For those of us who have been attending HSU dance concerts for the past few years, there is no doubt that Sharon Butler has done a great job at the helm. But as I'm not a fan of long program notes, her lengthy pre-performance exposition included in every program drives me bonkers.
There is a line between university and professional performance, and that line is as thick or as fine as the size of the department, its focus, its faculty and the crop of young dance artists who happen to be enrolled. Although I view these concerts through the prism of university dance, I come respecting these students as full-fledged dancers. I don't want to read about how hard they've worked or grown. These are dancers, for heaven's sake, and they're going to be judged from here to high heaven as soon as they leave the nest. It's condescending to them to prime the audience with a congratulatory warm-up. Let the dances speak for themselves.
HSU 's unique inter-disciplinary program allows choreographers the rare opportunity to work collaboratively with design students. At times the designs, although dazzling, were not quite in sync with the dances. Other times the elements merged beautifully, as in Jessica D. Manuel's Darkness: She Speaks . Set to music studded with bullets firing, four women, simply costumed in skirts and bare legs, by Henry Echeverria, evoked images of war in a somber, cradling opening section. Bands of gauze-like fabric swooped across stage from the rafters, reminiscent of bandages, then of angels. A brilliant choice, fabric dropped into the dance; it needed to be used more.
Also exploring humanist issues, but more completely developed, I Take Myself Back, is an imposing solo by Cheri Anchondo, authoritatively danced to Joy Harjo's poem, I Give You Back. Anchondo's riveting focus exemplified the strong performance quality of all the dancers. Despite varying levels of technique, the urge to dance, to dance good and hard, was evident all night long.
Although the incredible set of giant balls enmeshed in towerlike structures and space-age costumes had nothing to do with its hip-hop, socially responsible message, sections of Alisha Goodrich 's alieNation really hit it. Willowy Nerissa Castilleja's solo, with Kendra Staton's shadow entering upstage as we hear Obama's voice, brought me to tears. Like many of the emergent choreographers, Goodrich is on the right track, but needs to develop her work without jumping around so much.
Faculty member Jandy Bergman choreographed Cove Swimmer's Prayer, a watery, thoughtful quartet. Her colleague Shoshanna's Raks al Farah is a well-staged dance, replete with traditional Middle Eastern movement and stunning women carrying ceramic jugs on their heads and hips.
Finding Flight, co-choreographed by faculty members, joyously accompanied by the Arcata Interfaith Gospel Choir, right onstage, charged forward with exuberance. The big rushes of group movement, the clarity of intention and physical emotion of Jaese Lecuyer and Jerri Sweeney in duet, are the reasons people dance, why people go to see others dancing.