Opening night at Fall Dance Fest

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Alexis Gardner

Even though I knew it was coming, I immediately recognized the iconic music from the ballet the “Nutcracker.” When the curtain opened, the beautiful dancers in pink tutu’s were revealed on the stage. They were about to perform “Waltz of the Flowers.” I respect ballerinas, and have always admired watching them dance- especially in pointe shoes. What they do takes a lot of hard work, practice, and dedication. This was showcased as they danced. With their straight legs, high jumps, and long lines. It was a joy watching them perform. This although, was the first of five dances to be performed that night.

On Thursday October 13, 2016, at 7:30 p.m. the Radford University dance department presented its annual Fall Dance Fest. Thursday was opening night and they would also be performing on that Friday and Saturday. Choreographers include: Inessa Plekhanova, Deborah McLaughlin, Danah Bella (with her dancers), Amy VanKirk, and Ji-Eun Lee. Every dance performed was great- there is no denying that. But there were certain parts in each dance that made me go, “wow.”

I liked, McLaughlin’s piece, “The Encounter (A tight passage, a narrow door, down to the deep well)” because of the simplicity of the costumes, and the music not having any lyrics. That really allowed me to focus more on the dancing. But my absolute favorite part was the partner work between the male dancer, Matthew Robinson and Fiona Scruggs. There was one part where Robinson had his legs bent at almost a 90 degree angle, and then Scruggs went and stood on his thighs. They held that position for some time. I thought that was impressive because I know it had to take a lot of control and strength to execute it as effortlessly as they did. Speaking of being effortless, that brings me to my next point. Robinson also did some partner work with another dancer, Caitlin Godsey. He had Godsey by her ankle and arm and spun her around on stage. I do not want to sound repetitive, but I also just want to reiterate how much strength it must have taken for Robinson to also do that. Overall, I enjoyed watching McLaughlin’s piece, but especially enjoyed the partner work she incorporated.

The dance “The sunrise is slow and cloudy…” choreographed by Danah Bella had many parts that stood out to me. First, I liked how she chose to use a completely open stage. There were not any back drops, so the audience was able to see the black wall that is not usually visible. To me by doing this, she changed the mood/feeling in the auditorium. What I liked the most about this dance was the fact that there were only four dancers with no music. By not having any music, this meant that the dancers had to be dancing as one and really feel the space and energy coming off from one another. This was just mesmerizing for me to watch because they would be dancing together as one without any music. Music is usually (not always) how dancers know what counts to be on, but they did not have that. They just had each other. There were also parts where they would be dancing in duets and they were still together and moving as one. I loved watching it.

My favorite dance was, “Down the Line,” which was choreographed by Amy VanKirk.  I am quite familiar with VanKirk’s work, so I had semi-high expectations. Needless to say she did not disappoint. As soon as the curtain opened and I saw the dancers in their fiery red leggings, I knew that it was about to go down. At first the music was instrumental, but then it changed and the beat dropped and at that point, even the audience started to get into. These dancers were fierce and strong. Their turns, jumps, and extensions were all incredible. It was a high energy dance, but if the dancers were tired, they did not show it. They looked amazing. But as great as this dance was, I have to say I was disappointed in some of the audience reactions. I am glad that the audience was into it, but some male members were making unnecessary comments and sexually objectifying the women. I wish that had not have happened, but it did. Other than that happening, this dance was my favorite and I love watching VanKirk’s choreography.

“Sacred Dream” choreographed by Ji-Eun Lee, who is new to the dance department this year, was the last dance performed at Fall Dance Fest. And even though VanKirk’s piece was my favorite dance, Lee’s dance had my absolute favorite part. As soon as the dance began, it commanded my attention because it was unexpected. Usually after a dance finishes, the house lights that were once off comes back on until it was time for the next dance, in which the lights were turn off again. This never happened with Lee’s piece. When the dance before her piece ended and the lights came on, they never went off. You do not realize the dance is starting until you see some of the dancers walking on stage. About maybe half way though the dance, one of the dancers, Nicole Diambra, is blind folded by another dancer. She continues to dance with the blind fold on. And then the other dancers on stage begin to start making what can be called a human staircase. With the blind fold on and someone holding her hand, Diambra is walking along the backs of dancers. Each time Diambra would walk on one of the dancers back, that dancer would then peel off and go to the end of the line continuing the staircase. It did not actually become a staircase until Diambra has travelled over half of the stage and the dancers are standing at different levels. She walks to the top and then climbs on Robinson’s shoulders. He then walks, with Diambra’s on his shoulder, and that is the end of the dance. Watching that happen was so cool and unexpected, I wanted to see it happen again. Diambra said while she was rehearsing that part, “…there was a little fear and uncertainty. But as we rehearsed more I quickly become more comfortable and also was able to communicate with my fellow dancers about how they could best assist me.”

I knew she had to have been able to see a little bit while she was blindfolded, but I was not sure much. She said, “depending on the night and how the blindfold was positioned I could see some. There were several opportunities for me to slightly adjust the blindfold as needed though before the stair section. I have a lot of trust in Matt as well as all my fellow dancers so being in that position with them wasn’t too scary; I knew that they were there to support me and sharing the space and energy with them was a privilege.” Like I stated before, watching that whole section was just breath-taking, and something that I will probably always remember.