REVIEW: Dancing Globally

A beautifully put together four number show, Dancing Globally made me feel connected to the raw emotions that its dancers put out on the stage. I have never seen a modern dance performance before, but now know I will be attending many in the future. I loved the show, from its choreography to costumes to lighting to music.

The first number, ‘Excerpts from KYR (1990), Anaphase (1993), and Mabul (1992)’, was an impactful piece in which the dancers began wearing business attire, and they gradually tore off those garments – all but one dancer, who appeared to be stuck in some way. This dance was very intimate throughout, and especially towards the end as it had only two dancers left on stage. I thought this was an ideal introduction to the show because it was not hectic on stage, so I was able to take in the beginning of the show at calm pace.

The second number, ‘Vox (2018)’, was the number I enjoyed the most. I think this was because while there there was a lot going on with many dancers on-stage, the staging and choreography was well done so that you watch the intricate parts performance without being too overwhelmed.

‘fall(s) (2018)’ was the third number, one in which the dancers wore outfits with large pieces of vibrant fabric that hung off of their bodies, complementing the black backdrop that had huge, colorful flowers spread across it. The many colors and overload of movement was something that made this dance very hard to follow. While it was still aesthetically very pleasing, it seemed a bit more unkempt next to the other numbers.

The fourth number, ‘Minûtus Luminous (2018)’, was an interesting piece inspired by Jóse León Sánchez, who was sentenced to 30 years in prison for a crime that he didn’t commit. The number is intended to be “a song to those families and communities who have had to live with misfortune.”* With complex staging and large structures that mimicked the inside of a dreary building, likely a jail, it was a finishing number with palpable heart and storytelling.

While I still remain undereducated on modern dance, seeing this performance sparked an interest in me that I didn’t know existed. The dancers’ hard work and pure emotions were pulsating off of the stage, and I found myself caught up in their brilliant performance. Another major kudos would be the lighting: each number had different lighting that highlighted and intensified the emotion. I’m sure anyone who saw Dancing Globally can attest that it was bursting with talent and passion.

*from the playbook of Dancing Globally, said by choreographer Sandra Torijano

Photos by Kirk Donaldson

PREVIEW: Dancing Globally

This Saturday I’ll go to a theater that that holds more than a thousand people and watch some of the talented students from the Dance Department, who I’ve never seen perform before. Having never been exposed to modern dance, I know seeing Dancing Globally is a promising first modern dance program to attend because of my friend who is in it, who has been practicing tirelessly.
Dancing Globally, already shown Thursday February 1st and Friday February 2nd, will be shown Saturday February 3rd at 8PM and Sunday February 4th at 2PM at the Power Center for the Performing Arts. Tickets can be purchased for a variety of prices here.

REVIEW: Translation: A Modern Dance Event

Translation: A Modern Dance Event

Last weekend, The Department of Dance performed a stellar evening of movement at The Power Center. Inspired by Fall 2012’s Theme Semester “Translation,” the show shared the title as well as many exciting intellectual and artistic transpositions. The evening was divided into four pieces; the first three were original choreographies by U-M professors and the third was a celebrated  piece by choreographer Bill. T. Jones.

The opening act was entitled “Hath Purest Wit.” Choreographed by Prof. Jessica Fogel, the piece involved a combination of music, poetry, spelling, and puzzle solving. While the audience was still settling into their seats, a dancer dressed in red graceful strutted onto the stage, encircling a pile of large, animated letters wrapped in chicken wire. As more bodies dressed in red entered the stage, the lights began to dim and suddenly it became clear that the show was starting. An robust man appeared, reciting  excerpts from Lewis Carroll and Marcel Danesi about puzzle solving, cognition, and the satisfaction of” figuring it out.” As the dancers whirled and twisted and tossed and played with the with the life-size letters, they revealed a series of words that were all  various permutations of the phrase “Hath Purest Wit.” It was incredible how many different combinations of phrases those few letters could produce! I wish I could recall them now- they’ve escaped my mind-  but it was marvelous to see how versatile the words became and how each combination of letters dictated the quality of movement as the language changed.

