Monday, July 4, 2011

Tunics on Dagoba

What would Isadora Duncan have thought of last weekend’s premiere performances by Dagoba Dance? Certainly she would have supported the mission of Big Range Austin Dance Festival, which annually produces several programs of shows featuring choreography by both emerging and established dance artists. But, I’m not sure how she would have responded to the Dance Carousel format—a sampling of short dances presented by ten choreographers, showing one minute of material at a time. And while Duncan may have appreciated the epic and archetypal nature of Star Wars, I’m not sure if she would have viewed it as appropriate subject matter for the dance.

Nevertheless, last weekend I premiered a new piece as part of Dagoba Dance in the Dance Carousel portion of the Big Range Austin Dance Festival. In 2007, I danced as part of a trio choreographed by Michelle Nance, an Erik Hawkins trained dancer and faculty member at Texas State, and out of that collaboration came an image of the planet Dagoba from Star Wars, a muddy, mucky, and murky environ. This spring, Michelle had the idea of presenting material as Dagoba Dance and spoofing on the familiar Star Wars theme—an entire commentary on the art of modern dance emerged!

A multi-media collaboration, Dagoba Dance featured music from Moscow guitarist Max Rotschild and dance for the camera sequences crafted by Ana Baer Carrillo.  The four pieces, “Marthleia” (Michelle Nance), “Robots” (Kaysie Seitz Brown), “Leia Noces” (Meg Brooker), and “WompRats” (Caroline Sutton Clark), each spun from a recognizable Star Wars theme or quote. The first piece juxtaposed iconic (and caricatured) movements from Graham dances with a textual narrative introducing the Dance Wars. The second piece featured images of tunic-draped free movement via video contrasted by a cardboard costumed robot berating her metallic body.

I choreographed the third piece, a trio which played off the “Help me…You’re my only hope” line, by pairing the furtive and secretive projected recording of Leia pleading for help with a stoic and severe choreographic reference to the Nijinska ballet Les Noces.  The link here not only jabbed at Leia’s famous braids and the braids-become-bondage metaphor enacted in the Nijinska interpretation of the marriage ritual, but also at the long versus short hair metaphor that characterizes the hierarchy between the ballet corpse and soloists or between bunheads in general and modern dancers.

Closing Dagoba Dance’s offering of four sections, and the entire show for that matter, was the “WompRats,” choreographed by the ever-witty Caroline Sutton Clark.  Skulking through the WompRat Basic, a trio of dancers donned rat masks and bore the bombardment of Nerf balls fired by eager audience members. Now how many years of dance training and performance does it take to pull off something like that?