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Dancing with scissors 

The 41st annual concert from Cal Poly's Orchesis Dance Company, Shift, gets experimental

- JUMPING INTO PUDDLES :  Orchesis Dance Company presents works by student, faculty, and guest artists, set to music from the likes of Sigur Rós, George Gershwin, Death Cab for Cutie, Beethoven, Ella Fitzgerald, and Estonian composer Arvo Pärt. -  - PHOTO BY AMBER THOMPSON
  • PHOTO BY AMBER THOMPSON
  • JUMPING INTO PUDDLES : Orchesis Dance Company presents works by student, faculty, and guest artists, set to music from the likes of Sigur Rós, George Gershwin, Death Cab for Cutie, Beethoven, Ella Fitzgerald, and Estonian composer Arvo Pärt.

Rock beats scissors, but paper beats rock. Logically, paper should beat scissors—but that doesn’t make any sense.

Diana Stanton, director of Orchesis Dance Company, understands the conundrum well: “No matter how good you get, there’s always somebody better than you, so you might as well just not have attitude.”

Stanton choreographed “Rock Paper Scissors,” the opening piece of Orchesis’ upcoming concert, Shift. “Scissors,” Stanton said, describes the futility of trying to be the best. The director of local company Variable Velocity, Stanton has a background as a competitive gymnast and wanted to do “something obsessive” to explore the concept of competition. Her thoughts fell on the schoolyard game, in its deceptive simplicity, as a perfect metaphor.

The piece began to fall into place, beginning with three groups of dancers, their movements representing the “elemental energies” of each of the game’s components.

“The rock was weighted, grounded, and round,” she said. “The paper was very fluid in its ability to move, and the scissors were, of course, very precise and sharp.”

Stanton’s dancers wear black cocktail dresses, their fine attire barely concealing their primitive drive to one-up one another.

“Rock Paper Scissors,” set to part of Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata,” is one of many original pieces presented by students, faculty members, and guest choreographers in this year’s Orchesis concert.

click to enlarge NEAR-SYMMETRY :  It’s Orchesis’ 41st year, and Stanton and Co. are trying a few new things, like incorporating film into dance. Pictured are some dancers from the company. - PHOTO BY KIEL CARREAU
  • PHOTO BY KIEL CARREAU
  • NEAR-SYMMETRY : It’s Orchesis’ 41st year, and Stanton and Co. are trying a few new things, like incorporating film into dance. Pictured are some dancers from the company.

Inspiration for the pieces varies greatly. Take third year biology student Misty Moyle’s number, “Breathe,” a statement against sexual assault, choreographed to a piece of slam poetry written by third year engineering student Megan McIntyre.

Mechanical engineering major Aimee Warner presents “Drift,” set to the beautifully wistful “Hoppípolla”—a song whose title literally means “jumping into puddles”—by Icelandic band Sigur Rós. Business major Danielle Dahlerbruch’s “Erased” addresses the difficulty of freeing oneself from a loved one’s destructive influence. Set to Ella Fitzgerald’s “Cry Me a River,” McKenna Friend’s “Sleepin’ Single Like We Do” is a stylized jazz piece stirring up heady themes of “confusion, jealousy, and inhibition.”

Coming from a school with no dance major, the student choreographers’ work is especially commendable. But it isn’t all Shift has to offer.

Christopher Vo of the Lar Lubovich company presents “De Profundis,” and Yannis Addinou, featured dancer of the LINES Ballet and founder of the company KUNST-STOFF, presents the visually stunning “Pursuance/A Love Supreme.” Southern California choreographer Mike Esperanza’s “Portrait,” said Stanton, “is about mourning and grief—but it’s done with Death Cab for Cutie music. So it’s very athletic, very upbeat.”

Orchesis founder Dr. Moon Ja Minn Suhr’s contribution, “The Dying Swan,” is a re-staging of Mikhail Fokine’s historic dance from 1905. The piece was originally choreographed to highlight the skill and drama of famed dancer Anna Pavlova. Suhr re-staged it for dancer Alexia Beghi, who takes the stage solo, accompanied by footage of Pavlova.

- PAPER TAKES ROCK:  Cal Poly Orchesis Dance Company’s Shift premiers Jan. 28 at 8 p.m. at the Alex and Faye Spanos Theatre. Tickets cost $13 for the public and $10 for students. The show runs Jan. 28 to 29 and Feb. 3 to 5 at 8 p.m.; a 2 p.m. matinee is scheduled for Jan. 30. Call SLO-ARTS (756-2787) or visit pacslo.org for tickets. -
  • PAPER TAKES ROCK: Cal Poly Orchesis Dance Company’s Shift premiers Jan. 28 at 8 p.m. at the Alex and Faye Spanos Theatre. Tickets cost $13 for the public and $10 for students. The show runs Jan. 28 to 29 and Feb. 3 to 5 at 8 p.m.; a 2 p.m. matinee is scheduled for Jan. 30. Call SLO-ARTS (756-2787) or visit pacslo.org for tickets.

The most experimental part of the production is, by far, its finale, a feat that required more than a year’s planning and the cooperation of the university’s relatively new liberal arts and engineering studies program. In the fall of 2010, engineering studies teacher David Gillette’s class shot and edited a short film on the Cal Poly campus featuring dancers breaking out into spontaneous movement. That film, projected on three screens on the Spanos Theatre’s stage, will become part of the final performance, with the dancers on the stage mirroring and reacting to the dancers on the screen.

In an age when humans are spending more hours than ever training their eyes on electronic screens, the dance is a way to marry live performance with its 2D counterpart, the spontaneous with the carefully edited, pixels with flesh and blood.

Of course, the piece could turn out to be total chaos, Stanton conceded. At the time of our interview, she had yet to see the live dance and film together.

“The finale project is new and experimental,” Stanton said. “I would say, come and see what happens—because we don’t really know.”

Arts Editor Anna Weltner knows that volcano beats rock, paper, and scissors. Contact her at aweltner@newtimesslo.com.

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