Dancers confront media, self-image at Fall Dance Concert

Student-led projects highlight performances at Culbreth Theatre

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The Fall Dance Concert had performances from Last Thursday to Saturday at Culbreth Theatre and featured the work of student choreographers and performers.

Courtesy University of Virginia

Students, faculty members and guest artists have worked over the past few months to solidify all of the moving parts which must come together to create this semester’s Fall Dance Concert, which had performances from Thursday to Saturday in Culbreth Theatre. The concert, which is produced by the dance program of the University’s Department of Drama twice a year — once in the fall, and once in the spring — features the work of student choreographers and performers who work closely with department faculty members to bring their visions to the stage. 

This semester’s show featured six pieces, with concepts ranging from waves and undercurrents to the power of shared experience. Artistic Director Kim Brooks Mata, who has worked with the University’s dance program since 2011, is responsible for managing all of these distinct concepts and working to fit them into a cohesive arc for the audience. With less time than usual to hammer out all of the details of the show — the performance usually falls closer to Thanksgiving break — this concert proved particularly challenging, though Brooks Mata was confident in a strong show. 

“It’s been an accelerated process, but I am very proud of the work they’ve been able to do in a smaller amount of time,” Brooks Mata said. Due to these time constraints and the size of the performing group, the dynamic of the team was defined by their closeness. 

“The community of the dancers has been such a strong one — it’s great just seeing over the last several days how they’ve come together and the fact that they’re providing such a supportive environment,” Brooks Mata said. “This environment that they’re helping to generate and create is permitting them to take risks on stage, which is really beautiful to see.” 

In addition to the tight knit group of dancers, another unique aspect of this semester’s concert is the collaboration between lighting designers and student choreographers, a joint effort which has brought the two distinct disciplines of tech and performance together. 

“There’s lighting designers, there’s crew, there’s stage managers, there’s costumes, and thanks to all these different individuals involved that are both visible and invisible in the final production, it all comes together to make this happen,” Brooks Mata said. 

This semester, the two students who worked to choreograph their own pieces for the concert are fourth-year College student Erin Perry and fourth-year College student Carolyn Diamond. In addition to creating their own works, both are involved in the production as performers themselves. 

Spending about three hours a week per piece, Perry and Diamond ran their own rehearsals with the guidance of faculty members to help with the learning process. Each piece operated around a very distinct concept, which both choreographers worked to gradually develop. 

“It’s about self-image and how we perceive ourselves and not being satisfied with the reflection we see,” Perry said. “The dance is really about the accumulation of that frustration. It ends unresolved because it’s an ongoing process for a lot of people, and it encourages the audience be self-reflective.” 

Her piece, entitled “At the End of the Day…” integrated gestural and intricate movement with ideas of dynamic expansion and was just one aspect of Perry’s long history of involvement within the program. Starting the first semester of her first year, Perry has performed in every dance concert to date. 

“It was my way to really get involved with dance on Grounds and to find my group of people that I felt safe with, that I could be myself around, to just dance and have fun,” Perry said. 

Similarly, Diamond has also worked frequently with the program. Her piece, entitled “https://bit.ly/IqT6zt” — a play on the popular online trend of “rick rolling” — focuses on the ways in which we interact with and are ultimately distracted by social media. 

“I realized this summer that every time I thought I was spending time alone, I was really on my phone, just being on social media and not being present in the moment with myself,” Diamond said. Her piece, which features only two dancers, explores the relationship between a person and a distraction — at times playful, at times overwhelming. 

Alongside the students’ choreography, work by faculty members and guest artists was also featured. Even without a background knowledge of dance, there was something for everyone at the concert, as the department works to ensure that the performance material, though operating in an unfamiliar medium for many, is still accessible. 

“Sometimes, depending on audience members’ familiarity with the genre of modern and contemporary work, people can walk away with questions or feeling as though they don’t understand,” Brooks Mata said. “What I invite them to do is to just be open to the experience and allow themselves to resonate with things that feel really potent to them.”

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