'Counterpoint' Leaps to Success

Getting trolled is not always a bad thing. Sometimes, like in “Dearly beloved,” the last piece in “Counterpoint,”— a show presented by the Harvard-Radcliffe Dramatic Club in collaboration with the Harvard Ballet Company and the Harvard-Radcliffe Modern Dance Company—it is disguised humorously as a way to remind people to not take themselves too seriously. After a whole show combining modern and ballet styles, such an ending leaves the audience members confused and questioning, with a slight inkling that they may have been lovingly trolled. “Dearly beloved” doesn’t seem to follow any sort of narrative, doesn’t match the music, and it ends with an unexpected Bollywood-style dance number and a burst of confetti.

However, “Dearly beloved” can be seen as a metaphor for the entire show; a refreshing parody of the seriousness that often comes with strict ballet or avant-garde modern dance. Instead of rigid lines and overdone metaphors, it reminds the audience that “Counterpoint” is neither expressly classical or progressive. Rather, it is a fun, innovative show that juxtaposes and synthesizes ballet and modern styles. The performance uses innovative multimedia effects and costuming to compliment the choreography and push the boundaries of both dance styles.

The first half of the show is full of mind-bending dance innovations. The opening piece “In fair Verona,” deviates from the standard ballet retelling of Romeo and Juliet. Instead of rigid lines and strict positions, “In fair Verona” uses both ballet and contemporary dance techniques to convey the narrative. Of the five scenes that comprise this reimagining, the second, “Love Duet,” is a modern pas de deux—or duet—between Melanie J. Comeau ’13 and Javier F. Aranzales ’16 and is one of the show’s the most memorable. Both dancers have gorgeous lines and technique. Aranzales skillfully partners Comeau, who executes her turns and extensions with power and precision. Even in “Juliet’s Death,” where Comeau, as Juliet, must convince Romeo that she is dead, her movements remain fluid and controlled at the same time, lending itself to a bittersweet effect.

This contemporary duet is followed by a much more traditional petit allegro. The dancers are all en pointe and perform a traditional ballet standard. Afterwards, there is a fight sequence that combines stage combat with modern dance inversions and partnering. All of these dances, when performed in succession, speak to the show’s overall theme of synthesizing the two styles.

“Counterpoint” does not just combine different dance styles; it synthesizes movement with other forms of media. For example “Safe Space”—choreographed by Julia Havard and Bex H. Kwan ’14—features a large white veil that both frames the dancers and doubles as a projection screen. Video footage of dimly lit streets is projected on the surface, and when the music begins, the dancers move in very frantic and eclectic phrases that communicate a suffocating, desperate, and unsettling feel. The video on the veil changes to footage of Harvard students rushing across campus, implicitly connecting the dancers and the students on screen. A dancer then emerges from the veil with a microphone and is partnered by a dancer. They dance together as she performs a monologue about the recent sexual assault on Harvard’s campus. As she talks about how she no longer feels like the University is a safe space because of the rapes, her partner ironically throws her around violently, contorting her body into twisted positions. This combination of dance and multimedia is successful in communicating a deeply profound and disturbing message that hits very close to home in the Harvard community.

The show also experiments with set pieces and costume design. “In creaturis choris” begins with dancers moving in very odd shapes. Three dancers enter with bent wrists and feet, and move around an elevated installation. This jarring phrase material is followed by three new dancers in black leotards wrapped in Christmas lights, creating a very odd but visually captivating experience. But at the end, the installation comes to life, and we realize it is a large-scale replica of a UV insect lamp.

However, much of the first half’s originality was lost in the second act. Most of the later dances rely too heavily on repeated group choreography and do not feature the same level of innovation. Despite the slower pace, the dancing is still top notch. In particular, Juan J. Aparicio ’15 and Talia M. Fox ’13 stand out during their duet in “The Secret Garden.” While Aparicio executes beautiful lifts, Fox luxuriates them in the air and takes her time, hitting every gorgeous extension and split.

Lackluster ending aside, “Counterpoint” is a collaboration between Harvard’s ballet and modern companies to create an enjoyable and thought provoking performance. The show compares, contrasts, and synthesizes the two styles, and the dances themselves use innovative effects to push the envelope of dance itself.

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