Spring Back Brings Talent and Wit

Sophia Bamert, Managing Editor

This semester, Spring Back discovered its sense of humor, and that’s not to say that the dancing was taken any less seriously than usual. Under the direction of Visiting Assistant Professor of Dance Holly Handman-Lopez, the showcase of student choreography, which ran in the main space of Warner Center from April 18–20, achieved surprising cohesion despite the wide range of pieces performed.

The show opened with an absurd welcome song, sung by bathrobe-wearing College senior Sarp Yavuz and double-degree fifth-year Lisa Yanofsky, that warned audience members that the dances would not all be the same, and ended with the borrowed lyric, “We’re glad you came,” by The Wanted. Although this segment gave an initial impression of being too jokey, it ultimately meshed well with later interludes in the program. During the setup and take down of an aerialist piece, silly interludes amused the audience: First, College senior Robert Salazar, also in a bathrobe, lip synced into a lotion bottle to “It’s Not Unusual” by Tom Jones; afterward, a number of dancers came out — in bathrobes, of course — and did a cutesy, chorus line–type dance. These lighthearted interludes seemed to be windows into the backstage world of performers having fun and they helped to keep the audience engaged throughout the show. Even the choice to play pop music in the background between pieces as the gels for the lights were changed smoothed these transitions and melded the many disparate dances into an evening-length performance.

The show kicked off with College senior Jacquelyn Pitts’s “This Bitter Earth/On the Nature of Daylight.” The motif of the piece is an arm reaching up from the jaw to the sky, and the eight dancers’ impassioned movements tell a story of struggle, but also of people supporting one another, as four pairs lean on each other in their final walk upstage. The performers’ movements were organic, strong and well executed, with initiation clearly coming from the core and the breath. It was refreshing to see this lyrical choreography paired with melodious music — however, the pieces switching between multiple songs was at times distracting.

Two other group pieces, “Ω (ohms)” by College junior Elaine Liu and “the centre cannot hold” by College junior Julie Garber, reveal a similar choreographic impulse, to explore the interactions among various dancers although they were both less accessible than Pitts’s. Liu’s dancers wear frilly dresses and leotards and often incorporate sharp ballet vocabulary into their movements. Combined with their recurring hair smoothing, this gave the impression of a ballet rehearsal gone awry. Garber’s dancers run across the stage in dark, dramatic light, sometimes even bumping into one another. Their partnering is intense; they resist one another, ending the piece by walking away all in different directions.

The standout ensemble number was Yanofsky’s “Once More With Feeling.” This hilarious satire of self-serious choreography poked fun at, among other dance styles, the cerebral contemporary dance that dominates Oberlin’s dance concerts — and which was to be found in this very Spring Back show. Seven dancers in tacky dresses — one of whom is the obvious diva of the group — run in place, hop, stare intensely at their quaking hands and, in the wackiest motif, stretch their arms out, lower their heads and shake their heads from side to side. An interlude of electronic noise puts the cherry on top of this incisive parody. Later in the piece, Latin-style music changes the dancers’ movements to include camel walks and hip rolls, and occasionally the performers bump into each other in criss-crossing lines.

Yanofsky’s piece fit well with Handman-Lopez’s comic vision for the entire show, as well as with the professor’s own piece of choreography. “Strut, Clink, Splat” featured a trio of talented dancers: Yanofsky, Pitts and Handman-Lopez — although at the Friday performance, College sophomore Madeleine Klein was featured in the faculty choreographer’s place. They begin on the floor in a seductive pose and, as they perform, attempt to upstage one another. With the dancers at times holding red champagne glasses, the piece devolves into a drunken rivalry — but the performers’ dancing remained polished, with precise long lines, even as they end in a heap on the floor.

The audience favorite had to have been “Main Stem,” College seniors Maayan Dagan and Caitlin Zinsley’s swing-era duet, deftly choreographed by Dagan. This joyful number translates the cindy-charleston to the stage, making creative use of the space and the music. The duo travels in a wide circle on their solo jazz moves and, twisting social dance technique to enhance this choreographed routine, return to the center in a spiral of swing outs. What really made the piece was its musicality, with perfectly timed shimmies, breaks and — the most adorable moment — a scuffling run interrupting the rhythm of tandem charleston.

In addition to these various group numbers, Spring Back included four quite different solos. Yavuz’s “They used to call me a fag, so I stopped dancing in 1999” was overwrought. The many obvious symbols — the sentence-length title; a letterman’s jacket on a chair, toward which Yavuz walks during the entire piece; the dancer’s convulsing, obvious struggle to move; and the final moment, in which he leans over the chair, puts one arm into the jacket and strokes his own head — combine in such a way such that the force of any single element cancels the others out, leaving the message curiously opaque.

College sophomore Nick Schrier’s “Sit and Set” is choreographically frenetic, with constantly changing dynamics, but Schrier is creative with his isolations and showed himself to be a talented dancer. He was accompanied by College sophomore Keenan DuBois and Conservatory sophomore Tim Bedford. College senior Samantha Sterman, an aerialist, was accompanied by double-degree senior Adrian Jewell on piano. The piece’s storyline around which the piece is structured — Sterman is carried out in a hospital gown, slung over Jewell’s shoulder, and from on high she later sheds the gown — was gratuitous. Sterman’s movements themselves were not only wondrous, but emotional; her manipulations of the rope on which she swung were as graceful as if they were part of the choreography.

The best of the solos was “Exploration,” by College sophomore Si “Pam” Wang. The choreography, an exploration of sharp and fluid gestures, highlighted Wang’s ability to entrance viewers with her movement. Both in proceeding across the stage in a regal warrior pose and in turning her back to the audience as she experiments with body rolls, Wang was simultaneously strong and supple.

Although this edition of Spring Back felt more cohesive than usual, its tone was by no means consistent. This at times made for jarring transitions, but it also prevented monotony. While all of the performers were thoughtful and talented dancers, this semester the more lighthearted pieces shone — reminding audiences that dance need not be solemn to be good.