Fall Forward Loses Quirkiness, Gains Cohesion


Courtesy of John Seyfried

College senior Jesse Weiner’s artful “Jimi To Nami” seamlessly blended traditional taiko music and striking lines. The dancers’ technical skill and the musicians’ precision were equally compel- ling in Fall Forward’s final performance.

Vida Weisblum, Arts Editor

Oberlin’s annual Fall Forward dance show is reputed as a spectacular display of the diverse range of movement and innovation within the Dance department; this year’s performance was no exception. Performances of Fall Forward ran last Friday and Saturday evenings in Warner’s historic main space and featured a variety of works composed and performed primarily by Dance majors and minors. Though this year’s show lacked some of the quirkiness of previous dance showcases, the lineup proved cohesive and captivatingly dynamic.

At a Spring Back performance two years ago, a giddy group of classical vocalists performed brief skits in between acts. Both impressive and amusing, these bits provided enlivening energy to an otherwise conventional performance. The show also included an assortment of non-contemporary and even experimental pieces, including aerial performances and a swing-dancing duo.

With the creation of the more casual Student Dance Showcase in 2012, which includes all levels and genres of dance, Fall Forward has lost some of the eccentric flair it once had. However, Fall Forward’s lack of idiosyncrasies was not a flaw. The evening was simple yet strong, emphasizing the artists’ distinct visions and the fluid range of movement they employed. This year’s repertoire of performances was an impressive showcase of the hard work done by the curious, creative and driven choreographers and dancers at Oberlin.

To start off the evening, College junior Mini Zhang’s quartet of dancers performed a technically impressive and visually exciting hip-hop piece to the catchy Olly Murs song “Trouble Makers.” An unlikely and engaging start to a predominantly contemporary show, Zhang’s piece was another delightful example of her apparent joy for choreography and dance. Zhang’s brand of hip-hop is clearly saturated with a variety of techniques and garners power from subtle yet effective choreographic choices. Her dancers, clothed in colorful T-shirts, were clearly having fun onstage, which is always enjoyable to witness. Though perhaps lacking depth of meaning, her piece was engaging and started off the show with a positive message: Oberlin’s dancers simply love to dance.

College sophomore Meg Barr’s dream-like solo “From the Earth” riffed on budding Irish singer-songwriter Hozier’s love themes as she danced to his song “Like Real People Do.” Her piece was impressively gymnastic as she performed a move resembling a one-handed handstand in the opening of her performance. Barr graced the audience with a refreshing smile and charming presence, drawing the audience into the world she appeared to construct through her borderline theatrical style.

College junior Alana Reibstein’s “Don’t Blow It” was perhaps the most stirring and entertaining piece of the evening. Reibstein’s style might be described as strange, as she centered her movement on a vague theatrical narrative and incorporated an odd array of miscellaneous props, including plastic vegetables and party horns. Despite the bizarre nature of the piece, her choice of musical accompaniment and the delicate pinkish color scheme transformed her dance into a work of art. Neither her quality of movement nor her brand of humor failed to captivate, as “Don’t Blow It” garnered both sighs and giggles from audience members — though it was unclear what exactly was funny about it. Because each of her five female dancers appeared to be self-objectifying, crafting themselves as caricatures of women, her title gained resonance with each separate section of the humorous yet subtly disturbing piece.

“Moving Positions,” choreographed and performed by College senior Nick Schrier, epitomized simple elegance. Though its title is somewhat unoriginal, his piece was a beautiful and intentional display of exactly what he wanted it to be: a refined study of position and transition. Tastefully crafted and gracefully executed, his stellar piece was one of the standout numbers of the night. Aesthetically a complete contrast to Schrier’s solo, College junior Jackie Pitts’s “In the Worst Kind of Way” featured a large, visually entertaining and complex but not particularly memorable cast. Her choice of dull-colored costumes only compounded the piece’s lack of vibrancy.

However, College sophomore Leah Newman’s piece was satisfying in every regard. Her title was a clear statement of her piece’s purpose: “I am in a space that keeps getting smaller. I cannot move.” Abstract yet universally accessible, her piece simply made sense. Newman began dancing mid-stage in contorted and jerky movements. Over the course of the piece, College junior Alex Katz drew lines on the floor with red tape closer and closer to Newman’s body, continually closing her off until she literally could not move. Newman ultimately took the roll of red tape into her own hands, binding her own body and mouth. Her costume — white underwear and a T-shirt — created a quality of vulnerability and desperation that was amplified by her intense, focused facial expressions.

College junior Samantha Ferguson’s gestural “Breaking” was reminiscent of the hand motions within the flight attendant-themed piece by contemporary dance company Keigwin + Company’s “Air,” though clearly with different intentions. Ferguson’s piece, while somewhat clichéd in style, was still emotionally impactful. Ferguson did not deviate far from a single spot onstage, perhaps in order to emphasize her inability to move during her demise. Remaining fairly rooted in a single place did not necessarily add to the piece, but it did not detract either.

“Untitled,” a two-part piece by College senior Pam Wang, was powerful. Dancers chanted words of hatred that they had presumably been subject to at some point in their lives, providing a musical backdrop for the first part of the dance, which consisted of calculated stepping patterns. The voices, though bizarre, were a refreshing soundtrack for the piece. Though the first part of the dance was not particularly exciting, the poignant commands created a hush throughout the audience: “Don’t feel for him,” “You’re so fat,” “You don’t know how to talk.” The second part of the piece was performed in silence. Wang’s side-by-side duets were truly lovely to watch; each of the pairs had undeniable chemistry and flawlessly incorporated weight transferring techniques.

College senior Silvia Sheffield’s “Royale Lady” was an oddly humorous spectacle. In between her lush and dramatized movement, Sheffield paused in a spotlight while a Lay’s potato chip commercial voiced over the stage; she then continued dancing. Clothed in a red velour sweat suit and dancing to Johann David Heinichen’s “Dresden,” Sheffield appeared to be crafting a parody of something, though it was unclear what exactly she was trying to satirize.

“Jimi to Nami,” an amalgam of taiko drum music and contemporary dance choreographed by College seniors Caitrin Hughes and Jesse Weiner, stole the show. Her cast of dancers was clearly well-trained, executing each move with fierce accuracy and precision. The chill-inducing vibrations of the drums permeated the performance; complemented with her sophisticated vocabulary of movement and luxurious orange lighting, the piece was a spectacular last moment with which to end the show.

Overall, Fall Forward’s lineup proved to be a terrific representation of Oberlin’s multifaceted and impressive Dance department. Next Friday’s Student Dance Showcase will likely bring even more excitement to Warner’s main stage.