Culture and identity are common themes—tenets even—in the art of dance. That said, choreographers are often faced with the challenge of emotionally engaging the audience in order to connect them with what is often unfamiliar subject matter. Last weekend’s spring faculty dance concert, “The Energy Which Remains,” focused heavily on both subjects, but blended them with the broad human themes of passion and struggle to create moving, captivating narratives.
The performance, which ran from April 25th to the 27th, featured original works by Associate Professor of Dance Nicole Stanton and Assistant Professor of Dance Katja Kolcio. The vast CFA Theater was modified for the intimate event, with raised bleachers placed immediately in front of the stage, allowing viewers to be immersed in the hazy lighting or pitch blackness that alternately complemented the dance pieces.
Stanton opened the concert with her 2005 piece “Torch,” a solo performance set to the music of jazz legend Nina Simone. Appropriately titled, the dance portrayed a woman ignited by passion. Stanton writhed and ran across the stage, arching her back and flailing limbs convulsively, but with a masterful grace and strength that allowed the audience to emotionally engage with each movement.
“Torch” was followed by the premier of “Skin Castles,” Stanton’s collaborative effort with Assistant Professor of Anthropology and African American Studies Gina Athena Ulysse. Incorporating Vodou chants and excerpts from works by Fernando Henriquez, Audre Lorde and Walt Whitman—among others—the performance provided a disjointed literary narrative set to Stanton’s movement that compelled the audience to question the notions of “race” and skin color. Ulysse at one point read, in a startlingly clinical manner, the taxonomy of different hereditary combinations of black and white, until what began with a black woman ended with a white one. Stanton reacted to Ulysse’s words with movement phrasings at once desperate and strong, often collapsing to the ground with a force that reverberated into the audience.
“Stanton has an awesome way of juxtaposing flowing motion with more rhythmic moves,” said attendee Alan Yaspan ’08. “The piece she did with Ulysse was very thought-provoking, more than the sum of its parts.”
The title piece by Kolcio, was an extended performance that combined live music (by Asa Horvitz ’10, Woody Leslie ’08, graduate student Amanda Scherbenske and renowned guest musician Julian Kyatsy) with vibrant student dancers (Sarah Ashkin ’11, Dante Brown ’09, Jessica Brownfeld ’10, Melanie Cherng ’08, Aaron Freedman ’10, Yumin He ’10, Stephanie Fungsang ’08, Shayna Keller ’09 and Indee Mitchell ’10). Working with Kyatsy to create the piece, Kolcio used meta themes drawn from documents found in the Ukrainian Rochester Collection Archive to convey the struggle of the Ukrainian immigrants who built a community in and around Rochester, N.Y. over the course of the twentieth century.
“[I worked] mostly with the idea of travel and connection through space and time, building, and variations on community and individual,” Kolcio said of her creative process. “Beyond that, I asked [the dancers] to make sense of these ideas in various ways that worked for [them]. The strength of the piece, however, came from the ways in which the dancers invested themselves into the creative process, and also into the living… performance of it.”