Dance Repertory Theatre

Finding a pathway to grace after getting that diploma

<i>Blurred Boundaries</i>
Blurred Boundaries (Photo courtesy of Brenda O'Brian)

Where are you going? What do you want? How are you going to get there?

Basic questions for moving across a stage or moving through life – and the two mix in "More," the third section of a work that choreographer Andrea Beckham has developed with students in the University of Texas Department of Theatre & Dance for the Dance Repertory Theatre spring program Physical Language. Beckham was looking at a large number of dancers in the troupe this semester (28, the most dance majors the department has ever had), and with a fair number of them being seniors, she was mindful of the fact that for some this would be the final performance before they embarked on their careers – a step about which they were understandably anxious. So as she set about developing the concluding section of Blurred Boundaries, a dance on which she was collaborating with fellow faculty member and co-Artistic Director of DRT, Yacov Sharir, Beckham found a way to address that.

The dance was devised around an immense set-piece designed by longtime local visual artist John Christensen. Thirty feet tall, the sculptural work resembles a giant comb, with four pillars descending from the same raised block and three tall openings among them. Since these spaces are large enough to move through, the sculpture can also be seen as a kind of gate. The sheer size of it draws you to stand between those columns, says Beckham, "and it makes you feel like you're on your own pathway and that you have to carve out where you're going and how you're going to get there." With that in mind, she began working with the students to develop movement phrases inspired by that idea.

The gestures they came up with included "crawl on your belly like a reptile" and "claw your way through a primitive jungle," as well as a "warrior" phrase described by Beckham as: "You don't let anybody get in your way, and you don't let anything stop you." Each dancer has been able to translate those phrases into movements in his or her own way – "That section is very much focused on individual interpretation," says Beckham – but all embody the determination that Beckham believes is essential for young artists seeking to make their passion a profession. "Something I've been talking about a lot with the students is: You've got to be talented, you've got to be hungry, but most of all, you've got to show up on a regular and daily basis, and it's the practice and the process more than the performance," says Beckham. "You've got to love it. If you don't love the work, this is not a field for you; you will not be an artist."

Those driving, forceful phrases aren't all there is to the dance, however. Beckham has also included a phrase in which she says, "things are beginning to flow," with movement like "water on the floor or wind in the air." The idea, she says, is "inspiring the dancers to feel like they can flow from one place on the stage to another, from their past into their future, that movement is the pathway to grace."

For the seniors in this production, that's a lovely note on which to end their undergraduate careers. But it's an even better lesson that they can carry with them wherever they're going and however they choose to get there.


Dance Repertory Theatre presents Physical Language March 4-6, Friday, 8pm; Saturday, 2 & 8pm; Sunday, 2pm, at the B. Iden Payne Theatre, 23rd & San Jacinto. For more information, call 471-5793 or visit www.finearts.utexas.edu/tad.

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

Dance Repertory Theatre, Physical Language, Andrea Beckham, Yacov Sharir

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