'Viewpointe' Provides New Perspective on Dance

From the classic works of Balanchine to modern pieces choreographed by students, “Dancers’ Viewpointe VII” brought a high level of artistic performance to the Harvard Dance Center at its premiere last Friday. Orchestrated by Artistic Director Elizabeth Weil Bergmann and put on by the Dance Program of the Office for the Arts at Harvard, the show—which will run through March 3—is a stunning display of precision, grace, and cutting-edge choreography.

The performance starts wonderfully with an excerpt from Balanchine’s exquisite “Serenade” supervised by Heather Watts, director of the Dance Program. All the dancers perform the choreography flawlessly, moving with synchronized precision and thoroughly illustrating the contrasts between fluidity and rigidity which characterize the piece. The dancers are successful in bringing Balanchine’s choreography and Tchaikovsky’s stunning score together masterfully, producing a delightful performance.

The second number is “Habit,” a modern piece choreographed by Brenda Divelbliss, artistic associate of the Harvard Dance Program. Although it is an abrupt transition from “Serenade,” the style of the work is fresh, edgy and strangely addictive. The dance tells the story of two couples (appropriately costumed in attire that evoke a high school homecoming) and the sudden shifts between pursuit and repulsion that characterize their relationships. The dancers capture the choreography’s attitude and energy beautifully. In particular, Katie W. Johnson ’07 and Kevin Shee ’10 are a delight to watch, both for their individual prowess and for the unique chemistry of their interactions with each other.

The premiere of “Tartiniana,” choreographed by Claudia F. Schreier ’08, is the only dull moment of the evening. Though it is perhaps only because the rest of the show is so impressive, the choreography of this number comes off as restrained, studied, and linear. The Tartini concerto itself is fast-moving and repetitive, and the dancers are not entirely synchronized. The costumes consist of simple black tights and skirts, giving the entire piece the appearance of a studio exercise.

The highlight of the event comes at the end of the first act with “The Shortest Day,” a piece by New York choreographer Scott Rink. The performance starts with an interpretation of a day at a typical workplace, emphasizing the office interactions that eventually lead to the “suicide” of Kevin Shee ’10. Some of the characters in this theatrical story take getting used to, such as two women joined together by their hair (played by Sarah C. Kenney ’08 and Joanna M. Zimmerman ’10) and a moving, human desk-and-chair set created by Joanna R. Binney ’08, Julia K. Lindpaintner ’09, and Marin J.D. Orlosky ’07-’08 (who is also a Crimson editor), upon which a dancer—Hannah S. Yohalem ’10—sits and types on a typewriter.

However, once the story is set and the real dancing begins, all reservations about this seemingly bizarre piece become utter amazement at both the ingenuity of the choreography and the flawlessness with which the dancers execute the extremely difficult and acrobatic moves. With unbelievable strength and grace, the dancers flip over and walk on each other, creating the effect of a human jungle gym. In the style of “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, one dancer, Madelyn M. Ho ’08, nimbly leaps up a mass human staircase and later navigates her way across the shoulders of her fellow dancers. A balletic fistfight between Shee and James C. Fuller ’10 is particularly riveting and displays the incredible talent of both young dancers.

The second act opens with the premiere of “At The Edge of Forgetfulness,” a work by Bergmann herself. The piece, intended to explore the complexities and sexual tensions of dreams, is successful in capturing a disjointed and dreamlike state. The use of lighting is particularly effective in this number, accentuating the dancers’ expressions and helping to clarify the subtle shifts between sentiments. In one especially memorable section, the dancers, cast in a bluish light, simulate swimming motions in the air.

The only disappointment of the work is not in the dancing, but in the singing. The live duet between soprano Sandra Patrikalakis and contralto Susan Larson often detracts from the beauty of the choreography; overall, however, the piece is effective. The ending is particularly creative, making use of a tower built by the dancers from wooden blocks and topped by an illuminated, reflective sphere. The lights dim with the dancers intensely focused on this shining ball of light, creating a striking final image.

The following performance is the premiere of “Dystonic: Trio,” a work choreographed by Larissa D. Koch ’08. The piece begins with a virtuosic interpretation of one of Max Reger’s Suites for Solo Cello by Bong Ihn Koh ’08. Although Koh’s excellent cello playing is a hard act to follow, the choreography demonstrates a deep understanding of the relationship between tension and fluidity and allows the dancers to complement, rather than compete with, Koh’s playing. The two dancers of the piece–Koch and Lauren E. Chin ’08–give a convincing performance, expertly using their facial expressions to add to the emotion and energy of their movements.

Boston Ballet II, a pre-professional dance program affiliated with the Boston Ballet, closed the Friday show with Susan Shields’ “Sunlit Song.” These talented young dancers captured the “sunlit” feeling of both the choreography and the music, filling the stage with uncontainable energy and seemingly effortless movement.

Although the dancers of this separate company have the professional experience of training with the Boston Ballet, it is a credit to the Harvard dancers that they are able to achieve a similar level of artistry while enrolled as full-time students. The thrilling performance of Boston Ballet II maintained the extremely high standard of performance established by the Harvard Dance Program, and served as an invigorating finale to a thoroughly impressive and enjoyable evening.

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