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The Art of Dance at ECU

by Lisa Ellison
Guardian editor

ECU dancer Nichesa Jones, pictured above, was one of 13 selected as a cast member for the ECU performance of “Standing in Tears," set for March as part of the S. Rudolph Alexander Performing Arts Series. Credit: ECU News Services, Oct. 16, 2014.

ECU dancer Nichesa Jones, pictured above, was one of 13 selected as a cast member for the ECU performance of “Standing in Tears,” set for March as part of the S. Rudolph Alexander Performing Arts Series. Credit: ECU News Services, Oct. 16, 2014.

As I do many years, I attended East Carolina University’s College of Theater and Dance’s annual concert, Dance 2015 (that’s not it’s name every year, of course), in early February. As is often the case, I was struck by the excellent work happening there.

The best pieces were fully-formed creative visions using dancers well-trained to carry out those visions. Performance themes ranged from nuclear physics to examinations of a person’s psyche, social commentaries and explorations into group dynamics.

A dance performance is an inherently collaborative display, to a degree seldom found in other creative expression. The choreographer may have the overall vision, but it’s up to so many other people to make it happen. The dancers have to do their part, as must the costume designer, the lighting and sound designer and the scenic designers. The designers at ECU create professional-dance-company quality performances thanks to their talent and artistic insight.

Sometimes collaborations take an even stronger role. The music for Teal Darkenwald’s modern piece, Quantum, was composed in-house by Lighting and Sound Designer Erich Keil. Maybe it was the creative collaboration of this dance, realized in perfect unity between choreographer, composer and designers, that made me gasp, scrawling, “This is art,” in my program. (Read more about Darkenwald and Quantum here soon.)

The dance department’s creative and innovative strength really shines in the modern and jazz pieces. It is thrilling to see the layers of meaning created by dynamic movement, thoughtful placement and interesting juxtapositions of bodies with light and sound, while also recognizing the strength and training of the individual dancers behind it all.

ECU’s dance performances are not across-the-board brilliant. There’s a clear difference in the modern and jazz pieces when compared to the ballet and tap. The ballet dancers are well trained and technically sound, but they, the very same dancers who move with such grace, fluidity and oneness with the dance in the modern and jazz pieces, seem ungainly and at odds with the music, as if they are not part of the dance, but are merely doing the steps. It is a strange and unfortunate situation.

The tap is another problem altogether. It’s like being sent from a showcase of professionals to any small-town studio’s tap-dance recital. Please, no more medleys on Rock ‘n Roll music or the weather (or anything else). Please stop with the jazz hands and the nylon catalog costumes and the top hats. There is a wonderful world of tap dancing out there, and it’s not Broadway. A strong program in rhythm tap would increase the profile of the dance department tremendously.

I don’t mean to dampen the tone of my excitement for this production. I do love most of the work these artists are creating in the School of Theater and Design. If you like art and you’re not paying attention to their work, you’re missing out on something great that Greenville has to offer.

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One Response

  1. That’s too bad about the tap. It’s often treated like candy, flashy and gimmicky, without the introspection of modern and ballet choreography. Tap choreography can be as artful and sophisticated as other dance forms, and it seems like it would be treated as worthy of study as part of a respected university dance program.

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