REVIEW: Choreographic Institute Thesis Dance Concert at Dance Loft on 14

REVIEW: Choreographic Institute Thesis Dance Concert at Dance Loft on 14
by Christina Lindenmuth

The evening of May 20th, 2017 marked the beginning of an annual tradition for the D.C. dance community. The Thesis Dance Concert presented the very first graduating class of the newly formed Choreographic Institute. Four upcoming choreographers premiered their work at the Dance Loft on 14th for loved ones and avid art supporters. I was honored to be witnessing history in the making.

Recently founded in September 2016, the Choreographic Institute offers an affordable and original curriculum for developing choreographers in the Washington D. C. area.  The Institute focuses on a wide range of topics such as dance history, kinesiology, and the psychology of choreography. It is by studying these common threads that, as Founding Artistic Director Vladimir Angelov puts it, “choreographers are not born, they are made.” Tonight’s show demonstrated the importance of feedback and mentorship through the creative process in order to produce a clear, refined piece. I was impressed that none of the works in tonight’s program looked like student work.

Before each piece, the choreographer would come out on stage and give a brief description of what we were about to see. First up was Shira Klinger, whose piece dis)(onnect was about the power of human connection during times of grief. The piece followed a main girl sitting on a bench, as she watched her internal struggles manifest themselves before her eyes. She looked on at loneliness, who danced fluidly as she rolled around, weaving through her own limbs. She curled up in a ball on the edge of the bench as she witnessed another internal struggle come alive, as one girl, Becky Lallande, was being pursued by another lanky, dark haired girl, Uyen Hoang, who could have represented depression, guilt, or imperfection. She looked on as they began to fight – Hoang pushing and pulling and dragging Lallande, mocking her, weighing on her until she was physically brought to the ground. This section was so real and raw with emotion that it actually hurt to watch, to see the physicality of one’s internal battle was gut wrenching.

The mood shifted when the girl on the bench was joined by her friends and they danced gleefully jumping over, going under, and lying across the bench on their backs with their legs extended upwards. Eventually all of the girl’s emotions joined them on stage, including Hoang, the darker character, and they danced in unison. The end showed them sitting on the bench, Hoang scooted over to make room for the main character to join them, and they all wrapped their arms around each other. I thought this was clever because it was a demonstration of how we all have to learn to live in harmony with the darker versions of ourselves, because ignoring it is impossible. This piece was complex, but Klinger’s composition made the story line easy to follow and her intentions were very clear.

The next piece, Bare Sole by Asami Seki, was a brilliantly thought out metaphor for life represented by the different kinds of shoes we wear. This was my favorite piece of the evening. The movement was silly and theatrical without being too pedestrian and delightful to watch. We were shown different scenarios, including a girl struggling to fill shoes that are too big for her, a trio of girls vying for a chance to wear the red high heels, and a girl withstanding a barrage of shoes being thrown at her from all directions.

The most enchanting part was a duet between a guy and a girl, Arman Bayev and Rachel Turner, both wearing blue running shoes. They are sweet and playful as they dance together, blowing kisses and playing copy-cat, all while executing technical turns and kicks and lifts. Their sequence ended with Turner sitting on Bayev’s leg and him untying her shoe and throwing it offstage, which warranted giggles from the audience as it was of course a metaphor in itself! Other clever uses of the shoes included the dancers wearing shoes on their hands (one even wore a shoe on her head) and a barefoot soloist, Alysha Bedig, tip-toeing across a diagonal tightrope made of shoes, only to be kicked off by the envied red-high-heels-wearing girl.

Spectra by Therese Gahl was a visual delight that explored the emotional connections we have to color. A large ensemble of 15 dancers took the stage in a pattern of vibrant colors. They broke off into different color groups, the first of which was the purples and maroons who were upbeat and flirty. Next came the oranges and the yellows. As they leaped and floated about I thought of what Gahl said before her piece began, that her dancers were her “brush strokes” that brought this piece to life. This group executed interesting amoeba-like transitions and stunning lifts, including one where the women in pointe shoes leaped into the air and were caught by the men in a grand plie position.

The sultry, abrasive shades of red, the somber, compassionate blues, and the limber and eccentric green soloist followed. The finale had all the colors mixed together on stage. My absolute favorite moment was when they would all pivot one way, but each melt into a different pose. The dancers would then change directions and pose again, like each color reacting to the light differently. The piece came to an end with all the dancers upstage, backs to the audience, and a blackout with a single white light.

The last work of the evening was a dance drama inspired by the uncontrollable nature of one’s dreams, entitled Apotheotik by Nancy Flores-Tirado. The piece began with an empty bed frame with bare tree branches sprouting from the posts and the sounds of a large creaky door slowly opening. Our main character, Arman Bayev, comes running in and leaps over the bed into a dramatic pose and is soon stalked by a pack of female tree-creatures. They leered forward towards him, rolling through their bodies on their tip toes. They took him through a wild adventure of his subconscious mind, where he experiences a range of fears and desires.

In his dream the tree-creatures became creepy, childish beings that taunted him, petting him and playing with him until they ripped his shirt off and tossed it around as they sneered. We saw into his romantic and sexual fantasies in a sensual duet where the pair rolled around intricately on the floor. We also saw his fear of dire tragedy, where after a series of dragging and lifting and spinning his lover dies in front of him. The tree-creatures pull at their own skin, itching and tearing as they surrounded him and sent his soul off to be together with his love. In the end his lover, Jamie Doughty, is placed on the bed under the sheets, with the tree-creatures hiding underneath, and she gasps herself awake as he lurks behind her with a new face, sprouting horns from his forehead. This dream-within-a-dream reveal leaves me with the same feeling I have after watching a psychological thriller, wanting to watch it again and again for the chance to spot new nuances.

The show came to an end with a short graduation ceremony – each choreographer receiving their diploma and posing for a picture with their director. Tonight’s show gave us a wide range of stories and emotions, which speaks volumes for the new curriculum at the Choreographic Institute. The courses are giving them the background and context to be able to cultivate their own unique artistic perspective, and the skills and connections that are necessary to bring their visions to the stage. In collaboration with Dance ICONS and Dance Loft on 14, the Choreographic Institute serves as a new platform in an underserved community of emerging choreographers, helping them channel their energy in the right direction as they find their place in the world of dance.