REVIEW: Michigan’s Best Dance Crew

The Michigan’s Best Dance Crew Competition took place Thursday night at 8 p.m. in the Union Ballroom. The ballroom was packed with students and families cheering on their favorite dancers–the mood was electric. Many crews auditioned for a spot in the final show, but only 8 were chosen to compete for cash prizes in the finale. The ballroom was transformed to resemble MTV’s America’s Best Dance Crew (ABDC), complete with large projector screens on which videos of each crew would play before they made their entrance on stage. Also like ABDC, three judges were chosen to provide feedback after each crew performed. Unfortunately, the judges didn’t provide much helpful feedback for the audience. They said a lot of nice things to each crew, but they didn’t provide any sort of objective critique. And I’m not sure that they were all the most qualified judges. One judge had no dance experience whatsoever, but liked to party and knew how to dougie. How does this make one an expert on dance? (I should have been a judge!!)  The night was hosted by our resident comedian, Eli Yudin, who also opened up for Russel Brand at EMU.

First to take the stage was Encore, a huge hip-hop dance troupe. They provided a really great opener for the show. They were incredibly energetic and had a good mix of hip-hop and techno songs in their performance. I have to give them props for having so many people on such a tiny stage, all dancing in sync together. But, I thought there were too many songs mixed in their set, with awkward transitions. In part of the performance the music transitioned from a techno/hip-hop song that was building in intensity, to an R&B slow jam, where the dancers slowed down to some lyrical hip-hop, then picked up the pace in the next song. That song choice sort of caused them to lose momentum and energy in their performance.

The Arabian Dance Ensemble was next to perform. The belly-dancers were the most unique dance group of the evening. They were really entertaining to watch, and I loved their costumes. It made me want to take a belly-dancing class! However, it was really difficult to judge such a different dance style against the predominantly hip-hop style of the show.

Also not fitting into the popular hip-hop style was Rhythm Tap, a tap dance troupe,  and Impact Dance, whose dancers do a variety of styles including lyrical, jazz, and hip-hop. It was great to see a variety of dance styles represented in the show. However, I don’t feel that they really fit in to the overall idea of a “dance crew,” which insinuates a hip-hop style. I think they realized this too, so in order to compensate these groups chose hip-hop music to dance to in their respective styles, which I wasn’t a big fan of. I couldn’t hear the dancers’ taps when Rhythm performed because the music was so loud. Being able to hear the dancers’ taps is important in judging for accuracy and togetherness in the movements. Impact Dance also performed some jazz/lyrical steps to hip-hop songs, which didn’t seem to fit with the choreography. I think they sacrificed a lot artistically in doing this. Even though they may have stood out more from the other crews, and may have been more difficult to compare to the other crews as a result, at least they would have shown the audience the best of their respective dance styles, rather than trying to mesh with a style that isn’t their own.

Several other hip hop dance crews performed in addition to Encore, including an all-girl group called Dalliance, who performed to a montage of 80’s and 90’s hits by popular R&B and rap artists. The choreography also included a lot of popular dance steps from the 80’s and 90’s. Dalliance had a lot of great energy and really gave the performance their all. Vertigo was another hip hop crew that performed, unique in that the crew is comprised of only medical students. Though they were lacking a bit in technique, they really seemed to enjoy dancing, and they ended their dance with a cute medical reference–a heart monitor flat-line.

Dance 2XS is another hip-hop crew that performed. These dancers are incredibly professional–I was impressed. They were all dressed alike in white button-down dress shirts and red ties, boys and girls alike. What I really liked about Dance 2XS is that both the guys and the girls perform equally difficult technical dance steps. The other crews that performed hip-hop throughout the night were guilty of filling their choreography with cheaper steps–booty-popping and sexier movements. I really respected Dance 2XS for never letting up the technically difficult hip-hop isolations and movements throughout their performance. They used a lot of interesting formations, and persisted with sharp, strong movements in unison. Most of all, you can tell they all LOVE to dance. Even after the performance was over and the DJ played music while they were counting votes, they all got back up and starting dancing around, just for fun, while everyone was leaving. They never stop. (Can you guess who I voted for? 🙂 )

Finally, FunKtion finished out the night as the last performance before voting opened. This all-male, multicultural group was incredibly entertaining. The guys came out on stage to “Sexy and I Know It” by LMFAO, flexing their muscles and strutting their stuff like they were in the club trying to grab all the girls’ attention–it was hilarious. I liked how they could do a variety of things within their style, from comedic routines to more serious, hard-hitting hip-hop, to really sweet, romantic songs that charm the girls. They were pretty versatile as hip-hop dancers, and really fun to watch.

