At “Barnard/Columbia Dances @ Miller Theatre,” dancers explored a range of human emotions and interactions through narrative dance.
Each spring, “Barnard/Columbia Dances” gives student dancers an opportunity to work with world-renowned choreographers to develop and execute a program of pieces that include world premieres and restagings of iconic dance works. This year’s show, performed on April 13 and 14, included two premieres from Lacina Coulibaly and Brian Reeder, a restaging of Mark Morris’ “The Office,” and a performance of Barnard Associate Professor of Professional Practice in Dance Colleen Thomas’ critically acclaimed piece, “Catching Her Tears.”
Reeder’s “The Step,” choreographed in collaboration with the Barnard dancers performing it, was a spirited exploration of group dynamics. The eight dancers, each wearing a black tracksuit covered in neon index cards, alternated between stiff group movement and fluid solos and duos alongside a jazzy track reminiscent of a silent film. Periods of order and chaos melded together as dancers changed their movements to slightly diverge from the rest of the group, and the intricacies of the crisscrossing paths took impressive precision on the part of each dancer.
“The Office” explored the dynamics in a group as well, but in a more defined narrative setting. Dancers were led offstage, one by one, from the waiting room of an office and away from the group by an austere woman in a suit. Each removal fractured the fragile group dynamic, forcing the group of waiting women to reconfigure their motions and emotions every few minutes as their group continuously shrank. A growing sense of unity and desperation pervaded the dance as it went on. Moments of stark silence gave way to increasingly energetic dances as well as an increasing amount of reliance on fellow dancers. By the final three dancers left on stage, each one clung to the others, unwilling to abandon the temporary social circle they had created.
As if picking up where “The Office” left off, Coulibaly’s piece, “I Dan-Sa...Kill Your Limit,” explored the interactions between bodies in its second half with slow, precise movements. The dance seemed to be split into two parts, with the first half marked by more rhythmic and energetic choreography and the second half languid and with more interaction between dancers. However, both halves were joined by the dance’s prominent motif of a scooped, swaying arm and by the dramatic lighting, contrasting the dancers’ bright costumes. The dancers’ movements in the second half of the performance were almost voyeuristic in their intimacy, with individuals collapsing into each other, allowing themselves to be completely supported by their fellow performers.
The final piece of the night, Thomas’ “Catching Her Tears,” was perhaps the most visually stunning, as dancers carried bright lights in their mouths and hands, creating constellations with their bodies. Christopher Lancaster, the composer of the original score for “Catching Her Tears,” performed the elegiac cello song live alongside the dancers, strengthening the interplay of the choreography and music. The performance both defied gravity and respected it as dancers leaped over each other at moments and held themselves parallel to the ground in others. The creative use of lighting, not just with the dancers’ carried lights but the single bare lightbulb at the back of the stage, that served as a focal point during emotionally charged solos, integrated every aspect of the performance into a cohesive sensory experience.
“Barnard/Columbia Dances” gives some of the undergraduate community’s most talented dancers a chance to shine under the tutelage of renowned choreographers. Over the weekend, their thoughtful and compelling investigation of interpersonal dynamics in dance was captivating from start to finish.