On Saturday December 1, I attended the collaborative performance class’ annual production, titled Revelation Pending: PastPresentFuture. The show is a culmination of a semester’s worth of collaborative work between dancers, choreographers, composers, musicians, stage managers, and lighting designers. The course is taught and supervised by UI Dance faculty member Charlotte Adams. While many of the students (dancers, choreographers) hail from the UI Department of Dance, the Theatre Department (lighting designers, stage managers) and School of Music (composers, musicians) departments play a crucial role in the collaboration. The creative energy of Adams and the student creators, who appealed to the audience to share in a “spirit of adventure and new possibilities,” was a rejuvenating blast at the end of this semester.
The first piece, “The Shape of Memory,” choreographed by Jessica Anthony and Kristin Marrs, gave physical shape to a smattering of childhood memories. “When I was very young, I remember I was holding a red balloon…” The composer, PhD student Jason Palamara, sampled and mixed the dancers’ speaking voices for playback during the piece; the dancers recited an amalgamated narrative of memories—somewhat disembodied and abstracted beyond the original remembering subject, but re-embodied as five dancers performed the choreography. One of the most striking moments of the piece was a long scene where the dancers, heads turning as if following cars on a busy street, looked in vain (perhaps for their child selves?). Palamara’s minimalist-influenced music worked well for the piece, providing a sense of rhythmic undulation and meandering harmony that was well suited to movement, and to the disjunct yet oddly familiar sensations of memory.
The second piece, “’Til Death Do Us Part,” read as musical theatre. The scene opened on a couple beginning their second marriage at the altar, to quotes of traditional wedding music. From here, the narrative digressed into the “backstory,” as dancers reenacted the drama of teenage sexual encounters, parental awkwardness, and religious dogma. The playwright/choreographers, Zoe Bennett and Michael Medcalf, invoked themes of the blended family as well as homosexuality, bringing forth a poignant and funny piece that had the audience laughing out loud. Palamara and William Huff chose many other quoted pieces—from Bach to Billy Joel—that underscored the drama and helped the piece feel grounded in American culture and of its time.
The third piece, “Finding Home,” began with a female dancer clothed all in white speaking emphatically, though completely unintelligibly—unless you were Danish. The staging and choreography emphasized my sensation of isolation. PhD composer Will Huff’s sparse instrumentation and plaintive minor-sixth motive perfectly underscored the emotional tenor of loneliness. Huff’s music brought a welcome rhythmic drive to the piece as the back curtain opened and dancers began duets and trios against a blue-lit backdrop. When the lead dancer approached the audience again—uncomfortably close—she spoke in English about being lost in a forest and finding her way back by the hum of street lights. Here Huff’s minor sixth motive reappeared, the opening story retold in the new community and the new language after the transformative interactions throughout the piece. Huff told me that he improvised as the dancers choreographed and rehearsed, developing and discarding material as the dancers’ movement evolved. This tight-knit exchange showed, with the music leading the emotional energy of the piece.
By all accounts, this production is a lot of work—but the rewards are enormous. Go and make something together! When you do, the Revelation is no longer Pending—it is right there in the collaboration.