I’m sure by now you’re dying to know who won. And the winners were…. In third place, Encore! In second place, FunKtion! And in first place…. Dance 2XS!

I was so delighted to see how many great dance opportunities there are at the University of Michigan for non-dance majors. Watching everyone else perform made me really miss dancing myself. I’ll have to keep an eye out for auditions to some of the crews that performed at the show! Maybe next time you’ll see me up there dancing with them…

REVIEW: Dancing Americas

On Thursday, February 3rd, 2011 I entered the Power Center at the University of Michigan to watch the University Dance Company perform in Dancing Americas.  The show showcased dances from across the Americas, from tango to jazz to New York City pop.  The purpose of Dancing Americas is to celebrate multiple disciplines in dance across time and space.  The cultural diversity within this program set each performance apart from the other.

While the program featured the work of four different choreographers, I will only focus on the first two pieces within the program: “MinEvent” and “Towards A Sudden Silence.”  The show opened with “MinEvent,” a piece by Merce Cunningham.  This piece was the most contemporary of the night.  The curtain rose to reveal a barebones set.  The backdrop, curtains on the wings and everything else was removed leaving a set that was reminiscent of a construction site.  The industrial feel of this performance was the first of many surprises.  I should note that Merce Cunningham was known for his innovation.  He believed that music and dance should be created independently of one another.  Thus, the dancers rehearsed in silence and were not exposed to the music prior to this performance.  This created a very interesting experience, as the music was nothing like traditional music.

The music was reminiscent of an introduction to music composition class I once took.  The class philosophy held that any combination of sound was music.  This philosophy seemed to define the music within this first piece, as there was no apparent tempo or melody.  The “music” included many unpleasant sounds: sawing wood, tin cans, feedback, drills, bells, chewing of food, change in a mixing bowl, whisks and a plethora of other non-traditional instruments.  While I can appreciate the creativity within the music, I felt that it became distracting at points.  I often found myself engulfed in the creation of this music, which pulled my attention away from the dance itself.

The dance started with two people on stage, a man and a woman.  Their moves were stiff and extremely rapid, but synchronized at times.  Their grey leotards revealed every curve of their body.  This was very interesting, as you could see every muscle working to create their art.  It was like watching a machine.  The dance continued with multiple groups of dancers running on and off the stage.  Because of the bare nature of the set we could see the dancers waiting in the wings, which was also a very interesting experience.  The dancers would often run on and off stage at full speed.  They would come on in groups of two or three, dancing to their own beat.  As more dancers began making their entrance the colors of their costumes began to change.  We began to see dancers in light blue and red costumes.  These bright colors were a relief and provided a stark contrast from the set and the costumes initial dancers.  There were not many times when the entire group of dancers was on stage and dancing in unison.  Throughout the majority of this performance the dancers all seemed to be doing their own dance in the same style.  As mentioned previously, the dancers were very mechanical and almost alien in their movement.  I distinctly remember a reoccurring move that involved an isolated violent shaking of the foot.  The dancer would walk up the stage and engage in this birdlike dance.  It reminded me somewhat of a mating dance from the wild.  The performance was extremely foreign to me, so much so that it is difficult for me to actually describe the choreography.

I must admit that this performance made me feel a bit uncomfortable.  It was an extremely visceral experience that pushed me past my comfort zone.  However, I appreciated it and felt that it was the highlight of the evening.  It was truly an indescribable performance.

