Saturday, May 7, 2016

To dance with wild abandon

Joel Davila and Nedda Tehrany in Johnson's previous work.

By Anne Wharton

Austin Community College’s Spring 2016 Choreographers’ Showcase opens with brightly colored polka dots splashed behind twirling ribbons, gyrating hula hoops and delightful acrobatics. Darla Johnson’s newest work, Balter* Party Throw Down, is all color and blithesome movement. Her piece pulls the audience into an evening of exploration, comedy, narrative and abstract movement.

Ten ACC dance composition students premiere works ranging from Nico Locke’s postmodern cavort through faerie woodland to Ryan Parent’s contemporary exploration of constellations. Locke and Ryan are veteran choreographers on the Rio Grande Campus Mainstage Theater, but newcomers like Lillian Gerrity also add their voice to the evening. 

Lillian Gerrity lifting Lindsey Gerson in Johnson's previous work.

“It was an emotionally interesting process of starting, stopping and backtracking,” Gerrity says about her first time choreographing for the showcase. A former performer in Darla Johnson’s workshop class, Gerrity wanted to continue studying under Johnson and signed up for dance composition. “It grows you a lot when you have to be that emotionally vulnerable,” she says. “You have to channel your emotions through the need for technique and structure; creating something within a recognized art form. I came away with a better understand of how to do that,” she says.

Joel Davila also presents work for the first time on the Mainstage Theater for the showcase. His piece, A Look Inside, is a constant ebb and flow of contact, partnering and structured shapes. “I was never worried about the process,” he says. “I could go into rehearsals without a concrete idea and just ask the dancers to improvise while thinking about something or using specific tools, and then I would throw that into the dance.” 

Professor Roxy Gage setting the bow on the full cast for the spring 2016 showcase.

Improvisation is the equalizing factor for the dance department’s open-door policy. It allows technical dancers to mentor those with less experience while everyone explores and creates new patterns together. “There really is a lot of variation in dance experience,” Parent said about the dancers in his piece. “I worked with people who hadn’t done a lot of modern dance partnering before.” 

Choreographing at ACC allows Parent to mentor students while also challenging himself and others to grow. “You don’t want to do the things you already know how to do,” Parent says. The fun is finding out you can do things you didn’t know how to do. 

Nico Locke in a previously choreographed solo.

Locke’s challenge for the showcase was breaking away from his more serious work as a choreographer to try his hand at a lighter piece. His dance, Faeries are Love?, incorporates entrance bloopers, comedic sound effects, dialogue pointed at the audience, Shakespeare references and a smidgeon of singing. “People think modern and contemporary work is about angst or being serious. I wanted to challenge myself to create something that reflected my personality,” Locke says. 

And that’s the strength of the Austin Community College Spring 2016 Choreographers' Showcase – reflecting personality onstage. It’s a beautiful mesh of faeries, epic journeys, cheesy romance stories and cheeky adventures in Paris. But it’s also the tapestry of new dancers and experienced dancers coming together with open minds and the courage to be vulnerable together in the name of dance. 

*Balter: to dance with wild abandon.

For tickets and more information about the showcase, visit the ACC Dance Facebook Page.

Photos by Anne Wharton.

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