Photo by Kimberly Williams
By Frances Marion Givhan
Dreams: so baffling that psychologists have attempted to analyze and interpret them throughout the years. One can never easily explain dreams, though, or fully describe the oddity, vibrancy, or detail. The choreographers and dancers of Dance Wise forwent words and captured the essence of dreams through the pieces in their recent show Dreamscapes. Performed from November 19-22 at the Tennessee Williams Center theatre, Dreamscapes aimed to “suspend reality and embrace the nonsensical,” according to Artistic Director Courtney World’s notes. The show included pieces choreographed by World and five student choreographers, as well as a piece by Adrienne Wilson, associate professor and director of dance at Auburn University.
Some dances inspired power and confidence, while others played with fear, confinement, and love. Between each piece, Megan Quick’s (C’15) silky voice filled the pitch darkness with quotations from the works of nine authors and poets, including Shakespeare, Emily Dickinson, T.E. Lawrence, and Langston Hughes. These interludes added sense to the dances, placing them in the context of exploring the world of dreams. One particular quotation by Lawrence seemed to describe the dancers, “the dreamers of the day” who “act on their dreams with open eyes.” In this case, the dreams turn into dances, stemming from the imagination of the choreographers and transforming meaning into physical movements.
Kylie McCardel’s (C’19) dance “Time Comes Around” began six months ago and developed as she transitioned through different phases of her life. “Most of the time, I don’t come in with choreography when I rehearse; I create it on the spot,” she said. “I feel happier that way.” Her piece, performed by McCardel, Alyssa Holley (C’18), and Flannery Peay (C’19), was beautiful in its simplicity of movements, romper costumes, and song choice (Hozier’s “Work Song”). The three girls danced with coherence, which made the piece entrancing. Often the pieces that worked the best had this fluency and coordination between the dancers. World’s new trio “Recurrent” featured Noni Hill (C’16), Ashlin Ondrusek (C’19), and Fridien Tchoukoua (C’16), all three experienced dancers who demonstrated amazing grace, strength, and control. Through their movements and facial expressions, they managed to convey a heart wrenching sense of fear and urgency to the audience. “We began with the simple task of generating and associating movements to sleep and dreams,” said Tchoukoua. “I’m really grateful for the experience of that dance.”
With other pieces, though, it felt as if the dancers and choreographers intended a particular meaning that the audience could not understand. World’s piece “Umbilicus” showed her struggling inside a silky cylinder drape that dropped from the rafters in the theatre. The drape represented an umbilical cord, from which she was freed at the end. This interpretive dance came off more odd than meaningful, especially with the lack of context other than the title of the piece. The entire interpretation was up to the audience. Of a very different genre, “Idiosyncratic Exposition” (also choreographed by World) involved pink, orange, and yellow clown-like costumes and jazzy music. World even describes this piece in the playbill as “quirky,” which is accurate. The piece had a lot of individual movement from the dancers, which forced the audience to choose where to put its focus. This took away from the fluency of the piece. However, the confusion and lack of clear meaning could intentionally represent the concept of dreams, which often do not make sense.
The show placed its two strongest, most memorable pieces last. “Trapped in Escape” by Ellie Clark (C’18) emerged from her desire to do a “modern piece with limited movement vocabulary,” she said. She came across the song “Arsonist’s Lullaby” by Hozier, and the lyric “never tame your demons, but always keep them on a leash” inspired her to create a piece with darker themes. The costumes, designed by Megan Ebel (C’15) and Gigi Ruppel (C’18), captured that line. In black, full body leotards, pale makeup, and a rope chain that connected the three dancers together, they looked as if they had come straight from death. “At the end, we are lying down; we could be going to sleep, dying, or the demons could have defeated us,” said Clark. “I wanted the piece to be open to interpretation.” In stark contrast, Tchoukoua’s finale piece had its dancers in angelic, simple white costumes. Songs by the Soweto Gospel Choir and Simphiwe Dana provided upbeat music as the dancers moved with graceful energy and beauty. McCardel smiled infectiously while on stage. Tchoukoua and his brother Audrey (C’16) danced together in the piece – even performing lifts! – a treat for everyone who has the opportunity to see both of their talents come together. “I am overwhelmed by the responses that my piece received after the show,” said Tchoukoua. “I mostly focused on pleasing myself throughout the choreographic process.”
The piece also held special meaning for Tchoukoua. Inspired by dancer Zollar Willa, Tchoukoua said the piece “portrayed individuality within a society, and community above individuality.” With the disparate styles of dancing strung together by the theme of dreams, the people involved in the production created a fantastical performance. The individual pieces took the audience out of the dreary November reality and into a world where meaning is subjective and the potentially nonsensical still rings true.