Melissa Beck choreographed the second piece of the evening, “Towards A Sudden Silence.”  While I felt that “MinEvent” was more memorable, this was the most enjoyable piece throughout the program.  When the curtain rose the audience was presented with a more traditional dance experience.  The curtains were lowered in the wings and downstage and the set was very simple and featured a bench downstage center.  The bench was adorned with several female dancers wearing bright colored dresses, each a different shade.  The women were poised and proper with their hands in their laps and their backs straight up.  At the end of the bench stood a single male dancer, who seemed to be a headmaster of sorts.  When the choreography began, a female dancer at the end of the bench closest to the man attempted to stand up only to be brought back down by her peers.  The anguish in her face assisted the audience’s interpretation of the piece.  She wanted out.  Once she escaped she stood upstage right.  She then began running in place, but tripping with each step.  It looked as if she was trying to escape from something, but was unable to obtain that freedom.  Her running became more violent with every stride.  She began flailing in place, creating audible grunts.  Her attempt to escape became so violent that her headband flew off of her head onto the ground.  She stopped.  It was as if she had given up.  She picked up her headband, placed it on her head and straightened out her dress.  The remainder of the piece reflected this first scene.  The dancers attempting to break free, becoming more and more violent only to be corralled back in by their peers or the lone male.

I came to this performance with a feminist point of view, believing that our patriarchal society as some sort of control over minorities, including women and especially women within a sexual minority.  To me, this performance seemed to be a testament to this ideology.  The women performing within this piece carried with them a fire.  They were angry and wanted more than anything to break out of the roles in which our society has cast them.

The two performances, though extremely different, created an experience and elicited visceral emotional responses.  While I was unaware of the quality in dance throughout the majority of the show, I was able to connect to the performances on an emotional level.  Whether that was feeling uncomfortable and awkward or feeling a strong connected to the performance and its meaning.  For me, the emotional connection to these performances was the most impressive aspect of this program.

PREVIEW: dandia Dhamaka 2011

Today, the University of Michigan Raas Association will host their 10th annual intercollegiate raas competition, coined dandia Dhamaka. According to the dandia Dhamaka website, this competition marks the birth of intercollegiate raas competition in the United States. While similar competitions continue to be created across the country, dandia Dhamaka remains the oldest and largest of its kind.


Dandia Dhamaka will showcase the South Asian traditional dance form of raas. I’ve seen a few performances by the Michigan Raas team and their energy is unlike anything I’ve seen out of a student performance group. The show will feature 10 of the best raas teams from around the country. This year, the 10 competing teams will be Georgia Institute of Technology, Loyola University Chicago, Michigan State University, Purdue University, Rutgers University, St. Louis University, University of Chicago, University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign, University of Texas at Austin and of course the University of Michigan, who took 2nd place at last year’s competition.

Be sure to check out this incredible cultural event!

Venue: The Michigan Theatre
Date: Saturday, January 29th
Time: 6:30pm
Tickets: Main Floor – $18
Balcony – $14

Catch you at the show!

Review: Sankai Juku

First there was the sound of a drop.

A drop fell from one of  the props (beautifully ornamented top-shaped  glass receptacles with mini-pipettes that was suspended from the ceiling) into one of the  huge shallow transparent bowls  that were arranged in a  wide U-shape around the stage. The bowls were filled with water and looked out-of-the-world in the almost-dark stage that was covered with fine white sand (I learnt later that more than 2 tons of sand was brought in  from the shores of Lake Michigan).

Then there was complete silence.

Dancers covered in white rice powder entered silently like ghosts and lay in fetal positions near the bowls. To the sound of drops, they slowly unfurled themselves to life. And the journey began.

This was how Sankai Juku’s “Hibiki: Resonance from far away” started.  To say, the first dance “Drop” was beautiful would be a huge understatement. It was mesmerising. The dancers slowly came to life- shown by exquisite but very controlled repetitive movements of the dancers rising up and then back down.

To summarise, Hibiki is about the stages of life expressed in a very beautiful, calm and slow manner. It starts with the showing the change of  embryos. Then as they come into the world, there is tension and there is resonance due to this tension and also, due to lack of it. There are changes in the body due to its reaction to the world outside it. Then there is calm inner reflection. And finally there’s light and peace and we go back to where it began. The cycle  repeats, as Ushio Amagatsu says, “this million year drama”.

Sankai Juku’s performance was mindblowing. The dance philosophy that Ushio Amagatsu follows is based on butoh. Slow controlled deliberate movements with focus on the execution rather than on grace and then repetition- these were some of the differences in his style. The dancers were all mature and older and the average age would have been at least 6 years higher than a that of any other dance group. I think  hte experience of the dancers helped to add  more gravity to the dance.

The music was brilliant. There were couple of themes (like “displacement” and “reflection”) which I found was too heavy and tedious for me. And the music at places sounded disturbing (weird too). But it matched the moods and the choreography so well.

