For the first time since the start of the pandemic, UB’s Center for the Arts Drama Theatre showcased an array of displays last weekend in the form of Choreolab, a showing of dances by various choreographers from UB’s Dance Program.
Consisting of five undergraduates, one Masters of Fine Arts candidate, one professor and one guest artist, applications for choreographer positions — as well as casting for dancers — began at the tail end of last semester.
But for Jenna Zavrel, a clinical assistant professor in UB’s Department of Theatre and Dance, heading the project meant so much more.
“It was really close to the point that we were going to run into tech week, which is where we add the lights and the costume and the sound and we put it in the theater,” Zavrel said. “So it was almost into full production. And so we never actually got to that point. But the pieces were works in progress.”
“Choreolab” featured a wide variety of themes thanks to the creative freedoms each choreographer was given.
Theo Qu, a senior dance major, choreographed his piece “Acquaint” in order to illustrate how people get to know each other with the movements of water.
“What I’m trying to convey, whether the audience would know or not, is that we get to know ourselves through the media of water, and without self-knowing, that gives us the capacity to know each other.”
While Qu had hoped to use more dancers, he was limited to two due to demand from other choreographers, forcing him to alter his vision.
“I changed the theme completely because I knew that the idea I wanted to use was for a group piece,” Qu said. “At the start of the semester, I knew that I only had two people, so I just changed the structure and the theme of the piece completely and decided to work on something else.”
Even so, Qu found both perks and challenges to having only two dancers.
“Everything gets magnified and you have to carefully present these two dancers because the audience will have more energy,” Qu said. “[The audience’s] eyes will be on [the dancers] the whole time versus [in] a group piece. You see the whole picture. But a duet is a more intimate experience.” Featuring dancers moving in a cultish elegance evocative of the 2019 horror film “Midsommar,” “Cultivator” closed out the first act of the show.
The all-female cast mirrored an intense acoustic tune, before silence and then a heavenly transcending song overtook the air, lulling the audience back to reality.
The next piece rang much more familiar with the audience. Titled “Just a Sweet Song,” the dance was backed by the Ray Charles classic, “Georgia on My Mind.”
Multiple tap dancers performed in synchronization, as each dancer altered their speed, or even sat down, in the interest of focusing on one another.
As they exchanged their spotlights, the group formed a circle-esque clump, blooming in and out like petals on a flower.
Eventually, they each made one final move before the dance ended like it began, with a spotlight on a lone tap dancer.
The penultimate performance came in the form of “Armonia,” which told a fascinating story on the elements: earth, fire, water and air.
One quote covered the screen on the side of the stage: “One who neglects or disregards the existence of earth, air, fire, water and vegetation disregards his own existence, which is entwined with them” – Mahavira.
With five dancers gracing the stage — one acting as a centerpiece, the other four each representing an element — each was given their own moment to shine and express their respective represent.
But despite the differences among the dancers, they acted as cogs in a machine, demonstrating how every element is needed to make Earth a habitable planet.
Yet, the most vibrant piece came in the finale. Choreographed by Ruby Abraham, a senior dance and environmental studies major, “Paradise Garage, 1972” paid homage to all things disco and was set to three iconic Gloria Gaynor tracks.
“I was really looking into how the disco that we know from Saturday Night Fever and all those big classic shows came to be, how that culture came together,” Abraham said. “I really wanted to create an atmosphere that was very celebratory, that uses a lot of historical movement from all different pockets.”
Sporting outfits the most eccentric of outfits, the dancers energetically moved to Gaynor’s “Never Say Goodbye,” against a disco-esque purple backdrop.
That backdrop eventually turned green, as the dancers happily strutted to “Real Good People.”
But the final moment felt like the climax the audience deserved.
As dozens of voices filled the auditorium, the world-renowned Gaynor track “I Will Survive” came on, sending the audience into a cheerful frenzy. Dancers from every piece mobbed the stage, resembling a wild night out on the town, as a disco ball descended from the ceiling.
As each dancer gave their final bow, the curtains came to a close, capping off “Choreolab’s” first showing since 2019. To Abraham, working with this group was an experience unlike any other.
“It’s very buzzing, very supportive and high energy but also a very safe place to express things to everyone. Everyone’s very supportive,” Abraham said. “No one’s afraid to push anyone or tell them what they mean. It’s just very open.”
Alex Falter is the senior arts editor and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Alex Falter is a senior arts editor at The Spectrum.