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3: MFA Dance Concert

The work of these grad student dancemakers was as individual as it was thoughtful

Reviewed by Jonelle Seitz, Fri., March 16, 2012

Don't touch the third rail: Mari Akita (l) and Jude Hickey in Ellen Bartel's Watch the Gap
Don't touch the third rail: Mari Akita (l) and Jude Hickey in Ellen Bartel's "Watch the Gap"

3: MFA Dance Concert

B. Iden Payne Theatre
March 9

In their joint thesis concert, University of Texas Master's of Fine Arts in dance candidates Chell Parkins, Ellen Bartel, and Alvin Rangel showed work as individual as it was thoughtful and multilayered. Parkins' and Bartel's otherwise very different pieces shared a theme of humans being overtaken by their creations, while Rangel's study of queer tango was an ode to the dance and a metonym for Argentinean culture's acceptance of homosexuality.

As audiences entered the theatre, Parkins lay semireclined in a bedlike contraption center stage. When her solo, "Lilith," began, lights on the contraption and in her robotlike bodysuit flashed (costume by Erin Chmela and Haydee Antunano, lights by Eric Lara and Ryan Andrus), and she descended to perform yogic movements to atmospheric whispering overlaid by meditative arpeggios (sound design by Taylor Kirk). In mesmerizing video projected behind her, bright computerized sketches of human figures dutifully copied her. After she told a fairy-tale story about people overtaken by the technology they created, she returned to the contraption and attached herself to it, resulting in violent convulsions. Was she being charged, or was she charging something else? Either way, the quirky piece evoked questions about the ways we are plugged in.

In Bartel's "Watch the Gap," train commuters eventually became cogs – in the train itself but also in a larger force or machine. Set against Bartel's own video of a commuter- rail station and to music by Adam Sultan, nine dancers (Bartel herself did not dance) evoked a time-lapse scene of a train car as they scooted on their backsides and rotated positions. Later, clever merging of the video with the set (by Brandon Ariel) rendered the dancers miniature creatures existing below the platform, making curious, beautiful vignettes near the third rail. At the end of the work, simple vocalizations signaled the transformation from individual to machine.

Rangel's work was epic in scope: 100 years of tango was covered in "Tango Vesre" (vesre is a type of slang, sometimes used in tango lyrics, in which words are inverted). In the first section, set in 1910 and choreographed by Alejandro Cervera, Rangel and partner Ricardo Garcia grappled with maintaining distance despite tango's magnetism. Even in contemporary dance movements, Rangel perfectly harnessed his power and technique to embody tango's dichotomies: quiet yet explosive, sensual yet restrained. Historical video and a medley sung by Gerard Flores made the transition to 2010, the year Argentina legalized gay marriage. In their modern-day dance, choreographed by Rangel to live music by the Austin Piazzolla Quintet, Rangel and Garcia replaced angst with simple radiance. Finally, "real" tango dancers took the stage, a humble reminder that tango remains, as always, a dance belonging to the people.

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