The lighting arrangement for Hibiki was exceptional. For instance, the way they showed darkness enfolding was awesome! Two sets of screens  were pulled in two directions( vertical and horizontal) towards each other over a lighted background (when I mean lighted, imagine the brilliant suffused yellow glow of the sun at dawn) thereby creating a shrinking window of light. And then in the end, there was light again!

Outer limits of the red
“Outer limits of the red”, courtesy, “Pomegranate arts”

For “the outer limits of the red” sequence, red dye was poured into one of the bowls and the light shone over it creating a red glow which was in contrast with the pure white gowns of the dancers (they were all male but they wore some form of a corseted gown) and the effect was just breath-taking.

During the dance, the sand was kicked up a bit and the lighting effects made it seem as if rays of light were streaming through misty climes thus casting a very mystical and ethereal aura on the stage.

According  to me, the way these lighting effects, props and movements melded together was what makes Sakai Juku such an unique group. Here’s something to think about.

“An embryo, one month after conception, will
change
From ichthyic to amphibian,
Reptile to mammal.
This million year drama,
Emerging upon the shores of the
Paleozoic era,
Is enacted by an embryo
Within a matter of days.”- Ushio Amagatsu

Isn’t that beautiful?

Do you know what I was remided of when after I saw “Sankai Juku”? Earthbenders in the series “Avatar:the Last Airbender”.  (If you haven’t seen “Avatar:the last airbender” anime series,oh my god, what are you doing?  But, oh well,  I will save it for another time! :-))

Still Enamored, yours truly

Preview: Sankai Juku

Dance means different things to different people. To some, it is ballet or  classical dance forms full of graceful movements.  To some, it is an expression of their reaction to music- hip-hop, jazz dance, tap dance,etc.  To others like me who are not so graceful or particularly born to dance, it is a fun way to  exercise. And to some, like Sankai Juku’s founder Ushio Amagatsu, it is butoh.

Ushio Amagatsu
Ushio Amagatsu

According to Amagatsu, the dance form of butoh represents “a dialogue with gravity”.  Be it ballet, hip-hop, Irish dance or any other dance, gravity defying movements are a huge focus of modern-day dance. But butoh is about “sympathisizing with gravity” (to quote Amagatsu) and thus it comprises of entirely different set of movements.

What I feel Sankai Jukus butoh symbolises- the call of gravity
What I feel Sankai Juku's butoh symbolises- embracing the call of gravity

Sankai Juku will be performing the work “Hibiki: resonance from Far Away”, at the Power Center this weekend. Be prepared for stunning imagery and some inventive and impressive choreography.

Show times:

Saturday, October 23 | 8 pm
Sunday, October 24 | 2 pm

Power Center

Tickets @ the Michigan League Ticket Office; more info on the UMS webpage

Preview: “Angika:Sculpture & the Dancing Body” @ UMMA today

It is always interesting when two art forms come together. It is quite something else when three forms come together- sculpture, dance and poetry!

In ANGIKA, the extremely exquisite and well-thought out details of sculptures in India help derive the style of dance for today’s performance. In India, the temples are not only places of worship but also places where you can find  some of the best sculptures and art.

Example of Indian Sculpture- Statue of Nataraja from Thanjavur Big Temple

In Indian sculpture, there are so many dancing figures and Lord Shiva, the celestial dancer and the Destoyer, one of the Trinity,  was depicted as dancing (as can been seen in the image above).

Using the lovely Odissi style of dance from India, well known dancer  Shreyashi Dey and dancers from her academy, Srishti Dances of India come together to perform from a script by poet Zilka Joseph. Odissi is a very old dance form that needs a lot of training, especially with the facial expressions.

What: ANGIKA: Sculpture & the Dancing Body

When: Saturday, March 20,2010 7.30 pm

Where: Helmut Stern Auditorium, University of Michigan Museum of Art

FREE admission!

View the poster for the event at http://artsonearth.umich.edu/events/images/AngikaPoster.pdf

So what am I looking forward to in this performance? A lovely colourful evening where it is a treat for all my senses. I would love to see how poetry is set to dance and what sculptures come to life. Come join me at UMMA today to celebrate an Indian art form that is centuries old!

For [art]seen,

Krithika