Star-Bulletin Features

Thursday, May 6, 1999

By Kathryn Bender, Star-Bulletin
University of Hawaii dance students
present their work, "SkinNing."

In a pinch,
dancers find
trash bags divine

By Suzanne Tswei
Special to the Star-Bulletin


Summer Lam and her two dancing buddies didn't enlist any hotshot artist to design outfits for their number in "Masterpieces." They've done it all themselves -- something simple in basic black, one size fits all, shiny, stretchy, noisy and very cheap.

They'll be wearing black garbage bags straight out of the box, in the University of Hawai'i at Manoa's Department of Theatre and Dance annual student showcase "Spring Footholds.'

The 20 bags cost $2.79 plus tax.

"These are the cheapest costumes -- ever. The bags are just generic ones, the cheapest we can find -- perfect for the student budget. The wardrobe people love us because there's nothing to launder," Lam said.

It was serendipity that led the trio to the unconventional garments a few months ago when dancer Maile Lynn Baran forgot to bring a prop for her improvisation class. "I just totally didn't remember. By the time I remembered, I was in my art class and I had nothing."

Luckily, a friend who had a bunch of garbage bags in his locker lent Baran a bag.

"As it turned out, it worked out great. I never knew you could do so many things with a garbage bag. I really had a good time playing with it. You can get in it or get out of it, wave it around, make rabbit ears. It's just amazing."

The bag became a hit in class, and Baran enlisted Lam and Beth-Anne Frederick to choreograph something novel and playful. Their dance, titled "skinNing," is part of the concert that opened last night, featuring dances that range from lighthearted to somber, sexy to athletic.

The trio decided to cover themselves in garbage bags, creating the illusion that they are garbage bags dancing on stage with trash spilling out from their feet. Wearing the bags over their heads has turned their 6-minute-long dance into a dangerous endeavor.

"It's scary, totally. There are moments when we can't breathe, and it's impossible to see through the black bags. You don't know where you are" said Frederick, adding that she almost fell off the stage once and collisions occurred regularly during early rehearsals. As a result, the three had to choreograph carefully and cleverly to avoid accidents, and, most of all, avoid looking like bumbling bags whirling aimlessly on stage.

"We have to make sure we communicate with each other on stage. I have to listen very carefully to the other garbage bags, the sounds the dancers are making with the bags, to know what they are doing and where they are on stage. They help me figure out where I am and what my next move is," Frederick said.

The dancers' ears are tuned to the nuances of all the sounds garbage bags can produce: flapping, fluttering, rolling, leaping, gesturing, bending, thrusting, pirouetting and scores of others. Moreover, the trio can distinguish one dancing bag from another from the sounds.

"We are three different garbage bags with different characterizations -- one is bold (Frederick,) one is shy (Lam,) one has itchy feet (Baran) and is always trying to catch up to the other two," Lam said, explaining that speed and movements contribute to the sound differences.

"It's really a lot of fun. We are giggling inside the bags the whole time we are dancing. Dance can be so serious, but this is supposed to be comical. When people watch us, they want to laugh but they don't know whether they should. They don't want to insult us by laughing at us.

"Well, it's OK to laugh. In fact, you are supposed to laugh. You are supposed to have fun when you watch us," Lam said.

Spring Footholds 1999

Bullet Masterpieces: Presented by University of Hawaii Department of Theatre and Dance
Bullet The date: 8 p.m. today, Friday and Saturday; 2 p.m. Sunday
Bullet The venue: Ernst Lab Theatre
Bullet Tickets: $8; $6 for students, seniors and military
Bullet Call: 956-7655

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