REVIEW: Reverence by Salto Dance Company

It’s not too often that you see dancers en pointe, wearing Hawaiian shirts with sunglasses and holding up a beach towel.

But that’s exactly what Salto Dance Company did in their winter show, Reverence. And though unexpected, it was a move that cemented Salto’s identity as one of the most unique, innovative dance groups on campus.

Reverence is a French word meaning “a feeling of great respect.” At the end of performances, dancers perform a gesture called a reverence to show respect to the audience, and the audience applauds to return that respect to the dancers. After Salto’s opening number, the club presidents came onstage to teach the audience how to perform a reverence. Then they continued the show and put the crowd under their spell.

Salto is known for its blend of many different styles of dance; they are the only student dance group on campus that performs en pointe, but they also perform contemporary and lyrical pieces. Many of their dances transcend genre entirely. And indeed, Reverence provided a perfect blend of tempo, genre and mood.

Say My Name was the first piece that really stuck out to me.  A contemporary piece, the choreography pulled me in from the beginning and the leaps and turn sequences were technically impressive.

Several dances evoked nature with their movement. Revolution, a contemporary pointe piece, flowed like water, and San Francisco, the second act finale, made me envision birds. The technique and choreography were beautiful and captivating.

The solos — mostly classical variations — also impressed. The audience oohed and ahed over the difficulty and quality of movement. However, where Salto really shined was when it went outside its comfort zone.

Sunshine was the first example. Set to the song by Kyle and Miguel, it featured dancers en pointe wearing beach clothes. In the middle of the number, they held up a towel with the words “Salto brings the sunshine.” The dance was full of personality and evoked an almost Broadway feel. It was unexpected from a ballet and contemporary company, but it worked.

And when Salto came on for the second act, their opening number was entitled simply Broadway. Set to a medley of songs from Chicago and A Chorus Line, the musical theatre number was different from anything else in the show. It showcased a completely different side of the dancers and brought out a performance quality that was sometimes lacking in other pieces, especially in the first act.

Another unique piece was Focus, which featured three dancers using contemporary technique and three dancers en pointe. The choreography blended the two styles seamlessly and highlighted the strengths of each individual dancer.

When the show ended and the dancers came out for a curtain call, they did their reverence. And while the gesture was meant to show respect to us to thank us for coming, all I could feel was respect for them for blending so many styles, for displaying a full range of emotion, for pulling me in and never looking back.

PREVIEW: Reverence by Salto Dance Company

My lasting impression of Salto Dance Company was this: as their first act finale in their winter show, their dancers came out wearing pointe shoes and Chance the Rapper’s signature “3” baseball cap. They danced ballet to Summer Friends. And it was captivating.

In my first year writing for ArtSeen, I’ve learned that Michigan has a lot of dance groups, and it especially has a lot of contemporary dance groups. But what Salto — a self-choreographed contemporary ballet company — brings to the stage is completely different from all the others.

In their fall show, they mixed the technical mastery of classical ballet with the artistry of contemporary. They performed both variations of well-known ballets and original pieces — many en pointe — both solo and in groups.

After the first impression, I’m ready for more. That’s why I’m going to Reverence, Salto’s spring showcase. Of all the dance shows I’ve seen in my first year here — and the number is close to 10 — Salto’s winter performance was one of my favorites.

I’m supposed to write what to expect in these previews, but the truth is I don’t know. I thought I knew what to expect the first time, and I was wrong. This isn’t your traditional ballet company. Instead, I’ll say this: expect to see something you’ve never seen before, something you’ve never even thought about seeing before. Something like ballet to Chance the Rapper.

Reverence by Salto Dance Company runs Saturday, April 21 at 7 PM at the Mendelssohn Theatre. Tickets are $8 for students, $10 for adults and free for children under 12 or with a Passport to the Arts.

PREVIEW: Lost in Wonderland

There’s an extraordinary amount of talent on this campus, from singers to actors and dancers to speakers. Now, get ready for the best Chinese Yo-yo-ing and glowsticking you’ve ever seen! Photonix and Revolution present Lost in Wonderland, featuring many talented guests from around campus, including Groove, G-Men, Flowdom, and Funktion.

The Mendelssohn Theater at the Michigan League is about to be filled with wonder. If you want in on the action, get your tickets at the door for $7 on April 1. The performance starts at 7pm, so arrive early to get your tickets before they sell out!

REVIEW: That Brown Show

I was immensely pleased to find that when I walked into the theater, they were playing Tamil music. And not just any Tamil music, Tamil music from two 90s movies, probably on an album I’ve loved for years. Such a serendipitous alignment with my music taste is extremely rare.

I thought a lot about how connected the Indian community is to its home country. It was more visible to me than usual, perhaps because I haven’t been back there for four years and a visit is long overdue. As usual, there was much more enthusiastic singing for the Indian national anthem than the American one. Sahana Music, the first group to perform, then chose to give a rendition of “Vande Mataram”, which is India’s national song, stoking the sense of community in the room. Similarly, other performances also presented themes of unity and friendship.

