Eliza Going ’18
Assistant Arts Editor
“Memory of the Future: An Evening of Dance and Music” showcased world-recognized dancers in the Hallie Flanagan Studio Theater last Thursday through Saturday, April 14-16.
Directed by Smith Assistant Professors Chris Aiken and Angie Hauser, the show featured dancers Bebe Miller, Andrew Harwood and Jennifer Nugent, with music by Peter Jones and Smith lecturer Mike Vargas.
Ushers led audience members into the theater, where seating was arranged on either side of a white platform. As the lights dimmed, Aiken and Harwood stepped wordlessly onto the stage adorned lengthwise with rows of green plants.
Aiken and Harwood started out pressed against each other as one collective unit, mutually dependent for support and moving very slowly, with Jones playing sporadic notes on piano. In circular, curving and cyclic patterns they began to move faster, eventually breaking apart.
They played different roles: they seemed to be lovers at first, but then a great deal of acting was involved as they became babies, reptilian creatures writhing on the floor. Then they underwent an animalistic evolution, rising from the ground while their dance moved from slithering and slow to jumpy and fast. They stomped loudly and made great use of the space as emasculated animals.
The addition of acting roles and spoken lines to the work made it feel more like a scene. A woman, who was not credited as part of the cast, sat at a desk and played the part of the professor of a dance class. Her narrative lines were strange, and she used an ambiguous and clearly fake accent. She prompted Nugent and Hauser to embody the translation of the music that was playing, and the two dancers used rather simple patterns of movements to illustrate the quick tempo of the two layers of percussion. Then, asked to show the translation of the music, they danced dynamically, not repeating any moves. This time, the emotion came through.
Miller, Nugent and Hauser experimented with the idea of mimicry as they continued this piece. The music stopped, but Miller seemed to evoke a musical rhythm as she (ostensibly) improvised alone, as Nugent and Hauser watched her full-body bounce.
Hauser and Miller concluded this piece together, continuing the animal-like theme introduced in the first piece in a different way. Aiken and Harwood were heavy on their feet, making loud noises like those of a raging bull or rhinoceros; Hauser and Miller were quiet, fluttery birds or butterflies, playing up their arms, hands and fingers. They enveloped a visual and feminized version of what was seen as animal-like before.
An unusual intermission followed this piece. Aiken invited us to cross over bridges leading to the other side of the audience, and imagine this change in placement as a change of perspective as we watched the last part of the show.
Aiken and Hauser were clad in street clothes for their final piece. Vargas was on piano, but also rustled a plastic Old Navy bag temporarily. The dancers would feed off each other and then dance in solitude. It was unclear how much of this performance, as well as how much of the entire show, was improvisational.
When the dancers were so in sync, and the themes were so clear, it seemed impossible that they were coming up with their moves on the spot. But there were other times, particularly when they were looking at each other (maybe watching the other for an idea about what to do next), that their performances seemed less planned out.
My experience with dance consists of sporadic tap, ballet, and jazz classes I took when I was a kid, and the occasional “So You Think You Can Dance Best Auditions” YouTube search. I remembered my limited experience during the more nuanced parts of the performance woven with strange dance humor that went right over my head.
Nevertheless, it is undeniable that these talented, celebrated artists related to one another in a phenomenally creative and innovative way throughout the show. Their transition from choreographed to improvised dance was hazy and easy, speaking to their superb skill. It was a pleasure to watch.