Orchesis Dance Company, Cal Poly’s oldest concert dance organization, performed the final dress rehearsal for its major annual show Thursday night. While the audience may not yet have been present, it was, without a doubt, something to write home (or in one’s local student newspaper) about.
Let’s get all the criticism out of the way first. “Transcend” is not an ideal title for this production. The word conjures mental images of supernatural events and mystical powers, but the performance itself is firmly planted here on Earth. Like a lot of great art, this particular show derives its beauty and success from nature, through imitation and interpretation, and not so much from magical abstraction.
In the spirit of the natural world, “Transcend” speaks wordless volumes with bursts of energy and seamless physical transitions. Every dancer captures what must be a choreographer’s greatest wish: effortless, organic precision.
This is no surprise to the Orchesis Company, now in its 46th year. Dancers were involved in developing the choreography for four of the 10 pieces, which gives the show an almost wild feel. Every piece has moves that are unpredictable and exciting, and occasionally even comical. “Transcend” is invigorated by sequences that exude creativity in ways only inexperienced (but quite talented) choreographers can.
“(The student choreographers) could just run free and do whatever they wanted,” said wine and viticulture sophomore Patricia Bucolo, a dancer and intern with Orchesis Company. “I love that it’s diverse.”
Diversity of style truly is a central component. Jazz, contemporary, ballet, West African rhythm and other genres incomprehensible to this novice of the world of dance all spend some time at center stage, and everywhere else on stage for that matter. Obviously, putting together a production with this amount of complexity is no cakewalk for the performers.
In the words of Orchesis Director Christy Chand, “The dancers have to be able to do all those different styles of dance, and the performance of each piece is different (in terms of) the intent and emotional capacity. It’s not only a technical skillset but also an emotive one.”
The dancers’ emotional range becomes apparent immediately. One number might feel like a bloody military campaign, but then the very next routine will come across like a whimsical love story. None of the themes are set in stone, however. When it comes to dance, an infinite number of audience interpretations are possible. This is intimidating to some.
“A lot of people get nervous that they don’t understand (a dance),” Chand said. “You should just watch the piece and see what you get out of it.”
“Transcend” certainly leaves plenty of room for the imagination within its supposed constraints of the natural world. One piece at first evokes an impression of possessed, prancing antelope, but it could easily be construed as a story about hardworking forest nymphs. Another piece might appear to show a school of minnows darting about, but a different viewer could be more inclined to picture the inner workings of an ant farm.
The dancers provide gentle suggestions, but they are essentially a blank canvas for the audience to paint on. The interpretations in themselves are not as important as the fact that they are being generated.
Maybe the name “Transcend” doesn’t refer to the inspiration for the choreography as much as it refers to the production’s conveyance of ideas. While the dancers stay firmly planted in reality, the potential for the viewer’s imagination is endless. It’s not so bad of a title after all.
“Transcend” will continue to play at Alex and Faye Spanos Theatre Jan. 28-30 at 8 p.m.