Zodiaque, UB’s pre-professional dance company, showcased their diverse talents in a series of performances last weekend at the Center for the Arts.
Their 48th spring program included nearly two hours of inventive dance, ranging from a murder mystery-inspired number to comedic tap and technical ballet. The dancers explored the avant-garde, the emotional and everything in between.
The show opened with “One Night,” an upbeat hip-hop number that evoked technicolor Old Hollywood musicals with a modern flair.
The dancers sat at café tables, chattering over coffee. Then, one-by-one, they leapt from the still scene into energetic dance. Each dancer took turns coming to life in their own individual routines before joining together and, eventually, retreating to the coffeehouse tables where extras continued to mindlessly chit-chat.
“Sinew,” an introspective ballet number choreographed by Rachel Leonard, initiated an abrupt tonal shift. The dancers swayed, marched and embraced each other in monochromatic purple outfits as the music shifted between soft, soulful strings and almost militaristic drumming. The title of the piece literally refers to the tissue that connects muscle to bone and metaphorically refers to the kinship shared by the dancers.
Brennah Woollis, a senior dance major featured in the piece, said that she and her fellow dancers originally took a mournful approach to the choreography, which tells a story about “connectivity and empowerment amongst women.”
“And then she [Leonard] told us, ‘No, this is a joyful piece,’” Woollis said. “This is about being with your peers and connecting with your company members and being strong.”
As one of many graduating seniors from the company, Woollis found the meaning behind the vulnerable piece even more resonant.
“I felt like that was super powerful, especially as a senior, because it’s so hard to let these things go,” Woollis said. “So when you can connect with your peers like that, it just makes everything 10 times better.”
Then, the Zodiaque dancers embodied warriors’ intensity in the chest pops, crab walks and clapping of “House of Ascension.” The cast, dressed in twirling skirts, circled the stage and raised their hands in the air, concluding the first act.
The showcase returned for their second act with the night’s most unconventional number: the avant-garde and bewitchingly bizarre “Manon.” Dancers stumbled and collapsed on the stage, gasping for air in tattered gray dresses. Ominous music, akin to that of a horror movie score, propelled the dancers as they writhed around on the floor underneath an eerie bird’s eye view projection of the unsettling dance itself. The hypnotized dancers’ chaotic movements and the piece’s jarringly unusual choreography mesmerized the audience.
“‘Manon’ is this being that kind of controls all of us, and the whole piece is one cycle,” Kiara Cieslinski, a senior dance major featured in the number, said. “We take turns pulling out our hair and representing this entity taking over and inhabiting each one of our bodies until we’re all just freaking out and then we have to start all over again from the top.”
The sheer insanity of “Manon” provided a sense of escape for the dancers, like junior dance major Sophia Fino, who embraced the feelings of possession that this dance demanded.
“I become someone else when I’m doing it,” Fino said of “Manon.” “It’s like some higher power comes over me when I’m performing that one. It’s the best feeling I’ve ever had.”
The dancers transitioned from witchy suspense to comedic tap with “Behind the Curtain,” a meta-comedy piece heavy with props and Vaudevillian humor. Dedicated to acclaimed tap dancer Gregory Hines, the number opened with a fitting quote: “Behind every curtain there’s another story.”
The performers emerged onto a dressing room set, complete with a mirror, a dresser and a rack of formal coats. Each dancer donned a coat, and what followed evoked Chaplinesque silent films, with the dancers engaging in a goofy cat-and-mouse chase over a stolen shoe set to jaunty piano music.
Things took a turn when the piece was interrupted by an announcement from above: “Ladies and gentlemen, it’s showtime.”
The curtain dropped. The dancers’ characters shifted, launching into a seamless tap performance with theatrical smiles plastered across their faces.
The company moved from light humor into gothic mystery with Zodiaque co-director Michael Deeb Weaver’s “An Evening at West Manor.” This frighteningly compelling number and its vampiric upscale world of plotting and sinister intentions included solos in single spotlights, dramatic posing and even fight choreography.
Ultimately, the deed was done by the maid in the dining room with the bottle of poison as she flitted around the manor’s guests, spiking their champagne glasses. As the entire dinner party dropped dead and the stage lights turned scarlet red, the unassuming murderer reigned triumphant over the drama theater stage.
“I’m a big fan of murder mystery movies,” Weaver said. “I got a really great cast that I knew would be super creative and embody the characters, so I decided to go for it, and I’m super happy with how it turned out.
The second act drew to a close with “Prism,” choreographed by Kerry Ring. The dancers traveled across the stage with natural, fluid movements. Wrapped in airy, colorful drapery, they resembled a Monet painting come to life.
Keeping with tradition, the company returns for “Z’Bows,” the dancers’ final send off to the audience. The Sunday show’s sendoff was especially important for the seniors in the group, affectionately referred to as “Zeniors,” as each took their final bow with Zodiaque. Each senior — in their classic sequined blue tops — wowed the audience with their own solo, each bleeding into the next with an effortlessness that only emerges from the genuine sisterhood these dancers share.
As the curtain lowered, audience members got to their feet, clapping and whooping. Meanwhile, many “Zeniors” found themselves in tears, overwhelmed by the finality of this moment.
“I think I blacked out,” Cieslinski said. “I just kept finding myself staring at every corner of the theater and just trying to remember it all and take it all in and be completely present and not, you know, let it go by too fast.”
“You’re fighting back these tears the whole time,” Woollis said. “But we have a huge group hug after the curtain closes and we all just cry it out.”
Other “Zeniors” took this moment to reflect on their years-long journey with the dance company.
“I can’t stop thinking about when I was a freshman and… I just remember watching and I’m like, ‘I need to do this. I need to be in this company,’” Sidney Bowers, a senior dance major, recalled. “[In the bows] it’s sort of just looking around at everyone. I’m on the stage. I’m wearing the blue top. My friends are right beside me. It’s just sort of the perfect ending that dreams can come true.”
Meret Kelsey is the senior arts editor and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Alex Novak is an arts editor and can be reached at email@example.com
Meret Kelsey is an assistant arts editor at The Spectrum.
Alex Novak is a senior arts editor at The Spectrum.