Dance Repertory Theatre's 2019 Fall for Dance

In works ranging from tender to tense, the student dancers in the UT Department of Theatre & Dance embodied the spirit of "I can do anything"


Dancers in Renaissance Futura (Photo by Lawrence Peart)

"I can do anything."

The line was sung as a dozen women, all of them students in the University of Texas Department of Theatre & Dance, were tearing up the stage of the B. Iden Payne Theatre. Inspired and energized, each dancer embodied that lyric's unstoppable spirit, every movement a vigorous expression of confidence in her abilities and her potential realized.

The dance had begun with a woman in a ruffed collar reading from a traditional history text about the Renaissance arising from the Dark Ages, but these women weren't having it. They noted how this was a history of men, by men, and for men, and a Renaissance that benefited males exclusively. Some dancers read aloud current news stories reporting violence against women, a sign that, for women, it's still the Dark Ages. So they called for a 21st century rebirth and overtook the stage as if it were the world. Assuming their rightful place, these sisters proved they could do anything, starting at the beginning: They re-created The Creation of Adam by Michelangelo with a female God extending Her finger to the first woman's, and reset Leonardo da Vinci's The Last Supper with a table full of women, including a female Christ. In this Renaissance Futura, choreographed by Dance Repertory Theatre co-Artistic Director Gesel Mason, women danced on tables, clapped, chanted, and spun across the stage like a collective whirlwind, owning the space.

That piece may have been the only one in this year's Fall for Dance concert in which the idea of being able to do anything was stated explicitly, but the sentiment echoed throughout the program, even as it veered from the sweetness of young romance to the terror of an Amber Alert abduction to Soviet oppression during the lifetime of Dmitri Shostakovich.

In the blissful Nostalgia, guest choreographer Elijah Alhadji Gibson had two dancers fall for each other. Avery Moore and Khorii Tinson were a study in contrasts – the former white, the latter black; Moore a head taller than Tinson – but their carefree movements and the way they beamed at each other made clear that they knew nothing could stand in the way of their love. And seeing them dance slowly with Tinson standing on Moore's feet, then leaping up and wrapping her legs around Moore's waist bespoke a tenderness that belongs especially to young lovers.

In have you seen me?, which Tinson choreographed, the show opened on a powerful note of dread: blasting an Amber Alert as dancers lying on the stage stared into the glow of what looked to be cell phone screens. From that too-familiar, adrenaline-activating start, Tinson sustained a high level of intensity, having dancers struggle, kick, and run, at times from other dancers clad in black with masks over their faces, in the deep shadows and red backdrops of Amber Whatley's moody lighting. But even in all the darkness, Tinson seeded a belief in reclaiming the missing, a possibility of breaking free and returning to the light.

Escape felt less likely in Sinfonia, a revised version of a work that DRT co-Artistic Director Dorothy O'Shea Overbey had shown in town previously. The musicians of Austin Camerata, who ringed the stage and periodically strolled among the dancers, stood in for the omnipresent Soviet state, keeping a close eye on figures such as Shostakovich. The formality of the movement conveyed a sense of the complex and careful dance that artists must engage in with a brutal regime, but it also revealed, as did the music of Shostakovich that we heard performed, the beauty that can be created in an oppressive environment.

Beauty. Hope. Love. Spirit. These young dancers showed us again and again: Anything is possible, and they can do anything.


Fall for Dance

B. Iden Payne Theatre, UT campus
www.jointhedrama.org
Nov. 17

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

UT Department of Theatre & Dance, Dance Repertory Theatre, Gesel Mason, Dorothy O'Shea Overbey, Elijah Alhadji Gibson, Khorii Tinson, Avery Moore, Amber Whatley

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