Spring Back Concert Teeters Toward Sameness

Claire Petras, Staff Writer

“What was your favorite piece?” This was the question I asked my classmates after attending the Spring Back dance concert last weekend. Surprisingly, the response to this query was quite uniform, with most citing either College first-year Jess Gersony’s tap piece Heartbeats or visiting assistant professor of dance Yu Xiao’s duet At the Edge as their favorites. This split response was interesting, precisely because these two pieces were without a doubt the most distinct of the entire performance.

Gersony’s tap piece was an energetic tap sequence set to José Gonzalez’s Heartbeats, a lovely, melancholic song. The juxtaposition of the song with the music initially struck the viewer as somewhat haphazard; it must be terribly difficult to tap to such subtle music, partially due to the fact that it is difficult to hear the music while simultaneously keeping the beat. Nonetheless, Gersony tackled this impressive feat with a smile on her face; the number was a bona fide crowd pleaser, and one could feel her enthusiasm radiating throughout the audience.

As the new visiting professor of dance, Yu Xiao brings a refreshing perspective to the department, one that was not lost in the performance of the duet At The Edge. Featuring College senior Natalie King and College sophomore Samatha Bergman, two dancers with prodigious grace and technical skill, Xiao’s choreography also involved a third partner: a sword. The result was a simple piece with dim lighting and traditional Chinese music, featuring a narrative chronicling the struggle between two dancers and their sword.

Other than the tap solo and Yu Xiao’s duet, each piece in this season’s Spring Back performance featured about 10–12 dancers. Most of these pieces featured a combination of epic, lively group sequences, interspersed with quieter moments of duets, trios and solos. This combination was occasionally quite predictable, but to the student choreographers’ credit, predictability is to be expected when these dancers have similar techniques and influences.

With their similarly epic, melancholy soundtracks, College senior Sarah Bluestone’s Closely Kept, King’s Surge and Professor Nusha Martynuk’s Who Choose to Carry seemed as though they could have been combined into one cohesive piece. Additionally, the three pieces’ choreography mimicked the prescribed dynamic of the evening, featuring energetic group arrangements scattered amongst mildly despondent duets, trios or solos.

Professor Martynuk’s piece, Who Choose to Carry, was the last of the performance and the longest. Although the piece featured a few visually stunning and profoundly heartfelt moments that were reflected in the movements of the dancers, due to its length and weighty thematic material — namely, death and loss — the piece itself could have benefited from an extension into a full-length performance.

Overall, I would love to see more variety in the styles of dance in the future: Innovative pieces like College junior Jael McCants’s I Mind, which mixed modern aesthetics with her own hip-hop influence, as well as College senior Gabrielle Bromberg’s Capoiera-inspired modern piece Pegada, are too few and far between.

While the crowd-pleasing tap numbers and duets with swords featured in Spring Back were certainly nothing to sneer at, hopefully in the future, the Oberlin dance department will be more willing to step out of the limiting prescriptions of modern dance and prominently feature even more inventive, energetic pieces that incorporate other dance forms.