Student Dance Troupes Combine with Poetry and Song to Great Effect


Kaia Austin

Conservatory sophomore Tess Klibanoff, College sophomore Donnay Edmund and College first-year Mee-Ae Chatman-Nelson feel the beat during And What!?’s Fall Showcase. The show featured guest appearances by many of Oberlin’s other dance troupes, including Koreo and the Umoja Steppers.

Anne Pride-Wilt, Staff Writer

There’s nothing like good dance. Of course, there’s nothing like good poems or good music either, facts of which all-female hip-hop performance group And What!? seemed keenly aware with last Friday and Saturday’s Fall Showcase. The show neatly blended the three art forms, resulting in a mesmerizing show that combined art and talent with message. Despite featuring multiple media and several performance groups, the showcase in Warner Main never felt disjointed. On the contrary, it benefited from the combination, packing much more of a punch than any one element could have accomplished alone.

The showcase kicked off with an energizing dance number choreographed by And What!?, accompanied by a rousing chant that liberally featured the group’s name. The first glimpse of the full cast — which also featured student groups Koreo and the Umoja Steppers — was breathtaking, and even managed to subdue the enthusiastically rowdy audience. Another full-cast number followed, this one knitting together multiple songs and choreographers. The frequent stops and starts in this and the other multi-song numbers were momentarily distracting, but also provided a nice change of pace.

For those expecting the showcase to be exclusively dance, the inclusion of College junior Brenda Alvarez’s poem “Dear White People” midway through the first half of the show was a welcome surprise. Alvarez walked into the spotlight in the middle of the stage and launched into an arresting, brilliant fulmination, delivered at an impressive breakneck speed, eliciting enthusiastic cheering from the audience. Alvarez’s poem contextualized the dancing that occurred on either side of it, imbuing the poem with additional emotional power.

After Alvarez walked offstage, hip-hop dance group Koreo took over before the full cast returned to perform one of the best numbers of the night. Although most dance numbers in the showcase were performed by multiple dance groups, every performer seemed work together effortlessly; unless one was already aware that the company was formed from multiple troupes, it would be easy to assume they had been working together for much longer than they had.

Somehow, the second part of the show managed to be even better than the first. The primary choreographer of this half was College senior Sam Brown; the choreography was part of her senior honors project in Africana Studies. Brown’s three numbers, interspersed throughout the second part, were an extension of the hip-hop sensibility of the first, and its academic purpose did not remotely detract from its enjoyability.

Another poem, the bittersweet, beautiful “Unsolicited Advice to Big Black Sisters with Little Black Brothers,” was performed with poise by its author, College first-year Annika Hansteen Izora. Following Hansteen Izora’s grace, it was especially surprising when the knockout act of the evening managed to outdo it. College junior Mahalia Wells-Stover, accompanied by backup singers Double-degree junior Ashley Hale and College junior Ambre Dromgoole, sang her song “People,” stunning the audience with her surreally beautiful voice and the intense but reserved song. In an evening defined by dance, it may have been unexpected for the most effective moment to come from song, but in the moment, nothing could have seemed more natural. The song served to heighten the intensity of the showcase as a whole. When the evening concluded after three more nimble dance pieces, no one in attendance felt unsatisfied.

Often a combination of media can accomplish much more than what any one can accomplish alone. Without context, dance can seem unmoored; without imagery, poetry or song can at times seem overly cerebral. The fall showcase married the art forms seamlessly, and the show that resulted managed the unusual feat of being moving, technically stunning and fun at the same time.