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Flash Dispatch, 3-16: A Modicum of Inspiration
At College Festival, Choreography by Assignment

By Diane Vivona
Copyright 2001 Diane Vivona

GAINESVILLE, Florida -- The American College Dance Festival Association's primary goal as presented in its mission statement is "to support and affirm the role of dance in higher education primarily through the sponsorship of regional and national college/university dance festivals." What this translates into in various regional ACDFA meetings is four marathon days of classes and adjudicated concerts in which students and teachers display their wares and receive evaluatory feedback. Three adjudicators -- for the recent Southeast Regional festival here, ballet star Fernando Bujones, choreographer-dancer Sean Curran, and scholar-critic Brenda Dixon Gottschild -- have the difficult job of viewing a continuous stream of work and critiquing the performers and choreographers directly. After three days of viewing and commenting, the adjudicators then select works to be presented on the final concert. This is a great honor (as well as a bonus to your tenure file if your school or work is selected). In other words, despite its educational overtones, this is a highly competitive venue.

This year the adjudicators selected nine works, announcing two solo works as honorable mentions. In announcing those selected, Curran noted that in their deliberations the identity of the choreographers as well as the work's school affiliations were withheld. In this way, though the concert may appear unusually lopsided in geographic representation, the adjudicators cannot be held accountable. In relation to that, the University of South Florida and University of Florida were represented by two works each, while Columbia College (South Carolina), Henderson State University, Huntingdon College, East Carolina University and the University of South Carolina each presented one work. Sixteen colleges whose work had been adjudicated were not represented.

The concert overall, at the Constans Theatre of the University of Florida, was full of high energy, large-cast collage works. I call them that because they are often the result of jumbled rehearsal schedules and choreography by demand rather than choreography by intention. Here's the requirement/directive: a choreographer, whether student or faculty or guest artist, is given a group of students (frequently not of his/her own choosing), a rehearsal slot, and a time frame in which to create a work. And the choreographer does, using all the compositional tools available and relying on a lot of energy shifts and dynamic extremes to keep the piece interesting. And it is, to a point. The problem lies in the movement's not meaning anything beyond the energy expelled. There is no metaphor, though some slower sections are performed as if there were, and ultimately the work is as memorable as the laugh track of a sitcom. A colleague of mine suggests that the work reflects our busy lives, the impermanence and superficial nature of speedy technology and throw-away products. I think it reflects choreography by assignment rather than by inspiration. The absence of an artistic vision of any kind I find particularly disturbing. Three works of those selected tested the waters of intention; the other six did not.

East Carolina University student Courtney Paulos's "Copacetic Correlation" presents a clever war between the audible and the visual in dance through Paulos's cast of "tappers" and "moderns." Borrowing from the enthusiastic rhythmic rumblings of such works as "Stomp!" and "Riverdance," this work uses the tappers' sounds both onstage and off as another percussive instrument in the piece's recorded sound score. The tension between the two feuding camps is established at the outset and, though the work never rises to the pitch level anticipated, it does capture the competitive quality that can arise between dance styles. This seems particularly appropriate from a student perspective, as many students who have been tapping at their local studio for years are challenged on many levels when entering dance departments with a predominantly modern emphasis.

University of South Florida student Maria Colaco's "For Her" is a lush solo that demonstrates this performer's dramatic skills. The work opens in a series of slow deliberate gestures, shifts to fast erratic spins rising from and falling into the floor, and resolves in slow movements of disrobing. I have no idea what the narrative direction of this work is; however, I do believe that there was one, and that seems to be half the battle. Colaco was brave enough to show that much.

Henderson State University student Michael McGehee's "Remembrance -- A Vietnam Memorial" has a loaded title and predictable content. The work is framed by a curtain in the shape of Maya Lin's Vietnam Memorial wall in Washington, D.C. Dancers in black with names printed on their garments stand behind the see-through curtain. This is a clear, if redundant, visual. To open, there is a brief duet for a fatigue-clad soldier and his innocent blonde girlfriend, just in case the former visual tableau didn't ring any bells. I cannot say that there was anything but the banal here -- sweet lifts for the couple, gunshot falls for the black dead -- but I do commend McGehee for having the courage to put forth this work despite all its resounding warnings and pitfalls.

Of the high energy collage works, which were all performed with conviction and enthusiasm, the work of University of Florida faculty member Kelly Cawthon stands out. Her expertise is in "aerial modern" which, I suppose, is why the dancers were continually throwing themselves at each other from long distances. You see a lot of air between one piece of modern technique and the next. This work aimed at incorporating technology by having live video footage of the dancers from various angles -- backstage, overhead, below, or following one dancer from another's perspective. The video footage was an interesting experiment in and of itself.

The concert was completed by works from the following choreographers: Lynn Forney, student, University of Florida; Elaine Heekin, guest artist, Huntingdon College; Terrance Henderson, student, University of South Carolina; Jeanne Travers, faculty, University of South Florida; and Christian VonHoward, faculty, Columbia College, South Carolina.

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