The University of Iowa Department of Dance returned to the stage this week, performing their UI Dance Company home concert. Returning to the Space Place Theater for the first time since 2020, UI dance company associate director Alexandra Bush remarked that the return “really feels like coming home.”
The showcase featured six unique contemporary pieces, all dealing with radically different pieces. Through the presentation, audiences and dancers alike were transported into moments of humor, pain, longing and nostalgia.
This is what I want
The first piece of the show was choreographed by Duke University professor Thomas DeFrantz in collaboration with the performers. Before the show even started, the dancers were slumped and lying on the stage as the audience seeped into their seats. They rolled through the positions on the floor and sometimes stood up to approach a microphone, announcing their desires in the form of declarative statements, preceded by the words “I want”.
At the start of the piece, the dancers acted out scenes with their bodies, posing for imaginary photos and pretending to drive flying cars. The performers’ desires became clearer as the piece continued, and at one point the dancers lined up behind microphones, again announcing what they wanted.
The dance then grew in motion and passion, with all the performers dancing around the stage individually. They filled the space before lining up at the back of the stage and moving slowly forward. Each dancer spoke aloud, saying what they wanted with increasing speed, volume and disorder.
Their declarations multiplied, talking to each other before falling silent, and simply looking at each other with passionate glances. Finally, the closing sentence was delivered: “This is what I want.”
beats per minute
beats per minute was the second routine, choreographed by IU practice associate professor Kristin Marrs. The curtains crawled open at first to reveal a single dancer on stage, next to a metronome beating at a methodical beat. The performer, dressed in traditional women’s work clothes, danced to the rhythm of the metronome, guided by the constant “clicks” coming from the device.
Shortly after, a second dancer entered the stage, holding her own metronome set to a different beat. Putting it on the floor, the dancer repeated the movements performed at the start of the routine, but at a slightly different pace due to the altered tempo provided to her.
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A third and fourth dancer followed, the sounds of metronomes overlapping until near chaos. Yet despite the abundance of sound, the performers kept their composure, dancing with certainty – albeit a bit frantic to match the tone and themes of the piece. In the final moments of the routine, all but one of the metronomes were cut out and the audience was left in complete silence except for the lone metronome which continued to play.
Come walk in my shoes
Come walk in my shoes was the last piece before intermission and left a lot of food for thought for the audience during the 10-minute break. Choreographed by Kieron Dwayne Sargeant, visiting assistant professor in IU’s dance department, Sargeant explored ideas of footwear as a reflection of femininity.
The play begins with the dancers on stage, all too excited by the tennis shoes they are wearing. They dance around the stage with childlike glee, the squeak of shoes loud and clear.
Yet, soon that joy wore off and the dancers decided they didn’t want tennis shoes anymore. They threw the shoes to the front of the stage, where they were forgotten in the dark. The music shifts to a soft, sultry, jazzy sound as the dancers move with more maturity. A few performers are seen stumbling around in heels, unprepared to literally fill those shoes, while others fight their fellow dancers over their shoes.
After the fights and mayhem over the shoes have died down, the dancers repeat the mantra, “It’s just my shoes, only my shoes,” until the curtain closes for intermission.
Seltsame Seligkeit (strange happiness)
The opening routine after intermission is certainly a contemporary routine, using creative and unique movement that sometimes seems akin to traditional ballet. The routine relies on four dancers working in partnership, aware of each other’s space and energy throughout the piece.
Choreographed by Jennifer Kayle, Associate Professor at UI, Seltsame Seligkeit juxtaposes the classic with the strange. The dancers moved from classical movements commonly seen in choreographed pieces to sporadic and eerie steps.
Audiences were intrigued and amused by the style, laughing audibly at the most humorous moments. As the high-energy routine drew to a close, the audience could hear the dancers’ heavy breathing after a satisfying routine.
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The start of the play magnificent. by Melinda Jean Myers began with two dancers back to back, braiding their hair under a spotlight. The girls, who were dressed in yellow and blue costumes, then began to follow a routine, lacking energy and fun.
The audience erupted in laughter at their amusing steps, the dancers going from their walkthrough to saying “we look good” simultaneously.
Silence fills the auditorium.
Then — bubbles.
With the click of a button, upbeat music started playing and a bubble machine turned on, illuminating the stage and the audience with that feeling of joy and thrill. The dancing was fun and the backdrop alternated between bright colors to match the light mood that was in place.
When the music ended, the dancers just looked at each other, sweet smiles on their faces. Then, after a moment of pause, there was a small moment of celebration, which the public loved.
Trace, fold, join
The final piece of the evening, Trace, Fold, Enclose, was choreographed by Stephanie Miracle, Alex Bush and the dancers with input from partners at the Iowa City Senior Center. Addressing themes of present connections while looking to the past, this work was certainly a collaborative process.
The exchanges of letters between the dancers and the partners of the Iowa City Senior Center were central to the inspiration of the piece. Audio recordings of dancers reading their letters play in the background, accompanying the movement.
Transformation over time was also a key concept. At one point, a single dancer sat center stage, with the moving walls as props, and the dancers ran in circles around her, creating hectic chaos until the energy subsided. and audiences are left with this strange, comforting sense of growth. .
At the end of the show, the company invited the members of the Iowa City Senior Center present to take the stage. With smiles on their faces, they stood beside the dancers and directors, knowing that an element of themselves was transformed into this visual art.