The Muhlenberg community was graced with the annual spring dance performance Master Choreographers last weekend. Master Choreographers featured seven dance works choreographed by some faculty members from Muhlenberg’s dance department, as well as a few guest choreographers. All the dancers were Muhlenberg students, and their talent and love for dance was apparent in every piece of the evening.
Each piece featured a group of dancers that was clearly connected to each other both physically through their movement, as well as emotionally. Michaela Feinberg ‘19 participated in both Megan Flynn’s and Heidi Cruz-Austin’s selections, explaining how this connection was forged before each performance: “Before every show, we had a warm up as a group which was always high energy and helped us get warmed up and emotionally ready to dance together. It really fosters a sense of community and helps us get used to sharing the stage with fellow dancers.” The level of chemistry between the dancers made every piece substantially more compelling for the audience.
The concert began with “For Harriet, Whom History Forgot,” which was a modern piece choreographed by Muhlenberg faculty member Megan Flynn, in collaboration with the dancers in the piece. It highlighted each individual dancer, starting them off in a row all together, but each one of them had their own specific movements, which made the opening of the piece that much more intriguing. Feinberg described how “the rehearsal process was very collaborative, and we spent a few weeks making, rearranging, and developing material.” Through this collaborative effort, the choreography developed by Flynn and the dancers became equally precise and natural. In addition, the dancers in this selection showed no fear, lifting and spinning each other in mesmerizing ways.
Guest choreographer Kevin Jenkins’ piece “A Simpler Time?” was a unique and delightful part of the work. The music, “Come Go With Me” by The Beach Boys and Simon and Garfunkel’s “The Boxer,” were fun and upbeat songs that were coupled with dancers who were graceful and on pointe. This contrast made the piece equally entertaining and compelling for the audience. Jenkins’ choreography highlighted the dancers’ precise physicality, focusing on the movements and angles of wrists, elbows, and arms.
“Self-Postponement,” choreographed by guest choreographer Michael Nickerson-Rossi, made Master Choreographers take a shift towards the haunting and dark, but in an artful and breathtaking way. Featuring flowing movement from every dancer, the heart of the piece was a dance and vocal duet by Tommy Gedrich ‘21 and Cheyanne Leid ‘20. They were able to hit every note while bending into seemingly impossible positions, which was particularly impressive.
The first act of Master Choreographers closed with Muhlenberg faculty member Randall Anthony Smith’s “Gambit of Humanity,” which was inspired by Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o’s “The Upright Revolution: Or Why Humans Walk Upright.” The piece immediately got the audience’s attention with the dancers clapping rhythmically and assuming different animal-like poses each time the lights flashed on. Every element of the piece, sound, lighting, and choreography, in addition to the performances came together to masterfully create a surreal primal environment. The dancers in this piece all had the chance to highlight their physicality and ability, which allowed them all to create their respective animal in the dance.
Guest choreographer Cynthia Gutierrez-Garner’s “Of History and Hope” opened the second act of the concert, and it reflected on the titular history and hope in a manner that was the perfect mix of thoughtful and jovial. The piece started simply, but its intensity increased when the dancers began to speak an excerpt from Miller Williams’ poem of the same name as the piece. After this more serious shift, however, the piece concluded in a much happier way, leading the audience to reflect on the hope suggested in the title.
The next piece, “In a Matter of Time,” choreographed by Muhlenberg faculty member Heidi Cruz-Austin, accomplished the difficult task of making three seemingly disjointed songs fit together perfectly. The dancers in this piece were on pointe, and they performed the difficult choreography in all three songs that made up the piece wonderfully. They shifted from the urgency of the first song to the grace of the second to the aggression of the third by always maintaining the style of choreography and a sense of franticness throughout the whole piece.
Master Choreographers concluded with Muhlenberg faculty member Shelley Oliver’s “From the Shadows,” which featured a multitude of tap dancers, as well as a live band. This piece was the perfect way to end the evening, sending the audience off on a piece filled with energy and excitement. Each dancer moved perfectly in time to the music, and they all were clearly having a lot of fun on stage, which made the piece that much more fun for the audience to watch. The inclusion of a live band for the piece instead of a recorded track made the number feel that much more energetic because the dancers and the audience could directly feel the music.
Each piece in Master Choreographers had its own unique energy that was apparent throughout the audience. As Brenna Barber ‘22 described “The intensity of both the music and the choreography really captivated me […] It was hard to look away from the stage!” The dancers worked together to represent the choreographer’s vision for the piece, and they did so through their technique and artistry. The execution of this became known to varying degrees in each piece, but it was always present in the piece. Certain dancers had particularly notable presences on stage, and Barber explained that she noticed “which dancers were really into the movement and really performing and feeling it and which ones were just doing the movements.”
While there were certainly moments where some dancers had more energy than others, those who did have particularly high energy helped lift the others up. Overall, Master Choreographers was a high-energy evening that showcased the talent of dancers in all different styles, providing an engaging and fascinating experience for the audience.