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.

REVIEW: Flux by Cadence Dance Company

Cadence Dance Company performs “Green Light”

“Continuous change or movement.”

That’s the definition of the word flux. But it’s also a summary of Flux, Cadence Dance Company’s winter show.

With a collection of contemporary pieces set to a soundtrack of indie music, Cadence, a self-choreographed dance company, showcased more than just movement. They told stories with every piece, stories that changed and evolved as the dances developed.

Especially in their large-group numbers — which I preferred to the small-group ones — Cadence showed a willingness to take risks with their choreography. The opening number, “8 (Circle)” utilized unique formations and lifts to great effect.

The small-group numbers didn’t have enough dancers to use those formations, so several of them had more standard contemporary moves. That didn’t mean it wasn’t innovative, though. My favorite of the small groups was “All Night,” which featured stools as props.

Cadence was strong technically, especially when it came to their turns.  There you could see the amount of rehearsal they put in; their turns were well synchronized even in complicated turn sequences. But at the same time, they didn’t overdo it on the turns.

However, my favorite technical aspect of Cadence’s dances were the lifts. Many numbers — especially the large-group ones — incorporated impressive lifts that at once showed grace and strength.

I was especially impressed with the finale, “Landfill.” The choreography was unique and affecting. The lifts and turns looked good. And though it was a full-company number, the end featured partner work. The partner choreography added to the meaning of the dance’s narrative about a toxic relationship. The two partners’ chemistry was such that it made you feel something. The number packed a punch and was the perfect ending to the show.

Cadence’s penultimate piece was called “Vor Í Vaglaskógi.” It was a senior number, a concept I haven’t seen from any other student groups. I liked the concept of giving the seniors one last number together, and that added more meaning to the movement.

That said, some of Cadence’s other numbers were somewhat forgettable. They weren’t bad by any means, but there was somewhat of a gap between the best numbers of the show and the others. I may have made the show a little shorter — putting more emphasis on the strongest numbers without really taking anything away.

The guest numbers — from hip-hop crews FunKtion and Encore, a cappella ensemble The Friars and tap dance group RhythM Tap — complemented Cadence nicely without overshadowing the main show.

All in all, Flux was an impressive concert that brought to the table things I haven’t seen from any other student dance group.  Their passion for what they did shined through and created something unique and bigger than themselves.

PREVIEW: FLUX by Cadence Dance Company

The poster for Cadence Dance Company’s winter show, FLUX, lists three definitions of its title.

First, “the action or process of flowing or flowing out.”

Second, “continuous change.”

And third, “a contemporary dance performance.”

The third definition is obviously not the dictionary one, but nevertheless it fits with the other two. Contemporary dance is a study in flow, in change and experimentation.

The title not only fits perfectly, it makes me excited to see what Cadence has in store.

The first time I saw Cadence Dance Company was at Michigan’s Best Dance Crew, where they placed third. At a competition mostly dominated by hip-hop crews, Cadence’s performance was an intriguing change of pace.

Now, Cadence will put on a full-length performance showcasing their own choreography and style. A contemporary, lyrical and modern company, Cadence “presents a balance between the rigors of studies and freedom of movement,” according to their website.

FLUX by Cadence Dance Company will also feature guest performances by other student groups, including hip-hop crews FunKtion and EnCore, tap dance troupe RhythM Tap Ensemble and a cappella ensemble The Friars. The show is on Saturday, January 20 at 7 PM at the Power Center. Tickets are $7 for students and $10 for adults at the door, or free with a Passport to the Arts.

REVIEW: Straight to the Pointe

In a word, Straight to the Pointe, Salto Dance Company’s winter show, was captivating. Their technique, skill, and creativity was evident at every turn.

Salto is unique because they perform both contemporary and ballet — the only dance group on campus to do so — and one of my favorite parts of their performance was how they blended the two styles.

Their opening number, “Felix Culpa,” was a perfect example. The dance pulled me in right away. It was performed en pointe, but it wasn’t a simple variation from a classical ballet. “Felix Culpa” was a dynamic routine that incorporated modern elements, and it really set the tone for the rest of the performance.

Salto continued to showcase innovative choreography with numbers like “Summer Friends,” a point number set to the song of the same name by Chance the Rapper. Before this show, I never could’ve imagined ballet set to rap music, but choreographer Emma Bergman proved that it may be unconventional, but it works.

Overall, I enjoyed the solos and small groups more than the large groups, as the bigger numbers could look a little cluttered at times. That’s natural — the more people on stage, the harder it is for them to all stay synchronized. And sometimes in the larger groups, some of the dancers seemed to lack connection to the music, making the numbers seem less cohesive.

