Berkeley Dance Project fosters communities during annual showcase

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On Saturday, the Berkeley Dance Project staged the third performance of its annual showcase of Bay Area dance talent. The showcase, which took on the theme of community, pulled from a variety of sources, from student dance groups — such as Maya at Cal and the Fei Tian dancers —  to campus theater, dance and performance studies, or TDPS, students, alumni and faculty.

“Com. De/vices,” the first piece of the night, choreographed by Erik Lee, sought to highlight the paradoxes within technology, an entity that seems to leave people both more connected and more disconnected than ever. The performance made use of a diverse music selection, including Brian Eno’s “1/1” and Erykah Badu’s “Telephone” and “Mr. Telephone Man,” as well as peculiar costumes, each dancer in a black costume piped with metallic lining. While the dance piece itself was engaging, with dancers integrating elements of techno/hip-hop fusion into modern dance, it failed to say anything particularly relevant or pressing about the evolving and unstable relationship between man and machine.

The centerpiece and highlight of the performance was “Cycle,” choreographed by TDPS department chair Lisa Wymore. A clear concern of the night was the question of accessibility and performance. For the Feb. 22 performance, each audience member had the option of accessing the assisted listening devices that would offer descriptive audio of the pieces being performed. The performance also offered an ASL interpreter for each piece. For “Cycle,” however, all audience members were treated to a poetic reimagining of descriptive audio with verses explaining the performance in naturalistic terms. Dancers were envisioned as trees, stones and petals. The costuming and lighting, by Wendy Sparks and Jack Carpenter respectively, only furthered this delicate depiction of dancer as nature with loose silks in bright colors and soft lighting that changed according to the voice-over.

The Berkeley Dance Project also traveled across cultures with performances such as “East and West: The Fusion of Two Cultures,” through Maya at Cal, and “Equinox,” with the help of the Fei Tian Dancers. “Equinox,” choreographed by Michelle Lin, took a traditional approach to Chinese dance, with the use of props like the water sleeve, sword, parasol and fan. The piece, which portrayed the first four solar terms of the spring, dazzled with exacting choreography and beautiful pink and blue ombre costumes. In contrast, “East and West: The Fusion of Two Cultures” integrated Indian classical dance with American pop culture with dances to Indian inspired versions of “Swalla,” “Despacito” and the “Game of Thrones” theme music.

“Aftershocks,” with choreography by Joyce Chan, brought a dystopian vision of modernity to the stage. In dirty tan jumpsuits, Chan, with the help of dancer Jeze Fabijanic, depicted a constant grappling between freedom and dependence. The thesis of the performance came at the end, when the two women alternated carrying one another across the stage. At first, Chan pulled her body downstage as Fabijanic clung to her side and then, seamlessly, Fabijanic’s feet had hit the ground and it was now Chan helpless, flung over the body of another.

The final piece of the evening, “We: United in Belonging,” choreographed by Latanya d. Tigner, depicted the evolution into community. The piece moved from a disconnected machine, all motion and purpose marching through a light-up grid, to the dancers standing together and sharing weight among each other at the foot of the stage.

Each of the seven performances in the Berkeley Dance Project offered insight into a different aspect of the multifaceted meaning of community, highlighting both the beauty and discomfort inherent in the prospect.

Contact Kate Tinney at [email protected]. Tweet her at @katetinney.