A fond farewell: Graduating modern dancers display talents in final performance

The phrase tucked inside Angela Gagliardi’s production notes from this weekend’s modern dance performance read, “Every person has a story.”

This was evidenced by the weekend’s engagement, stories are meant to be told. Modern dance seniors propelled that thought with, “…A Little More Action,” the second segment of the graduating class of U modern dance seniors’ final performance. The performance brought reflection, feeling, voice and connectivity to members of the audience and showed that the lessons learned by these dancers in their tenure at the U have been well learned.

Prevalent tones of disassociation, guilt, harm, celebration and joy kept the attention of spectators fixed on the stage, and, at times, overwhelmed the audience with fits of laughter.

Choreographer Hank Sichley encouraged this attitude with his work, “Snips and Snails and Puppy Dog Tails.” Originally intended to be a piece performed by five dancers, Sichley downsized the work to a pertinent three dancer cast in an incredibly engaging story of isolation.

Text spoken by all three dancers, Jonathon Dimas, Matthew Grierson and Eric Hutton originated from questionnaires organized by Sichley probing the experience of junior high and high school students in the gym. After sifting through about 15 pages of responses, Sichley was given an intriguing insight into the feelings associated with the gym experience, and using essentials like dress and exercise, was able to appropriately represent the associative emotions through his trio of dancers. Particularly effective were Dimas and Hutton, at the front of the stage, jumping rope and speaking to the audience as the noticeably shorter Grierson struggled with entanglement in the background, ignored.

With the basic elements appropriately represented, Sichley poignantly demonstrated the meaning behind the experiences-how it feels to be chosen last, to be ignored, to be different and cast into a role of observation versus respective participation.

The dialogue, largely comedic, had certain audience members cackling boisterously enough to drown out the voices on stage.

However, the evening didn’t build its central theme solely on comedic social commentary.

“Illusions For Sale,” a piece by Corinne Penka, successfully brought a more somber, emotive dimension to the evening.

Taking text from Gledon Sarthout’s “Bless the Beasts and the Children,” and using a classroom blackboard and chalk as props for Ashley Jean’s lesson on the slaughter of the buffalo, Penka brought her piece vividly to life on the stage.

Penka found the text back in high school, thumbing through shelves, and recalled how potent its message was for her then-“I highlighted [the passage], later wanting to frame and memorize it.”

Carrying the text with her throughout her dance career, Penka needed an opportunity to bring the passage to fruition.

Penka worked extensively to allow for intimate companionship between text and movement after almost dismissing the project entirely in February. As it continued to develop, the result grew to include an alternative perspective to the nation’s most common, patriotic symbols: the Statue of Liberty, the American flag and the Bald Eagle, to name a few.

“Sweet Simplicity,” by Katie McConkie, successfully generated a feeling of innocent nostalgia, integrating the efforts of students from the special populations class at the Virginia Tanner School of Dance.

Gagliardi used five female dancers in her piece, “Her 6:30 p.m.,” introducing individual stories of collective significance, in a tangible, southern setting, with banjo and guitar accompaniment, proving beyond a shadow of a doubt that stories are indeed meant to be told.

Brandin Steffensen melded the vivid music of Ryoji Ikeda into an interesting plea titled, “Analog Persist,” attempting to portray a longing for the more organic and natural way of living our technologically advanced civilization seems to have forgotten.

All in all, the evening provided an appropriate farewell to the hard work and dedication of the senior class, whose talents and dedication will be missed, but remembered.

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