Fall Forward Showcases Strong Technique, One-note Style

College junior Julie Garber's "Touched," part of last weekend's Fall Forward dance showcase, played with partnering and chain reactions.

Sophia Bamert, Production Manager

After the three-act-long Spring Back performance of spring 2012, last weekend’s Fall Forward was concise and to the point. The Dance department’s showcase, which ran from Nov. 8 through Nov. 10, was an hour-long show consisting of short, 5–8 minute pieces, and its lighting, sound and stage managing went off without a hitch. This made for good pacing — there was no time for the audience to get too caught up in any unequally long dance. In some ways the pieces, many of which explored similar themes using a similar repertoire of movements, flowed together all too well, leaving the finale, Associate Professor of Dance Elesa Rosasco’s “The Accompanists,” to end the show on a dramatically different high note.

The first two pieces of the evening, College junior Hayley Larson’s “My Legs Do Better Understand Me” and College sophomore Christopher McLauchlan’s “Mobility,” set the tone and began a conversation about the body and movement. In Larson’s piece, five women, dressed in jeans to establish a pedestrian atmosphere, integrate flowing turns and jumps with jerky partnering combinations. In the recurring motif of the piece, the dancers move one another’s legs using their own feet, knees and thighs. For instance, one dancer stands behind the other, bending her knees to bump the undersides of her partner’s knees forward. With a heightened awareness of reflexes, the dancer in front flops to the floor, allowing her knees to bend fully. At the end of the piece, four dancers sit motionless, while one sits spastically pushing at her own thighs; in the final moment, her neighbor turns to her and manually stops her, commanding stillness.

McLauchlan’s dance also explores physicality and motion. Although he was noticeably less trained in technique than most of the evening’s performers, McLauchlan showed himself to be the most creative when it came to dynamics, and “Mobility” stood out as the most exciting of the student-choreographed pieces. In the emotionally restless piece, he makes use of many levels, from rolling on the floor to leaping — and even backflipping — through midair, and also allows for moments of quiet dispersed among his gymnastics. His floor work is particularly creative: In one part, he syncs his arm and leg so as to seem the puppeteer to his own marionette; in another, he slides on his side, propelling himself across the floor with a leg movement reminiscent of the breaststroke.

As the show progressed, however, this exploration of the body in motion as dominant theme became obvious and redundant. There appears to be an unwritten rule at Oberlin that every work of choreography must include a dancer sitting on the floor, pushing at her knees, and if this Fall Forward is any indication, soundtracks of dripping water and electronic beeping are the new vogue on campus.

College junior Elaine Liu’s “V0” was the largest group piece, striking in its long lines and geometric shapes. Liu juxtaposes balletic turns with pedestrian walking and carrying, and the more traditional choreography stands in bizarre contrast to its eerie electro-ballet soundtrack. College junior Julie Garber’s “Touched” is a quartet of women in white dresses, also experimenting with partnering, leaning, touching and chain reactions. The music curiously stops a third of the way through the piece, leaving the dancers’ breaths to accompany their movements. Had the purpose of using music at all been more clear, this choice may have proven more successful; by the end it seemed as though Garber’s intention was in fact to emphasize the importance of breath in dance.

College sophomore and Review staffer Silvia Sheffield dances without music throughout her piece, “Closed Mondays,” supplying her own percussion with intermittent claps and snaps, including a phrase of furious clapping, snapping and beating of her stomach and thighs. With a sly look directed straight at the audience and an intriguing beginning in which she kneels, facing away from the audience, moving only her back in a slow wriggle, Sheffield brought attitude to the night’s performance.

Larson presented a second piece, “Hush,” this one a solo in which she progresses from the downstage house left corner to the upstage house right corner of the floor. She again draws from a set of movements related to placing and manipulating body parts, but she stood out among the rest in her precise articulation of her choreography. There’s a suppleness to Larson’s dancing; she excels at stretching time and space. The placement of her head, directed to look at her arms or legs at just the most interesting angle, is a testament to her careful choreography.

All of the Fall Forward pieces were well polished and their dancers strong in both technique and musicality. Perhaps it’s even because of this high level of ability that the flatness and sameness of their styles stood out. It must be noted, however, that this review is based on the Saturday evening show; Thursday and Friday’s performances included two additional pieces, College senior Kira Fath’s “Bittersweet Geometry” and College junior Benjamin George-Hinnant’s “Rift,” which likely added much-needed stylistic diversity to the program in its first two nights.

It was Rosasco’s wacky “The Accompanists” that finally presented a new viewpoint — and a light-hearted, ridiculous one at that. In this piece, four dancers, costumed in bright colors, vivid patterns and childish hairdos, move playfully to live jazz performed by double-degree fifth-years Julia Chen on piano and Nathan Friedman on drums. The girls pretend to be toy soldiers, to put on makeup, to be divas singing at the piano. It becomes obvious that there was something especially funny going on when, as the dancers hug one another, Chen and Friedman take a quick break from playing to hug each other too. This inclusion of the accompanists in the dance soon takes a turn away from the subtle. One dancer places her rear end next to the drums, and Friedman pats at it; soon the other dancers walked in a bent-over embrace, drumming each other’s behinds. Later a dancer picked up one of the two drums and holds it above Friedman’s head for him to play upside down. The musicians stand up and repeat the toy soldier sequence themselves.

“The Accompanists” is a farce of dance classes and dance performances, not only in its spirit of sheer silliness and theatricality, but also in its explicit choreographic choices. Chen and Friedman stop accompanying, pick up megaphones and bark orders at the spastic dancers, starting with typical dance teacher remarks like “focus change,” “really slow,” and “different body part,” but veering into the absurd, like “right brain left brain,” “Little House on the Prairie,” and “ham and eggs.” The dancers run over to the instruments to bang at them while the musicians strike poses for the audience. During a drum solo, Chen struts across the floor using the megaphones as props, peering into them like giant binoculars and holding them against her breasts like Madonna’s cone bra. Shouting nonsense sounds into the loudspeakers in a call-and-response cheer, she induced audience members to participate in the absurdity.

To end the piece, the dancers and musicians don huge yellow plastic claws, which hinder the piano and drum playing and interrupts the dancers’ formerly long lines. As the performers go backstage, a crowd of what seems to be audience members — really uncredited dancers in street clothes — suddenly stands up and repeats the toy soldier phrase.

Rosasco’s piece was without a doubt the highlight of the evening, and it proved once again the value of including works choreographed by professors in the Fall Forward program. It’s regrettable that in this case the professor’s choreography upstaged, rather than participated in a dialogue with, student-choreographed pieces. In recent semesters, Fall Forward and Spring Back choreography has grown immensely in their technical quality and consistency, but it seems at the cost of a declining diversity of styles. The question is whether future shows will be able to represent both the variety of dance styles and dancers present on Oberlin’s campus as well as the high level of effort, ability and creativity that Fall Forward has already come to exhibit.

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