The University of South Carolina Department of Dance welcomed the first day of April with its production, "Excavating Movement." The program featured works filled with energy, color and personality, executed by a collection of USC student dancers.
The program was designed by Jennifer Deckert, associate chair of the Department of Theatre and Dance and dance program coordinator, to provide students with a safe learning environment while also ensuring a valuable artistic experience.
When asked whether the constraints of the pandemic influenced her program, Deckert said that it was a consideration.
“We've had to separate into separate rooms, and we could only really have twelve [people] in any space at any given time,” Deckert said. “These pieces were chosen specifically ... because they could be adapted that way, and because they didn’t have a lot of partnering, and they were of a cast size that was manageable.”
However, these pieces are worthy of being staged regardless of the present circumstances.
Antony Tudor’s "Fandango" opened the show with Spanish flair. Five dancers in matching pink dresses competed for attention through kicks, claps, leaps and spins. USC Department of Dance piano accompanist, Yonie Penev, provided melodies and rhythms evocative of Spain.
José Limón’s "A Choreographic Offering" closed the program with a burst of color. Twelve dancers — fitted in red, orange, yellow and green dresses — performed intricate sequences to J.S. Bach’s "The Musical Offering." Duos and trios ran across the stage, sometimes joining together to create complex counterpoints, while other times leaving all but one for an intimate solo.
In addition to their adaptability, these two pieces were chosen because they both describe aspects of humanity through dance.
“Both Limón and Tudor felt a huge desire to bring humanity to the stage,” Deckert said. “They brought the stories of the struggle of the human existence, the joys of human existence, and they felt like that was their way to bring dance to the people."
Rosy Simas’ piece, "The Conversation," was situated in the middle and provided a refreshing contrast. While the other two pieces are choreographed, Simas’ piece is improvised. Additionally, Simas’ piece also requires the dancers to describe their movements to each other on stage, which adds the extra dimension of speech to the piece.
While improvisation alone can push performers out of their comfort zone, describing the improv in the moment can be especially challenging, according to Aubrey Houle, a second-year dance student.
“A challenge to that was that a lot of us are trained in really heavy, really solid ballet backgrounds or contemporary backgrounds,” Houle said. “And when we started describing [our moves] to each other we realized that — not so much that we were limited in what we were doing, but just how involved every step was ... There’s so much more that’s happening.”
Deckert acknowledges the challenges involved in learning a modern piece.
“I think they have had their struggles, obviously, because it is new,” Deckert said. “All of our students are amazing. So they’ve been open and willing to dive in and explore and try something new. They recognize the struggles, but they also recognize the value of being in this experience.”
Fortunately, the students received additional instruction from professional dancers from the American Ballet Theatre prior to this performance in the form of a three-week residency during late February and early March. Deckert wrote in the event program that she hopes this is “just the beginning” of artists-in-residency programs for the USC Department of Dance.
The culmination of Thursday's event was a program that was as diverse as it was entertaining.
“I loved it,” Stephen Bell, an audience member and Columbia resident, said. “It’s really impressive to see, like, dancers do something because I can’t dance at all, so. It’s really impressive seeing what they did.”
Through acts of balance, grace and elegance, the students of USC's Department of Dance launched into April in inspiring fashion. They seek to follow up tonight's success with three more productions this month, "You on the Moors Now," "Constellations" and the department's Student Choreography Showcase.
Learn more about the USC Department of Dance and its upcoming shows here.