I was on the main floor this time, which afforded me less of a view of the geometry of the choreography than I get from the balcony. Because of this, I think I missed out on part of the bhangra team’s usual visual spectacle, unfortunately. They do an amazing job usually and the performance didn’t come off as well when the choreography was obscured. Sahana Dance presented three different types of Indian classical dance. Choreographing all three to work in harmony is a feat, but they did it. I was confused and then very pleasantly intrigued by the fact that they didn’t dance to traditional Indian music. Instead, it was fusion music, and I loved it. I do wish it had been softer, though, because hearing the footwork in Indian classical dance is essential. (On that note, they could use some work on their sound mixing, as well as their video editing, which I realize is not the emphasis of the performance but would like to mention anyway). I was especially impressed by Izzat’s performance. Normally, the all-male Indian fusion dance team performs with a very angular movement style, but this performance showcased a versatility I didn’t know they had. They danced to multiple genres of music, from hip-hop to Bollywood to “Bare Necessities” (their performance was themed on The Jungle Book). Of all their dances I’ve seen, this was in my opinion the best one. And incidentally, their performance gave the story a peaceful ending too.

Every performance was vibrant, both in color and in character, as it should be because that’s what India is too. I always leave such shows longing for India’s exuberance; it is unashamedly itself, and ready to declare its presence to the world. Note for example the difference in audience. In most Western performances I attend, the audience murmurs quietly until the lights dim, and remains silent from then on. Not so here: the audience has no problem calling out people’s names and cheering them on. Two of the performances used strobe lights; you couldn’t fall asleep to the music if you tried; and all had bright costumes, no pastels in sight. And everyone was just having so much fun.

One last note: There was also a small art exhibition in the hallway, showcasing work by Indian artists. I really liked looking at the work: the thought process is so evident and meticulous, and stylistically the pieces were all beautifully executed.

REVIEW: Company Wang Ramirez’s Borderline

Company Wang Ramirez’s performance of Borderline was a breathtaking rendition of how dance can be used to express the metaphor of human connection.  The show began with Alister Mazzotti, the dancer in charge of lifts and rigging, moving the metal cube shown in the featured image into position.  He stood onstage, dressed in all black, for what seemed like a little too long.  Truth be told, the duration of his still, silent position made me a little uncomfortable.  To be fair, that was the point.  Instead of the box simply being a prop the dancers used onstage, it became the Box.  What did it mean?

I had a working theory throughout the performance.  When inside the box, dancers were together.  They were never alone, save one exception.  During this exception, a single dancer hooked up to the aerial rigging system floated through and manipulated the Box so that it was standing on its corner, balancing on the dancer’s rigging line.  Any dance numbers performed inside the Box became reminiscent of life inside structured society.  Compared to the solo dances performed outside the Box, movements were controlled.  The aerial solo display inside the Box reminded me of climbing up a corporate hierarchy, the illusion of floating akin to the euphoria of financial success.

Dances outside the Box, however, really defined the purpose of Borderline.  When performing duets, the dancers played at defying gravity.  They balanced on each other and pulled one another’s bodies in seemingly impossible contortions.  They used two bodies and used human contact to create a singular, fluid body.  Once their partner left them alone, though, the solo dancer’s movements would become frantic.  Still gorgeous, of course, but definitely angrier.  If you’re familiar with Martha Graham, one performance by Honji Wang reminded me of Witch Dance (in costume, emotion, and in choreography).

To me, the message of Borderline was the importance of human social connection.  Dancers needed each other if they happened to find themselves outside the Box.  When alone, they seemed to lose their way.  All of this was displayed with impeccable talent and control on the part of the dancers.

In terms of tech, the team was astounding.  The lighting designer, Cyril Mulon, had incredible talent when it came to outlining shapes.  At times, the dancers appeared to be wreathed in fire.  Other times, the movement of light exaggerated and complemented the choreography onstage.

This choreography couldn’t have been possible without Mazzotti.  Close to the end of the performance, Mazzotti remained visible onstage.  Wang was hooked up to the rigging system.  We got to watch Mazzotti lift Wang into flight.  He became a part of choreography.  The upper body strength necessary to keep that up for 70 minutes is unimaginable.

My only criticism would be the surprising use of dialogue on the dancers’ part.  Out of nowhere, two dancers started having a conversation about rice.  While it seemed out of place and almost tarnishing the authenticity of the performance up until then, the meaning made sense once the dialogue reached its end.  The message was this: people need some sort of energy – negative or positive – to retain their vitality.  The dialogue served to reinforce the need for human relationships in today’s world.

I found the message of Borderline beautiful.  The ability to express the depth of human interaction through (mostly) the movement of the body was very emotional to watch.  While some aspects of the performance didn’t make as much sense to me, thinking outside the box (pun intended) is a defining feature of modern art itself.

PREVIEW: That Brown Show

That Brown Show is an annual performance hosted by Michigan Sahānā featuring many UM Indian American performance groups, including Michigan Manzil, Maize Mirchi, Michigan Bhangra Team, Michigan Raas Team, Michigan Izzat, and Michigan Sahānā. Some groups are vocal or instrumental ensembles, and others are dance groups.

The show is Saturday, March 10 (today) at 7:30pm at the Michigan Theater. Doors open at 7pm. Student tickets are $12 at the door and non-student tickets are $15.

I have been to the show twice before, and the performances never fail to impress. I expect today’s show will be equally arresting.