform an action, no two dancers will perform it in quite the same way, and upon seeing the action, no two choreographers will share the same thought.

With so many views and personalities weaving around one another, orchestrating a dance offers fertile ground for creativity to bloom.

University of Iowa dance students will display the product of their talents at 8 p.m. today through Saturday in North Hall’s Space/Place in the Graduate/Undergraduate Concert.

The event offers nine choreographed dances encompassing a swath of topics, from a more realistic take on families to the desires in relationships and the significance of physical contact.

“I wanted to explore human touch and the many ways it permeates our lives, and as we worked with that, it became more and more about intimacy and power dynamics,” said Alexandra Bush, the choreographer behind “your body and bones.”

Bush’s piece includes not only the live performance but a segment that is shown in video, with the two running parallel.

“One of my objectives in working with this piece was negotiating how I might integrate the film and the live performance so that one doesn’t distract from the other,” she said.

Her piece uses four dancers, two of whom perform on stage as well as in the film, with the remaining pair appearing exclusively in the video. These two separate performances intermingle, often overlapping one another and giving alternate takes on similar situations.

 “I came in with a clear idea of what I wanted to accomplish, and it just kept on building,” Bush said. “The dancers where definitely a huge asset; the five of us were always on the same page. I was lucky to be working with four very intelligent people.”

The event comes at the end of each semester, enabling students whose work passes adjudication to present their passion to a wider audience.

Lindsay Fisher, who choreographed “Tuna Noodle Surprise” in collaboration with Zack Bird, is also a participant. Both will dance in the piece, which compares gender roles of the past and present.

“I chose to center my work on gender roles and the expectations in relationships, because I think there are still traces of the 1950s in contemporary society,” Fisher said. “I also wanted to look at the whole picture. Oftentimes, views of this time period place women at the center of the marginalized gender; however, I was also curious of the pressures placed on men.”

“Tuna Noodle Surprise” began as a solo for a final project Fisher put together last year. However, concessions had to be made for it to transition into the concert.

“My piece has been streamlined a bit to fit into the show,” she said. “If given the opportunity, I could just keep going with this work, but the stipulations of the concert keep each choreographer to a time limit of 12 minutes. I chose Zach Bird [as a second dancer] for many reasons. I have wanted to work with Zach for a while, and this work finally presented itself as a way to invite him into my process. Together, we referenced theoretical writings on gendered pressures and had lots of conversations on pressures we each feel today.”

Much like “Tuna Noodle Surprise,” other pieces have moved to the show from outside projects. “Family Portrait,” a result of the event 24/24 Concert, is one of these.

“The way it worked was composers, musicians, and this year’s dancers are paired through a random drawing of names,” said Melaine Swihard, one of the four choreographers working on “Family Portrait.” “Our composer, Will Huff, had 24 hours to compose a piece of music to be heard for the first time at the concert. Once his 24 hours were up, he passed on the music to us, and we had 24 hours to create movement to his work.”

Three other choreographers — Duane Holland, Amy Simonson, and Maurice Watson — have collaborated to help bring the piece to life on stage.

“We came in and heard it and it was very eerie and very mysterious and very dark,” Watson said. “He titled the piece ‘Family Portrait,’ so we thought about how a dysfunctional family comes together.”

Even though before the 24/24 Concert, the four of them had been strangers, both Watson and Swihard agree that the team meshed incredibly well.

With a group of four people collaborating on “Family Portrait,” Swihard and Watson were able to work on individual pieces, “terra firma” and “The Pressure: Boxing the Outside.”

“My piece ’terra firma’ highlights the personal qualities of four incredible women,” Swihard said. “My main challenge was finding a way to balance the vast physical differences in my dancers. Two dancers are 5-10, and the other two dancers are 5-2. As you can imagine, their movement quality is extremely different, and it is my job to highlight these dancers. They must then take it upon themselves to fully embody that movement.”

Meanwhile, influenced by his background in African dance, Watson began working on “The Pressure: Boxing the Outside.”

“[This piece] is about the pressure of life and how the phrase ‘step outside the box and try something new’ can be very bizarre to me, because sometimes what’s in the box is just as magical,” Watson said. “It evolved through the dancers because the movement quality was so different that sometimes they did things that I thought were really cool. The dancers brought a lot of their individuality, which heightened the movement I originally came up with.”

All of these choreographers passionately await opening night. To feel the satisfaction of having their work performed and, for some, the thrill of being on stage.

“For opening night, I’m most excited to be on stage. I feel most alive when I’m performing and this concert is always a special experience,” Fisher said.


DANCE

Graduate/Undergraduate Concert
When: 8 p.m. today through Saturday
Where: North Hall Space/Place
Admission: Free for UI students with valid IDs, $6 for seniors and youth, $12 general public


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