Guest blogger Danielle Marie Georgiou is the artistic director and choreographer of DGDG: Danielle Georgiou Dance Group. She also serves as the Assistant Director of the UT Arlington’s Dance Ensemble. And she’s a member of Muscle Nation.
On Thursday, Elledanceworks closed its 16th season at the John Anthony Theatre at Collin College. Elledanceworks has been the resident dance company at Collin College for a few years now, but before last night it had yet to actually perform at “home.” So this year, the company decided to forgo its usual spot at the Bath House Cultural Center, and try a new space out. And it was a good move. A traditional stage with full lights and a proscenium suits this company well.
The night opened with company member Melissa Johnson’s “Moments in Time.” Here we saw how a traditional stage setting benefits this company. With the ability to use a lighting design that can create shapes and atmosphere, and a stage that has complete curtains and more depth, Elle was able to spread out and dance larger than it usually can.
“Moments in Time” tells the story of a community of women; exactly what Elle is all about. Johnson cleverly goest for motif building to get her concept across: a horizontal line of five women, holding hands, moving slowly from one side of the stage to the other, switching hands and places in the line, like the braiding of a rope. Little bursts of partnering occurred, but before the duets could move too far from the line, the dancers were sucked back in. These bits and pieces created a strong sense of community – the imagery was solid.
We saw Elle at its best in Melissa Bjork’s “Somewhere Along the Lines We Find.” It successfully combines its musicality and choreography—the work lives in, on top of and throughout the music. Bjork askes a lot of her dancers, and they gladly reciprocate. The narrative and characters are clear, as are their relationships. The quartet of Tiffanee Arnold, Delanie Bitler, Melissa Johnson and Tracy Kennedy seamlessly transitioned in and out of duets that use traditional and unconventional lifts. Each dancer was strong in her partnering, and the level of comfort with one another, which comes from working together for more than a decade, shows.
Halfway through the piece the partnering becomes repetitive and predictable. More play is needed as these dancers are capable of exploring different methods of lifting and manipulating their bodies.
Co-director Ronelle Eddings stayed true to her style of combining contemporary dance with metal music – in this case, A Perfect Circle. “Mine” flipped front on us and had the dancers facing the back of the stage for the beginning of the piece. Watching just the backs of their legs twitch with each downbeat, and the four dancers try to push and pull each other out of their small square of stage space (created by lights) was an interesting choice. But it, too, became completely predictable and disappointing when they turned around to face us. Here was a missed chance to explore the backspace, and to see what happens when you don’t give the audience what it wants— in this case, the dancers’ faces.
The piece is aggressive both in music and movement – the dancers slap themselves, try to bite each other and slump all over one another. So why not explore what that could look like if we never see an emotion or a face, and only have body language to rely on?
This is especially beneficial when tension is an integral part of a dance work. In “Mine,” that is the center of the piece, the tension and aggression between the dancers. But when they turn around, that instantly disappears. Their focus is unclear as it becomes more about a performance for the audience than a battle between the four dancers. However, Jennifer Dennison and Bjork take bites out of the choreography, literally. They snap their mouths in the air, trying to catch a piece of the other two performers, and commit to falling off their center.
“A Step Closer,” from company member Tiffanee Arnold, used an original score from resident composer Amy Seltzer. It was the most conceptual piece of the evening. Utilizing a wall of mirrors (that at first brought to mind a scene from “A Chorus Line”), it slowly creates an obstacle for the dancers, and the audience, to overcome.
What is distracting at first, the fact that the mirrors confuse the audience’s eye and distort the dancers’ figures, becomes an integral part of the piece. What are we supposed to watch? The dancers in the mirrors or the dancers in front of us? It becomes a game, and one that we gladly played. It’s an adult version of hide and seek.
Committed performances came from Amanda Hunt and Bjork. In a brief duet between the two, they travelled downstage attacking the athletic movement and moving perfectly in sync with one another.
“Characters in Colour: Movement,” choreographed by co-directors Eddings and Michele Hanlon, brought their previous work for the Dallas Museum of Art to Collin College’s stage. Inspired by works by Marc Chagall, which are included in a recent exhibit at the DMA, the movement works to capture the joy and fear in the paintings.
Here is a challenge that always faces Elledanceworks: Howe do you to take a site-specific work and restage it in a new space. Even though this work was originally performed in the Horchow Auditorium at the DMA (a stage), it benefits from the audience just seeing the paintings in real life. They could stare face to face with Chagall’s brushstrokes and experience the brilliance of his colors live. At this performance, we had only projected slides of their inspirations. A bit of the magic was missing. The costuming choice caused further confusion. Wearing billowing white pants and brightly colored two-toned tops, the costumes read more Caribbean than Russian.
What was lacking in location and dress, the dancers made up in energy and performance. It was apparent that they were comfortable with the movement and could live inside of it. There was a passion for the dance and the concept that came across clearly.