Carnival of dance
Eclectic and entertaining numbers abound on a trip to "Heart/Land" at UH
The University of Hawaii's annual dance concert begins with a genealogical chant for Kamehameha I performed by kumu hula Vicki Holt Takamine and ends with the improvised and innovative piece "Blessed" by contemporary choreographer Bebe Miller.
'Dances from the Heart/Land'
» On stage: 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday; 2 p.m. Sunday
» Place: Kennedy Theatre, University of Hawaii-Manoa
» Tickets: $16; $14 UH faculty/staff and seniors; $11 students; $5 UH-Manoa students
» Call: 483-7123 or visit www.etickethawaii.com
This is just one indicator of how well the overall production lives up to its name, "Dances from the Heart/Land," in offering a journey to widely scattered places on the invisible map of the soul.
The dance numbers include premieres by faculty members and signature pieces by noted dance artists from the mainland. The overall diversity of the program challenges the performer/students to express disparate choreographic visions while it also shreds spectators' expectations of consistency.
Look at the evening as a ride through a vibrant theme park of modern dance. No overarching themes tie pieces together.
Above all, don't expect the dancers to tell you stories. Hey, that's ballet's more structured bag, against which modern dance revolted long ago.
"Heart/Land," however, mesmerizes with several "storyscapes," where movement, form, lighting and dramatic expression forge a hypnotically familiar feeling. The theme is there, but audiences are free to add details of plot. It's as if hugely theatrical ink-blot tests are unfolding on stage and inviting us to assign our own meaning to the experience.
This surreal approach to narrative is particularly fun in the excerpts from "Anytown: Stories of America": Seated in folding chairs and dressed in Sunday church hats and white gloves, dancers morph between sassy and coy, referencing the generic wholesomeness of small towns, complete with a trickster undercurrent of repressed sexuality. The number is utterly hip and wholly effective, because the dancers understand how to capitalize on the smallest nuances of movement vocabulary, abstracted from old movies and smartly stylized.
Using a similar approach to non-storytelling but referencing a different emotional landscape is the profoundly moving "Private Prophesy." The broad flow and interwoven harmony of movement motifs summons a place of hope and peace. Over the applause at the finish, someone in the row behind me murmured "beautiful," a word that is not always a compliment in contemporary dance, where expression of form, space, gravity and other abstractions are more the point. But this piece was an example of how all that edgy, cool stuff pales like a geometry book in comparison to a truly heartfelt experience.
Eclecticism is alive and well in this concert. This is heartening, because it shows that UH's upcoming dance artists are not being confined to orthodoxy. There are moments, however, where too many props and mixed cultural references encumber what could otherwise be plain old wonderful art. This is perhaps the case with "Kryptonite," in which the awesome talents of soloist dancer Celia Chun Wright and musician Ernest Provencher would have been exquisite without the kitschy additions of marching-band drummers and a Greek chorus of hooded creatures.
Ironically, one of the most daring pieces is "Clowns and Other Fools: A Pantomine Circus." Being funny on stage is not necessarily harder than being serious. It's just that sans canned laughter, silence serves immediate and embarrassing notice that you've bombed. And, well ... yes, laughter greeted the dancers who truly went out on the choreographic limb in the circus vignettes. Many totally found their comic grooves by not getting buried in the clown costumes and make-up and enabling their strong theatrical personae to shine. You'd have to have had a really, really bad day at the office to not crack a smile at the self-deprecating burlesque pulled off by the trio of clowns in the vignette "Talent Show."
In addition to promising a journey, the concert's title may also hint at an ironic send-up of heartland images, aka the American Midwest with its anonymous and monotonous highways. By contrast, this rare combination of choreographies takes audiences all over the map. This evening offers a rare and vibrant virtual itinerary to many exotic destinations.