The second piece was called “Aria Vitale” and was choreographed by Prof. Sandra Torijano. Also an original piece, this dance was a rhapsodic expression of  the human emotions of vitality yearning, and sadness.  Set to the operatic, orchestral music of Monteverdi, Villa-Lobos, Bach, and Iglesias, the piece seeped with passion and sorrow. The scene opened with a blackened stage punctuated by a drooping white tree branch. A male and female couple waltzed together, performing seamless partnering and acrobatics. With each shift in musical expression and lighting, the tone of the movement changed as well. The dance was fast, with lifts and leaps, and dancers entering and exiting from the wings at top speed. The set grew  complex, incorporating costume changes, fluttering rose pedals, and towering metallic  structures upon which the dancers climbed for the final pose. It was a gorgeous piece! I’ve never seen the Power Center stage become so transportive, etherial, and saturated with passion as I did in  Aria Vitale.

After intermission, the tone of the show changed dramatically. “The Headless Woman” turned to the circus for inspiration. Choreographed by Prof. Amy Chavasse, the piece was translated from a newspaper story of a woman who joined the circus and enacted the freakish role of The Headless Woman. The backdrop of the stage included a video installation showing footage of a county fair. The music was equally  reminiscent of a circus soundscape, with bells, whistles, accordions, and other dizzying sounds that took the audience for a rather wild ride. From glorified, scandalous female figures to gender-bending  roles to tattooed contortionist types, the characters and their exaggerated bodily expressions became a ogle of “captivating misfits.”

Finally, the closing piece choreographed by Bill T. Jones was energetic, acrobatic, and very engaging to watch. In “D-Man in the Waters,” the dancers leapt and fell and dived across the stage, wearing an array of army-green inspired costumes. Because it was choreographed in the 80’s, I imagined the movement might be  inspired by a commentary on the Vietnam War. However, through later reading I learned it was inspired by a friend of the choreographer who was fighting a loosing battle to cancer. The bright smiles on the dancers and the jolly, cooperative motion did not expressly communicate a personal inner battle. Knowing it’s impetus adds dimension to the already dynamic and demanding postures. The level of athleticism that was required of the bodies to perform the choreography was a masterpiece in and of itself.

Every year of college I have attended the annual Power Center-Dance Department performance. After four viewings, I must say that “Translation”was absolutely the best. The movement was infallible: so tight, so well rehearsed, and so technically impressive. I was struck  by the strength and the grace of each dancer; each appeared collected  as they bowed, seemingly unphased by the exertion they had just performed so artfully. I could hardly imagine the amount of effort that went from abstracting an idea for a Translation to presenting it in the Power Center  wanted to hear more about the process of production so I asked inside sources.

About her experience of preparing for her role in Aria Vitale, senior Julia Smith-Eppsteiner (shown above)  said:

Rehearsals started in September and Sandra worked differently every day. One day she would enter the studio and want to talk about a certain poem with the entire cast and the next day she might walk in, pull two people aside and start teaching them a movement phrase without saying anything. It was a lot of her sketching out ideas through improvising in front of us, seeing how that was interpreted in our body without time to practice the exact steps she showed–and then she would proceed in various ways depending on what the dancer presented back to her.

I am not one defined character throughout Aria Vitale but concepts of farewell, compassion, exhaustion, pain, celebration and vitality manipulate their way through a visual poem of relationships. The musical choices and genuine intimate relations between cast members are two aspects that really seemed to bring this work to life and  surmount to its success on the Power Center stage.
This work was more challenging–and more rewarding–than anything I have rehearsed and performed at this University. It was physically difficult, specifically on my left leg, but also was a challenge  in terms of yielding to the storytelling and allowing vulnerability to reign.

Did it resonate with my style as an artist? Not really, as I tend to choreograph and perform work that is more quirky, with sharper qualities, and sometimes text and humor play an important role. But dancing in Aria Vitale has been an incredible experience for me in my senior year that I am so thankful for because I am able to prove to myself and others that, yes, I can do “weird” dancing and that has its place and intrigue … but to perform such timeless, beautiful movement was exhilarating. It made me realize that I would love to professionally tour dance with a simliar quality as Aria Vitale–it allows the performers to indulge in risk and honesty, in every go-around.

