Student Dance Takes a Stand

UCI’s “New Slate” protests life’s inequities

Somewhere deep inside UC Irvine—pastmanicured parks and cement-strangled trees—the heart of protest still beats. Not among the engineers, social scientists or lit majors, perhaps, but definitely in the choreographers. While the majority of the student body keeps its heads down and grades up, nine graduate student dance majors next week will protest inequality, religious segregation, superficiality, and unfair foreign policies in Mexico and, of course, Iraq.

Amy Sennett, 33, is one of the nine who will present a piece in “New Slate,” a display of their choreography. Her work is What’s Yours Is Mine, seven and a half minutes of dance she choreographed to the catchy, kitschy music of an old Betty Crocker commercial. “I was looking at how American society seems to be obsessed with getting more things, bigger things, better things, more expensive things,” she says, “How they are constantly not happy with what they have and they have to see what other people have and why they don’t have it.” The six dancers in her piece use stools as status symbols, comparing and swapping, a trade she likens to IKEA on a Saturday. “It’s like a madhouse—people are just like, ‘It’s Saturday and it’s beautiful, so let’s get more stuff,’” she says.

Hers isn’t the only piece to explore societal pressure; Turkish-born grad student Onur Topal, 25, created a work for seven dancers about self-imposed prisons. “The weight of our own selves, weight of our soul, responsibilities, awareness or dis-awareness to the events going around all over the world,” Topal explains. Using the toying beats of electronica and the ney (flute) by Tolga Unaldi, Topal portrays the superficial human as untouchable, with nothing but air inside—“Like a bubble,” she says, “Or that feeling when you dream, when you feel like you fall from your bed.”

During a rehearsal in Studio 1140, dance professors Alan Terricciano, Donald McKayle and Loretta Livingston look on as student choreographer Rachel Lopez’s eight women practice in formation, singing a Sanskrit chant. With silver bracelets jangling from their wrists, and using their feet to create the sound of thunder, Lopez’s women channel nomads, using their bodies to make music. They “huh” and “woosh” and swoop across the floor, hands extended outward, pinwheeling from the center, layering into formations and generally evoking weather moods and patterns—hence the title of Lopez’s piece: Women in Winter.

“It’s about listening to the earth. It’s a storm, because we haven’t been in tune with the earth,” Lopez says. Later, the women worship, re-creating a Quaker circle ceremony and a Muslim washing ritual and singing a Hebrew lullaby. Lopez, 31, says she deliberately selected eight dancers from diverse backgrounds for her cast. One has red Botticelli curls; another is an athletic blonde; a third is a lanky African-American; a fourth a pale creature who looks positively aristocratic.

“I thought that by picking people from different cultures but presenting them as one group, as a group of sisters, [I] could convey the idea that even though we are really different, we are the same,” Lopez says. Her professor, Livingston, has been watching and observes, “Some dances just have a singing soul.” This makes Lopez smile.

NEW SLATE: UCI GRADUATE STUDENT CHOREOGRAPHY, UC IRVINE, WINIFRED SMITH HALL, IN THE ARTS PLAZA, AT WEST PELTASON AND MESA DRIVES, IRVINE, ?(949) 824-2787. THURS.-FRI., DEC. 1-2, 8 P.M.; SAT., 2 & 8 P.M. $9-$11.

 
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