Dance Thesis Concert
Inaugural class
ICONS Choreographic Institute

Dance Loft on 14
May 21, 2017

Carmel Morgan

Can choreographic skills be taught? Vladimir Angelov, Artistic Director and Founder of Dance ICONS – The Global Network for Choreographers, thinks so. His inaugural class of students at the ICONS Choreographic Institute at the Dance Loft in Washington, D.C., recently graduated and presented a thesis dance concert. All of the works managed to avoid common pitfalls among fledgling choreographers, and I was never bored.

Each choreographer spoke briefly before presenting her work. The choreographers offered insight into their inspiration and dance making process, as well as thanks to various supporters. The first work on the program was by Shira Klinger. Titled dis)(onnect, Klinger’s piece focuses on human connections. Dancers wear pedestrian leggings and tops. A bench sits on the stage, and at first, it represents isolation. A dancer in girlish braids seated there watches with interest, leaning forward. Curious, she begins to mirror some of the movement she sees, but while remaining seated on the bench. A subsequent figure also sports braids, and literally connects, placing a hand on a shoulder, pushing. Are these dancers different aspects of the same person, or someone during different periods of a single life? Some of the physical contact is tentative, like brushing past like a cat. Other contact is more aggressive. When dancers become involved in a tangle of grabs, the original watcher turns away. Is this schoolyard bullying? Family squabbles? Internal tension?

Shira Klinger's "dis)(onnect" Photo by Jeff Malet

Shira Klinger’s dis)(onnect
Photo by Jeff Malet

Happier moments follow. Grays that predominated the costumes change to brighter hues, and the emotions expressed evolve as well. Four dancers squeezed on the bench play games, clapping hands to playful music. Their feet scoot, they bend over backwards with the bench beneath them. The lesson seems to be to make room for more friends and closer relationships as more dancers are added and friendlier feelings abound.

The second work on the program was choreographed by Asami Seki, the only international student, who traveled from Japan to participate in the Choreographic Institute. Seki’s speech before her piece was very polished and poised, and also was very informative. She explained to the audience that her work, Bare Soul, relates to the search for identity. In her work, Seki elected to use shoes as a symbol for this search. After all, she said, shoes say a lot about us. Do we choose shoes for comfort and the right fit? One can definitely imagine shoes as a stand-in for identity. The journey to find our authentic selves may take some trying on of different styles.

Asami Seki's Bare Soul Photo by Jeff Malet

Asami Seki’s Bare Soul
Photo by Jeff Malet

Seki’s cleverly constructed work is intellectually deep and also full of humor. Bare Soul begins with the tune “Blue Suede Shoes,”which easily generates smiles. Shoes are juggled, brushed off. The knees of the dancers unexpectedly and purposefully wobble a little, adding charm and wit. So, too, does a dancer being carried upside down bring levity to an identity crisis.

Can you picture dancing in loafers that are too big? How about just one shoe? A dancer hopping in distress? This actually makes for intriguing movement, simultaneously funny and visually interesting. Taking an awkward motion like that and turning it into something new and beautiful to behold is the mark of a great choreographer. The shoes are eventually kicked off.

Seki takes the shoes and the dancing to fantastic heights and uses repetition well. Those wobbly knees return. Sneakers? High heels? Wearing a shoe as a hat? Putting shoes on hands? Mismatched shoes? Dropping an armload of shoes? Hurling them across the stage? Seki has it all covered. And she does this in elegantly crafted dramatic arcs replete with humor without losing her identity search theme.I can’t recall ever seeing shoes being used in such unusual ways to such success in a choreographic work. Bare Soul is relatable and is a real audience-pleaser.

Therese Gahl's Spectra Photo by Jeff Malet

Therese Gahl’s Spectra
Photo by Jeff Malet

Third on the program was Spectra by Therese Gahl. Unfortunately, I missed the full performance of this work on opening night and saw only excerpts (several dancers had a conflicting rehearsal and couldn’t perform on the second night). Spectra, as the title suggests, highlights colors and emotional reactions to them. It’s unfair to judge a work by excerpts alone, but what I saw struck me as carefully composed. A dancer wearing red reminded me of passion, of Spain. The dancers in blue recalled ocean waves and calm. Spectra’s vocabulary seemed balletic and full of poses. I suppose the work in its entirety might be like watching a paintbrush travel across a canvas, splashing distinct colors and evoking a variety of moods as it travels.

The final work, by Nancy Flores-Tirado, was titled Apotheotik. It was described as a neogothic ballet drama. I can’t disagree with that characterization, although I’m not sure what it means, exactly. Flores-Tirado certainly created a spooky, otherworldly atmosphere.

One of the stars in Apotheotik is a bed. The bed looks like it could have been taken straight from a hospital, an insane asylum, most probably. It’s metal, with wheels, and the headboard decorated with pale gray tree branches. Think Guillermo del Toro’s film Pan’s Labyrinth. Fantasy mixed with darkness. Or just think Shakespeare. The audience was given a quote about dreams from The Tempest to mull over.

Nancy Flores-Tirado's Apotheotik Photo by Jeff Malet

Nancy Flores-Tirado’s Apotheotik
Photo by Jeff Malet

Apotheotik’s soundscape features creaky doors and running footsteps. The dancers are attired like people from a Halloween-themed romance novel — an unbuttoned shirt on the sole male dancer, unitards with a design that pours down them like running mascara, tulle skirts, masks. The dancers conjure medieval marionettes. Or gypsy zombies. Or slithering ghouls. Or mad circus performers. It’s unclear what’s dream or nightmare and what’s not, and I’m guessing that’s by design. The weirdness is generally welcome, the dancing gymnastic and even steamy at times. There is pointe work. Women are dragged and seduced, but they also act as harpies, torturing the central male character.

Enrollment for the 2017-18 Choreographic Institute class is now open. Students who graduate will earn an ICON SMART™ professional certification in choreography. This post-graduate professional development program offers a 21st century curriculum applicable across dance genres for emerging choreographers culminating in a thesis dance concert. Students meet twice per week in this low residency program for busy professionals. It takes place on evenings/weekends for nine months. There are 54 lectures in 28 weeks, from September 6, 2017 – May 16, 2018. Sessions meet on Wednesdays from 7:00 p.m. – 8:30 p.m. & Sundays from 11:00 a.m. – 2:00 p.m. (except Thanksgiving week, December holidays and Easter Week). A short informational video can be found at this link:

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