And about her role in the Bill T. Jones piece, junior Nola Smith (also shown above) said:

Being a part of the re-staging of “D-Man in the Waters” was one of the most rewarding, fulfilling experiences I have been a part of in my time at Michigan. Germaul Barnes, the former Bill T. Jones dancer who set the work on us, was emphatic from the start of the process that the cast had to go beyond simply mimic-ing the previously choreographed steps– he told us that Bill T. Jones had provided a “framework” which each new cast of dancers could fill with their own interpretations and personalities. Because the piece is so physically demanding and has a lot of partnering, building trust among the dancers was a huge part of learning the dance. Although we only had about two and a half weeks to learn it, Germaul had us spend an entire three-hour rehearsal midway through the process sitting in a circle and telling each other about our experiences with loss and love. Having the opportunity to share our vulnerabilities with our fellow dancers made our support of each other during the dance even stronger. I think this experience also connected us to the conditions within the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company when the work was being made in 1988-89– Bill T. Jones’s life and artistic partner Arnie Zane had just died from AIDS-related illness, and a dancer in the company, Demian Acquavella (to whom the piece is dedicated and named after), was also becoming sick from AIDS. Jones does not include this information in the program, only a quote by word-artist Jenny Holzer: “In a dream you saw a way to survive and you were full of joy.” Each audience member and each dancer can interpret this piece in a unique and personal way. Jones does not force the AIDS connection upon us, and allows the piece’s exuberance and vivaciousness to take hold (heightened, I think, by the incredible Mendelssohn music!). However, I hope that it gives anyone who watches it that “feeling of joy,” of rejoicing in life even when it is an uphill battle, of love and support and community and humanness– all feelings which have filled me up over the course of this beautiful experience.
I wish I could watch these performances again and again. The thing about original choreography is that it is so special, but so ephemeral. You have to be see it to believe it, and you can only catch it once.
(Photography courtesy of Kirk Donaldson)

REVIEW: Martha Graham Dance Company

Martha Graham Dance Company


The Martha Graham Dance Company gave a fabulous performance this weekend at The Power Center. I attended on Friday night, though they held performances on both Saturday, and Sunday (for families and children). I was late to the box office so I missed the first two pieces- a video montage by UM dance professor Peter Sparling and a Mary Wigman adaptation called “Witch Dance” (shown above).  Unfortunately, therefore, I don’t have much to report on those two,  except that I learned that there are tv’s  stationed outside the theater doors so that late comers  can at least glimpse the action on the stage within.

Once inside, I sat to enjoy the three main pieces of the evening. The first was called “Every Soul is a Circus.” One of Martha Graham most famous pieces, it was first performed in 1939 starring Martha Graham herself plus  her student at the time and famous choreographer-to-be, Merce Cunningham. The story line followed a woman who imagined herself as the apex of a lover’s triangle between herself, The Empress of the Arena, The Ring Master and The Acrobat. With theatrical props such as whips, stools, balancing beams, curtains, and ribbons of fabric hanging from the ceiling, the set what an unmistakable  gilly. The color scheme was bright and bold. Orange, yellow, red, pink, blue,  and green glowed in the stark lighting as animated elements of the story. I understood a great deal  of the plot from watching the movement of the dancers and the spatial relationships between them, but the program shed more light on the undertones of the masterpiece. At the time of Martha Graham’s choreography, Freud was becoming popular in the United States. She was influenced by his deep and unexpected inner psychological theories. Her story “Every Soul is a Circus” tells of our unconscious fantasies, the debauchery of our desires and self-absorption.

The second piece was a three part recreation of Graham’s famous solo piece “Lamentations.” In 2007, the Martha Graham Company performed a tribute to  September 11th. Under the artistic direction of three choreographers, the company designed and performed  three pieces within 10 hours each. They are entitled “Lamentation Variations” and all struck a chord with  the audience of deep sorrow and longing. The first featured four nearly nude dancers moving languidly to operatic singing. The third piece showcased  the entire company. Dressed in pedestrian clothing, they mimicked a street scene of citizens who each experienced loss and comfort among each other. The second piece was the most striking of the night. It featured one female dancer who, for the duration of the dance, moved slowly and jerkily from one end of the stage to the other. Struggling to advance, she stepped  toward a glaring spotlight, accompanied by  a screeching, heavenly chorus of metallic angel’s voices. It was strong because of its simplicity; it pushed the concept  of  a “dance” in a pensive and elegant way.

