Smile Politely

Watch Out for the White Out

White OutIn a season of dense snowfall and ice storms, the term whiteout is usually met with disgust. Dance at Illinois is ready to give this image a new meaning.

Dance at Illinois’ upcoming concert, February Dance: White Out, takes an innovative approach to redesigning the typical proscenium.  The use of a white marley floor on stage enhances visibility and gives a fresh, new look to the space. The concert features new work by professors Linda Lehovec and Renée Wadleigh, and by alumnae Paul Singh. In addition, Rebecca Nettl-Fiol showcases a reconstruction of her 1998 collaborative work with paper artist Kyoko Ibe.

Lehovec’s Pass the Goddamn Butter is a rhythmic rouse that promises to be a good time. In bitingly accurate family portrait, Butter features 10 members of a family at the height of their dysfunction. From the new boyfriend to the alcoholic aunt, each dancer brings his or her unique personality to the performance. Conflict and tension are brilliantly embodied between dancers, culminating in physical confrontations of varying degrees; one skilled, resilient dancer gets the wind knocked out of her and recovers with grace moments later, while other dancers engage in wars of words. The piece reaches a climax as the family sits down for dinner, beginning a high-energy rhythm section set to the “kitchen percussion” of musician Brian Behrns. Like many family gatherings, Butter is without a dull moment.

Alumnae Paul Singh presents his new work, Trigger, in the February concert. Choreographed for a group of six dancers, Singh’s piece is technically challenging and aesthetically pleasing. Taking a narrative approach, Singh’s recorded voice introduces the dancers by name at the beginning; he also pulls dancers out at intervals so they can vocally address the audience. Staged mostly in duets, Trigger emphasizes the emotional connections and the relationships between the dancers on stage. The dancers experiment with waiting and “bum-rushing,” while talking to one another and adding color to the space throughout the dance. Performed in a reused “green couture,” Trigger stands out beautifully against the white stage.

Becky Nettl-Fiol’s Paper Song is a serene start to the second act. Her dance features the art of Kyoko Ibe, a Japanese paper artist who works with washi, a traditional hand made paper. 
“A single sheet of handmade white paper … is perfectly adapted to express an eco-aesthetic sensibility, which can carry us into the future with beauty and mindfulness of our fragile, precious natural world,” Ibe states in her artist statement.

Paper Song‘s reconstruction was not drastically altered from its original performance; a duet and a solo were added, as well as a few vocals in the “folk dance” section.  The dancers are challenged to embody the movement as their own, and to pay great attention to their focus.  Nettl-Fiol played with the idea of future-focus versus past-focus in her choreography. If a movement is preceded by the focus, it is said to be done with a future focus; if the gesture precedes the eyes, it is said to be done with a past focus. Nettl-Fiol’s training in Alexander Technique is reflected in this element of her work.

Getting There, Renée Wadleigh’s new work about finding joy, ends the show on an emotional high. The dance has an episodic structure; some thoughts are completed and some are left hanging in space. There are frequent changes in mood and in content, as if the piece is a vision of someone’s brain thinking, remembering, dreaming and daydreaming. The movement highlighted in the piece was generated by Wadleigh’s dancers in improvisational exercises. Some of the material is set, while other sections are improvised on stage. This gives the work an aleatoric, or chance, element, as no performance of the piece will ever be exactly the same.

“The dance opens with an invitation, ‘Come Ye Sons of Art …’; then the dancers take you on a journey,” Wadleigh says of Getting There.

Wadleigh’s words can be applied to February Dance: White Out as a production. RSVP “Yes” to Dance at Illinois‘ invitation for a good time. 

February Dance: White Out runs from Feb. 5–7, at 7:30 pm at the Krannert Center for the Performing Arts.

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