’12 Dancers Dancing’: The reason for the season

Cambridge Dance Company in '12 Dancers Dancing'. Photo by Katrina Hill, Images by the Hill.
Cambridge Dance Company in '12 Dancers Dancing'. Photo by Katrina Hill, Images by the Hill.

The Dance Complex, Cambridge, Massachusetts.
December 10, 2017.

“The holidays”. It’s become somewhat of a vague term, hasn’t it? The month of December, with the celebrations of Hanukkah, Christmas and Kwanzaa. Does it include Thanksgiving and New Year’s? Socio-political and ideological squabbles put it all into tension as well. Earlier and earlier every year, corporations tell us what to buy this year for our loved ones. Amidst all this, we can understandably lose sight of what this season is really about – gratitude, spending time with loved ones and reflection.

Yet the joy, wisdom and social connection that dance can provide can bring us back to those important values, and through that re-connect us to the true reason for the season. 12 Dancers Dancing commendably worked toward this through 14 unique works of dance art, featuring 56 dancers, all under the direction of Honey Blonder. All works had some connection to the holidays. For the sake of balancing due depth and nuance with brevity, this review will focus on four of those works.

Forty Steps Dance Company in '12 Dancers Dancing'. Photo by Katrina Hill, Images by the Hill.

Forty Steps Dance Company in ’12 Dancers Dancing’. Photo by Katrina Hill, Images by the Hill.

The third work in the first act, “Holiday Cheer”, danced by The Rainbow Tribe and choreographed by various artists, was 100 percent joy and fun. A large ensemble in red and green offered smooth hip hop and jazz-idiom movement. Moments of “breaking” and wow-worthy leaps to the floor brought audience cheers. There were even “right on leg” fouetté turns. Clean, crisp unison sections kept us captivated. Knees swerved in and out, and torsos rolled.

Yes, there was all of this technical definition and difficulty, but the piece was far more about having unbridled fun.

It was a wild holiday party played out in dance. In this perspective, there being different sections of very varied movement vocabulary makes sense. In one group of people, there can be vast diversity. It was more than just in movement as well; at certain lines in the music (such as “let’s get ridiculous!”), the dancers vocalized “Uoh-uoh!” It was impossible not to smile, and even laugh, joining in these dancers’ joy. Their every cell, from quick feet to wide smiles, were filled with it.  

Two dances later came “Cease”, from Heather Bryce Dance Company (choreographed by Heather Bryce). As lights rose, two groups inched out toward each other, crouched at a low level. One wore faded blues, the other shades of forest green. Small steps forward turned into small steps back. These diagonal facings turned into other diagonal facings and oppositional placements (such as in levels). The spatial tension was palpable to one’s very skin.  

There was also so much richness, yet at the same time so much clarity. Technical movement blended with more pedestrian movement such that defining them as either didn’t matter. It was all simply stunning. From lifts in horizontal, dancers on others’ backs with easy extensions, to moments of backbending and thrashing movement, there was so much wonder for the eyes to gather. Overall, it was a pared-down, and through that more universal, way of portraying the Christmas Day Ceasefire of 1914. Although there was certainly tension, the two groups shared space, and ultimately some sort of harmony by the end – before heading back to their corners, the status quo before contact.

Kinetic Synergy Dance Company offered a powerful ensemble piece with “It’s That Time of Year” (the fourth of the second act). Choreographically, it was clever re-forming of a few relatively simple phrases – an effective strategy with a large ensemble, to keep everything looking clean and cohesive. Ball change went into sweeping battement à la seconde to land smoothly. Forearms then joined, almost a gesture of prayer, to then open with an assured softness. They executed this, and other signature phrases, in many different formations – an inner and outer circle, lines going from upstage to downstage but facing into the wings, and more. Simple costumes of short dresses in a muted gold perfectly matched the feeling this movement built.

There was virtuosity as well, particularly in a few small group sections. More apparent, however, and arguably more meaningful, was the overall passion and energy behind the movement. There seemed to a be a restlessness, the movement and formation shifting continuous. This feeling softened with an ending tableau, for the first time the dancers grouped together and facing the audience. They found unity and harmony, things we can all hope to experience during the holidays.

Sydni Jiang in '12 Dancers Dancing'. Photo by Katrina Hill, Images by the Hill.

Sydni Jiang in ’12 Dancers Dancing’. Photo by Katrina Hill, Images by the Hill.

“Dance of The Sugar Plum Fairy” from Project 31 closed the show, a fun contemporary and ensemble take on this iconic Nutcracker variation. The score was a “beat-box” acapella cover on that variation’s famous score. Ballet, jazz and hip hop movement all contributed to the joyful, energetic and quick movement. Lighting-fast footwork, bourrées with arms in fifth position en haut and deep pliés with flexed palms all lived together in harmony. There was a strong soloist, Grace Czajak, with endless lines and powerful turns.

Yet the ensemble seemed just as important to the work as she; it wasn’t “about” her. She allowed for further choreographic exploration and offerings, adding on to what was possible with the ensemble. All dancers were powerful and confident, yet also demonstrated a gracious humility and true “team player” spirit. This gets at a fundamental tension in modern life – that between individuality and conformity, one we may feel during the holidays more than ever.

Just as this work demonstrated that we can update the classics while still honoring them, we can also work toward balancing how we diverge from and how we join with others. As we’re busy shopping and wrapping, baking and cooking, partying and traveling this holiday season, let’s remember these truths. Balance is possible, and – when it all comes down to it – love, compassion and unity are what it’s really all about. Happy Holidays to all of these insightful, courageous artists, and to all.

By Kathryn Boland of Dance Informa.

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