The final piece of the evening was called “Night Journey.” It was an adaptation of the myth of the Oedipus complex, though it was told from the point of view of the mother, Jacosta. Like the first piece, the theme was inspired by Freud’s influence on the American psyche. The dance was colorful and seamless, involving large props and flowing costumes. The interaction between Jacosta and her son, Oedipus, was highly sexualized and lustful, though infused with intermittent and distorted flashbacks of her lover as her  infant. The sexual display was not shocking to the Power Center audience of 2013, though I imagine when the piece debuted in 1947 it was quite  scandalous.

After the show, Peter Sparling, the company’s artistic director, and the dancers who portrayed Oedipus and The Empress of the Arena held a Q&A in the auditorium. What I learned about the company was that they were deeply impacted by the destruction of Hurricane Sandy. Their entire warehouse of original costumes and sets was submerged in water for almost  two weeks. They are just beginning the process of restoration, though a rich  history of the culture and the company was lost in the storm.

At the very end of the evening, I approached the stage and introduced myself to Katherine Crockett, the principal dancer. She  is famous for many dof her roles  including  Cate Blanchett’s double in “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.” This may seem like a forward move on my behalf but it was a prearranged meeting. My aunt is a dance teacher for many of the major companies in NYC. Katherine Crockett is one of her best students. I told her to say hi to my aunt for me next time she takes her class. She was so genuine and excited to meet me- nothing at all like her cooky role as the Empress of the Arena. A true performer!

PREVIEW: Cadence Dance Company

Cadence Dance Company

This Saturday, student dance company Cadence will present a creative and exciting evening length performance. A lyrical and modern group, the pieces will reflect those styles of dance. Co-presidents Annie Markey and Elyse Brogdon have been working for months to prepare for this evening. In collaboration with their 12 other teammates, the company has created ten pieces to perform this weekend. The dancers will be joined by opening student groups Rhythm Tap Ensemble, Salto, Dance2XS. With the last group, Cadence will be performing a joint piece. The  choreography is all original work by students and will showcase a range of styles including tap, ballet, lyrical, modern, and hip hop- all on one stage.

Cadence is an entirely student sponsored organization that has been on campus for almost eight years. The dancers come from all parts of the university, auditioning every fall and practicing all year to create one evening length performance. Co-prez Annie Markey said, “The great thing about Cadence is that its kind of like a coop. The group style changes each year depending on whose in the company. Technique level has increased so much in the past few years and we have a lot of beautiful dancers now. I’m excited for younger dancers to have more of a role and a voice next year after I graduate.”

Cadence performs at Saturday January 26th at  7 pm in the Lydia Mendelssohn Theater of The League. Tickets are $7 at the door or $5 presale. Email Annie at for tickets. Or, even better, go for free if you pick up a Passport Voucher with you MCard at the LSA building. Can’t pass that up.

PREVIEW: Martha Graham Dance Company

Martha Graham Dance Company

This Friday and Saturday, the Power Center welcomes The Martha Graham Dance company. Martha Graham (1894-1991) is considered the mother of modern dance and her company is one of the oldest and most celebrated in the country. Her experimental movement methods have become the parent of a number of powerful 20th century names in the dance world. Her choreography is replete with infectious human emotion: sorrow, longing, joy, perseverance, and a reverence for the mythical.  Her company’s performance  at the Power Center will be moving and well worth the ticket!

The Friday and Saturday night shows differ in each program structure. The first evening will feature several short pieces while the second features two long pieces, all choreographed by Martha Graham. In addition to the show at the Power Center, there are several events that capitalize on the company’s presence in Ann Arbor. At 7:30 pm on Wednesday January 23rd, the YMCA will host a  Graham technique training session. No dance experience necessary! No Y membership necessary either. Just come ready to move and learn a thing or two about the technique. Also, on Friday at 4 pm, Dance Department  professors Peter Sparling and Clare Croft will hold panel discussion about Martha Graham profound impact on human expression. The talk will take place in Room 100 of the Hatcher Library.

For more information about the company, click here. For ticket info, go to or the box office at the League. See ya there!