Maya’s “Beacon” Sheds Light on Interpretive Dance

Maya’s winter show embraces ambiguity and abstraction.

By Nick Ogilvie

The program offered few clues: a simple act list, a selection of provocative quotes, and nothing much in between.

The name of Maya’s latest show, Beacon, was specifically chosen for its ambiguity. Fourth-years Christine Chin and Crystal Ma, artistic directors of the campus fusion dance group, explained that a beacon can either guide or warn—a lighthouse or an alarm. A series of 14 original pieces, Beacon ran for three shows from January 6-7 in Logan’s Theater West. 

Throughout its run, seven student choreographers explored this liminal space: It was never clear who or what or where the audience was. The ambient beach noise between acts and occasional blue lighting suggested the sea. But where were the dancers leading the audience: to the rocks or to the shore?

Some may wonder how interpretive dance fits into modern culture. It’s always been abstract—something ethereal, less tangible. Hip-hop or ballet, meanwhile, respond to concrete narratives or traditions. While Beacon included musical elements familiar to the audience—EDM and folk, for example—these elements were secondary to the unfamiliar. 

The dancing itself was a unique blend of contemporary, cheerleading lifts, and stepping, grafted onto foundational ballet. It flowed—point and counterpoint, synchronization and syncopation, unison and harmony. Yet as soon as tangibility began to emerge, meaning disappeared again in a twirl.

The performance embraced a strong minimalistic aesthetic, both in design and execution. Dancers glided in subdued colors, lit elegantly against a billowing off-white backdrop. What few props there were felt like extensions of the design, chosen to blend in with the surroundings. The square thrust of the Theater West stage wrapped the audience around the performance, encouraging them to embrace, to interact, to engage. 

From an initial flicker, Beacon crescendoed into an abstract light. From the shimmering variety of the first act, the second act returned distant and unclear. But as the dancers started to build towards a stronger and more unified coda, and more and more clips of human voices started to ring through the music, one thing suddenly became clear: This Beacon, whatever it was, whatever it may be, was leading the audience somewhere