UC Dancers gracefully meld styles

By MaryBeth Gronek

Why not watch 25 graceful dancers actually leap this leap year? This weekend, come watch the UC Dancers perform their annual performance, The Edge. Although this performance has an eclectic mix of dance styles, they all seem to fall under the jumbo-size umbrella of modern dance.

“The choreography in each piece is extremely different than the others,” said executive director Wendy Gonzalez. “All are modern dance, but are definitely very different.” Gonzalez is one of eight choreographers of this performance. She brings 15 years of tap, jazz, and modern-dance experience to UC Dancers. Her interactions with her dancers before the dress rehearsal began made it clear that her experience in dance strengthens her choreography and teaching ability. She is very aware of her dancers’ particular reactions and feedback to her choreography, as well as the rhythm of the piece in general.

For Gonzalez, choreography is not a simple, solitary job: “I’m always choreographing in my head every time I hear music, and there are certain steps that I always want to do. But there are a lot of times that I change the choreography when I see it on my dancers. Sometimes they’ll have an idea or they’ll do something that I think is a really interesting movement, and then I’ll turn that into something.” Her awareness of the interaction between the dancers and choreography is crucial—her number is the most polished and cohesive in the entire show.

As far as the dancing in general goes, there is a certain feel to UC Dancers that centers on individual expression. Sara Smithback, the artistic director, says that UC Dancers is a place where “everyone can dance, and everyone can express themselves.” This freedom of expression is unquestionably conveyed in all 11 pieces. Although the dancers clearly come from different backgrounds and skill levels, there are also some extremely talented dancers who perform with poise, refinement, and pizzazz. The aim of individual expression is definitely the most positive and memorable thing about this performance. No matter the skill level or amount of grace, each dancer makes every inward emotion known to the audience; the viewers feel included in their every thought and développé.

The theme of “The Edge” is almost deceptive in the fact that it insinuates that the pieces have a unifying factor. Though the pieces are very different from each other, this is not a shortcoming. “We use our themes very loosely,” Gonzalez said. Smithback agreed, adding that the theme is “there if people want to use it. But no one really clings to it. It’s optional.” The theme adds to the idea of personal expression and freedom in choreographing. It’s astonishing how unique each number is in relation to the others. The theme’s leniency allows the choreographers to give the audience a broad taste of the modern-dance genre.

Not all UC Dancers express themselves through physically dancing. Smithback, who’s been dancing for 13 years, is not performing in this show due to injury. This, however, seems to be a blessing in disguise for the show’s choreography. “It’s all about communication and how you say it,” Smithback said of her choreography. “You have to say things 12 different times in 12 different ways. You have to use outrageous metaphors for what your motivation is. Another hard thing is getting the dancers to see what they’re doing, getting them to see what you’re seeing. You have to use different devices like mirrors and camcorders in order to hit it home.”

Her inability to take the stage this quarter also allows her to strengthen the show by assisting the other choreographers. “I focus most on the pieces where the choreographer is dancing in it. Because when you’re in the piece, it’s hard to see what it looks like. I’m an extra set of eyes for the choreographers,” she said.

This extra sets of eyes goes a long way when it comes to improving the show. Smithback is happy with how everything has turned out for this year’s show: “I love everybody in the show. They are so beautiful, and I’m so proud of them. I think it’s definitely a much stronger show than last year. It’s much more exciting.”

So this weekend, grand jeté your way over to the Bartlett Arts Rehearsal Space for the UC Dancers’ winter show. With choreography to a wide variety of musicians including the Decemberists, David Bowie, and John Mayer, there is bound to be a song-and-dance style that piques your interest. And really, what better way to celebrate leap year than, well, leaping—or watching a room full of people elegantly do so.