About half the cast performed solos in the show. The solos were as varied in style as the group numbers, from classical variations to modern pointe to contemporary. Each solo impressed in a different way. Caroline Richburg’s “La Esmeralda,” a variation from Jule’s Perrot’s ballet of the same name, stood out for her effortless use of a tambourine, tapping it along to the beat while she performed technical movements. Another of my favorites, Holly Borla’s contemporary solo “Vision,” showcased Borla’s musicality and connection to the piece. The solos gave each dancer an opportunity to showcase her individual strengths and provided a nice change of pace from the groups.

Interspersed with the dance numbers were guest performances by hip-hop group FunKtion, a cappella group 58 Greene, and Irish dance company Leim Dance. I have mixed feelings on the guest performances; while each group was talented, I thought at times that they took away from the mood and flow of the show. However, the guest appearances made me interested in seeing what those other groups were about, providing mutual benefit to both Salto and the other organizations involved.

To close out the show, the full company surprised with a jazz performance to “Jingle Bell Rock.” I enjoyed the number, especially as someone who loves everything Christmas, but I thought it was a bit of an odd conclusion to the show since the number didn’t fit the style or mood of the rest. That said, a conclusion doesn’t necessarily need to be cohesive if it leaves the audience with a good taste in their mouth, and the finale certainly did that, revealing a different side of Salto that the audience hadn’t yet seen and injecting a bit of fun into an otherwise-serious performance.

REVIEW: Michigan’s Best Dance Crew

All reality shows have an opening number, and Michigan’s Best Dance Crew was no different, kicking off with the emcees lip-syncing to The Cheetah Girls. That’s when I knew it was going to be good.

The show was an hour and a half of unadulterated fun. Each crew — all student-run and choreographed — had a different flavor, making for a well-rounded and entertaining event. Here’s a peek at my judging sheet*:

*I was not an official judge for the event

Dance 2XS (pronounced “To Success”) were a great start to the competition. The hip-hop crew was poised and energetic. They weren’t as flashy as some of the groups that followed, nor did they break out a lot of big tricks, but the eventual third-place winners still made an impact. They didn’t stand out as much as some of the other groups, but they had no real weaknesses either and set the tone for the rest of the night.

Michigan Izzat fuses hip-hop with the traditional Indian styles of Bhangra and Bollywood. I had no idea what to expect, but I ended up loving them.  You could tell from their performance that they genuinely enjoyed every moment up on that stage, and I thought the way they combined the styles worked really well. They didn’t place, making them my biggest snub of the night, but that fact truly speaks to the level of all the crews that performed.

Impact Dance brought it with a sassy jazz medley. I couldn’t take my eyes off one particular girl. She was front and center through most of the number, and her flawless technique, poise, and personality really carried the piece. One of the hardest parts of jazz is getting turns and leaps in sync, and Impact struggled with that at times, though their performance quality was good enough that it was quickly forgiven.

EnCore is one of the more popular crews on campus, and here they showed why, taking home second place from the judges as well as the People’s Choice Award. From the moment they walked out onstage in personalized black jackets, you could tell they were a force to be reckoned with. EnCore stood out because of their polish, difficult moves, and technique, and their number left the audience cheering.

FunKtion hip-hop crew blew me away with their innovative choreography. Their music was a medley of hip-hop, R&B, house, and even EDM songs. They incorporated traditional hip-hop moves as well as animation and breakdance and made it flow seamlessly, impressing the judges enough to win them the grand prize. FunKtion wasn’t quite as synchronized or polished as EnCore, but their passion for dance was clear at every moment, and they get bonus points for ending their routine with jazz hands.

Cadence gave the audience a completely different look with their contemporary number. I was impressed by their choreography, as often contemporary numbers start to feel like a mere series of leg extensions. This wasn’t the case for Cadence, whose dance really told a story. The emotion of the choreography was occasionally betrayed in some of the dancers’ faces, but for the most part, they sold their emotional piece, and it carried them to a third-place tie.

The party didn’t end there. While the judges tallied the votes, members of Michigan Izzat, FunKtion, and Dance 2XS came onstage for a freestyle dance battle. FunKtion captivated with their popping and ultimately won the largest share of the applause, the cherry on top of their overall win.

Michigan’s Best Dance Crew was one of the most fun on-campus events I’ve been to this year. If it’s renewed for another season, I’ll be back, and you should come, too.